Book review: Game of power

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 11 Jan 2020

A new book on the leading Sunni Muslim states of the Middle East describes a long period of implicit and explicit tensions


“Egyptian political leaders have long believed that their country should be the centre of gravity in the Middle East and the bridge that connects this troubled part of the world to Europe, Asia, and Africa, citing geostrategic, demographic, cultural, and historical justifications to support this claim. For their part, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have had the same ambitions for similar reasons, albeit with some minor differences in the details.”

These are the introductory words of author Abdel-Rahman Salah in a chapter entitled “The Struggle for the Centre: Egyptian Relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the Second Decade of the 21st Century” in a new book, Aspiring Powers — Regional Rivals: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the New Middle East that came out in English from the Middle East Institute in Washington in December.

Salah is a career diplomat who served as the ambassador of Egypt to Turkey from 2013 until he was summoned back two years later as a result of the increasing political tensions between Cairo and Ankara over the latter’s opposition to the dramatic political changes that took place in Egypt in the summer of 2013. The army then intervened on the back of nationwide demonstrations to remove Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Turkey, from power.

Salah’s words are the crux of an extended argument that he and four other authors try to make in the book on the present and future relationship of the three countries in the Middle East.


Other contributors include Gönül Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Centre for Turkish Studies and a professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies in Washington, Hakan Özoğlu, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Programme at the University of Central Florida, Meliha Altunışık, a professor of International Relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, David Dumke, director of the Centre of Global Perspectives at the University of Central Florida, Thomas W Lippman, a journalist with wide insight into Saudi affairs, and Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

The book is a production of the Middle East Institute and the University of California. Its starting point is based on the shift in the regional balance of power that came with the Arab uprisings in 2011, and its argument is that these prompted major political developments, particularly after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, that have prompted a declining role for traditional power-houses, including Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad, allowing other powers, essentially Saudi Arabia under the guidance of powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to have a bigger decision-making role in the Middle East.

Egypt, while weakened by internal political feuds, remains essential in the management of regional affairs, the authors generally argue.

The game of power that these three players are involved in is rough at times and not so openly aggressive at others. But, the authors seem to agree, it is an ongoing feud over power that is set to continue in the near future, especially as Iran, the leading Shia power in the Middle East, is vying for a bigger regional role, and the US, the traditional broker of politics in the region, has a declining political role despite its continued military presence and is allowing an increased Russian presence.

Bin Salman

Clearly, Salah writes, “the recent history of the Middle East has been marked by cooperation and competition between these three countries, along with Iran, as they have sought to gain regional and international recognition of their central role.”

“Saudi-Iranian hostility and Egyptian-Turkish rivalry currently dominate regional politics and impact the major powers’ foreign policies towards the Middle East. There is close cooperation between the two Arab partners, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, against the non-Arab players, Turkey and Iran,” he says.

EGYPTIAN PERSPECTIVES: According to Salah, Egyptian foreign policy has traditionally recognised the regional importance of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

But this does not mean it was ever a smooth relationship. On and off, he explains, there have been good reasons for Egypt to fall out with Turkey or Saudi Arabia. He says that the years after the 2011 Arab Spring saw ups and downs in relations between Cairo and both Ankara and Riyadh, depending on who was in office in Cairo. He adds that the ups and downs inevitably included close regional associates of Ankara or Riyadh.

“Turkey and Qatar supported the 2011 Egyptian uprising that was backed by the military and led to the election of an Islamist government and a Muslim Brotherhood president. When these failed to meet the Egyptian people’s expectations, a second popular uprising erupted that was also backed by the military, this time with the support of the Saudi and the Emirati governments,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Salah notes, “Iran has joined the ranks of Turkey and Qatar in order to blur the Sunni-Shiite division and conflict that is used by the Saudis to agitate Sunni Arabs against the ‘Persian Shiites’. Israel, in turn, has been trying to join the Sunni pro-stability camp.”


However, this is not a sustainable balance in relations, he claims. Changes have been occurring and will continue to occur. Israel is coming much closer to the Arab Gulf states, and Turkey is also finding its way to improving relations with Saudi Arabia, which has arguably lost its supremacy over the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) but is still a power to reckon with in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, Salah adds, despite its resorting to the financial support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE — the two countries that have been at the forefront of opposition to the Arab Spring and “were also successful in helping the Egyptians reverse the initial reaction of the US and some other Western nations against these developments” — Egypt still has disagreements with both countries on one regional issue or another.

The management of the political instabilities in Yemen, Syria, and Libya has seen Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi offering alternative views, Salah notes.


He argues at times that even when they agree on broad outlines, Egypt and Saudi Arabia still disagree on details. “Today, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with the rest of the GCC countries and Jordan, are more receptive to the US idea of establishing a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) to deter potential Iranian aggression and for counter-terrorism purposes. Egyptian officials might propose certain limitations on the use of their armed forces outside of Egypt and beyond the mere defence of the Arab Gulf countries against foreign intervention,” he says.

While sharing concerns with the Saudis on Iran, Egyptian leaders would not commit to any aggressive attack, much less a military attack, against Iran, he adds. “It would be very difficult for any Egyptian leader, especially one with a military background, to commit Egyptian soldiers to fight a war against Iran unless it invaded an Arab Gulf country,” Salah writes.

He argues that despite the current state of tension that puts them in an intense bras de fer, Egypt and Turkey have ultimately “many commonalities”, including a shared sense of being able to “serve as bridges between neighbouring continents and civilisations”.

“As the two most powerful countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Turkey undoubtedly have great influence in the region. Together, their population of 180 million people accounts for more than one-third of the Middle East’s total. Combined, they have 1.7 million square km of territory. In 2011, the two countries had a combined gross national product (GNP) of almost $1 trillion. Today, their total GNP at purchasing power parity (PPP) exceeds $3 trillion,” Salah says.

Traditionally, he adds, both countries have a marked influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, after the Arab Spring Egypt became consumed in its internal affairs, with a sequenced political transition, while Turkey was pushing forward with a foreign policy that it had started a decade earlier to reconsolidate its presence around the Middle East and the Balkans. This Turkish policy was responsible for the 2005 signing of a free-trade agreement with Egypt that was implemented in 2007.

Salah also says that at “the last Arab summit before the Arab Spring, held on March 27-28 2010 in Sirte, Libya, secretary-general of the Arab League Amr Moussa called on Turkey to join the Arab regional system in a strategic dialogue as a friendly neighbouring major power with strong historic, cultural, and economic ties to the Arab world. In September 2011, Erdogan was invited to address the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo at the start of his Middle East tour to cheer the results of the Arab Spring. While winning over ordinary Arabs, particularly with his tough rhetoric against Israel, Erdogan’s growing popularity and clout was a headache for more cautious Arab leaders who could see their own influence overshadowed,” he says.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were sceptical about encouraging this rapprochement, with both worrying about the association of Erdogan’s political camp with Political Islam groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Arab world, although Saudi Arabia had, along with Qatar, initially encouraged the Turkish role in Syria.

For Egypt, Salah says, this concern was removed during the one year when Mohamed Morsi served as president of Egypt, “as relations between Egypt and Turkey reached a historical peak”. One year later, the association became a deal breaker for Egyptian-Turkish relations, he adds.

Such tensions, Salah explains, went beyond the obvious discontent in Cairo with the position Ankara took on the political changes in Egypt in the summer of 2013 and its willingness to host Muslim Brotherhood figures that were active against the new regime in Cairo. The tensions were also due to conflicting political agendas and ambitions, ranging from supporting versus opposing Political Islam to competing over cultural influence in the region.

Cairo did not at first take a firm stand against Turkey’s hostile statements and policies, but it eventually opted for firm choices as it became clear that Erdogan was not going to stop his attacks on the regime in Egypt and that he would continue with his scheme to empower the diverse camp of Political Islam, not excluding militant factions, Salah explains.

Meanwhile, he writes, in “the absence of good relations with Turkey, Egypt has developed closer ties with other nations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Egyptian and Israeli companies agreed to use the existing gas pipeline between the two countries to transport Israeli offshore gas to be processed in Egypt. In 2010, that same pipeline was used to export Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan.”

“When Egypt hosted the first meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean energy ministers in 2019, bringing together Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories in Cairo, Turkey was not invited.”

TRIANGULAR ASSOCIATION: “Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been shaped by the fact that all three states are aspiring regional powers vying for influence in the Middle East,” writes author Meliha Altunişık in her chapter of the book entitled “Turkey’s Relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia: From Hopes of Cooperation to the Reality of Conflict”.

As Altunişık says, the results of these competing aspirations have meant that the states have adopted regional policies that “not only try to expand their own influence, but also check that of others”. This, she says, “has limited their ability to form partnerships”.

In addition, Altunişık acknowledges that in “the usual competition to gain regional influence, Turkey’s relations with these two countries have also been influenced by its non-Arab character.” There have also been internal factors in each country, and obviously “the evolution of the regional order as a result of the 2003 Iraq War and the Arab uprisings of 2010-12 created a volatile context that deeply affected the relationship between the three countries.”

While the post Iraq-invasion phase allowed Turkey, both in its capacity as a leading Middle Eastern country and as a NATO member and aspiring EU member, to play a significant role, “regional politics in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings not only changed the nature of Turkey’s involvement in the region, but also led to more resistance from the major Arab countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

Both countries, she argues, were more accommodating of Turkey in the post-Iraq invasion period, as it had a role to play in the accommodation of Iran’s regional influence, which seemed to be expanding in the wake of the fall of the Saddam regime in Iraq in April 2003. However, she adds that things did not go the way Cairo and Riyadh wished.

 “Turkey’s relations with Iran and its part in the proposed nuclear deal disturbed the anti-Iranian alliance,” Altunişık writes, adding that relations with the Palestinian group Hamas were another point of divergence between Cairo and Ankara in the years between the fall of Saddam and the Arab Spring. “From Egypt’s perspective, another significant strategic divergence point with Turkey emerged after the ascension to power of Hamas in 2006,” Altunişık argues.

That said, she notes that the ups and downs of politics have still not hindered continued economic cooperation.

The path of relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia has been smoother, given that Ankara and Riyadh had fewer disagreements until the Arab Spring when Ankara was allied with Doha, a GCC rival to Riyadh.

The tension between Ankara on the one hand and both Cairo and Riyadh on the other was not just a regional issue for Erdogan to worry about, Altunişık says. It was also an issue with internal consequences as it prompted the discontent of some leading members of Erdogan’s political camp, who argued he was going too far in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Political Islam in general at the expense of Turkey’s regional role.

Erdogan “has become an ardent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood movement throughout the Middle East, including in Syria, Yemen, the Palestinian Territories, and Libya,” she writes, adding that “the issue of relations with Egypt has become deeply personal in Ankara”.

This has made it impossible for Ankara to benefit from opportunities to improve its relations with Cairo. Instead, she notes, “in recent years, the increased strategic competition between regional powers has also added a new dimension to mutual suspicions. In particular, Turkey’s attempts to increase its presence and influence in neighbouring Libya and Sudan have caused concern in Cairo.”

 “In June 2017, the Qatar diplomatic crisis added yet another point of contention. Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, as well as Egypt, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed an economic blockade on it, accusing Doha of ‘terrorism’ [with Turkey taking the side of Qatar]”.

Finally, Altunişık notes, Egypt and Turkey have been “engaged in strategic competition over the issue of sovereignty and exploration for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: According to the first chapter of the book, “Heirs of the Empire: Turkey’s Diplomatic Ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia until the mid-20th Century” by author Hakan Özoğlu, the issue has significant historical background, especially in the case of Egypt.

“At its peak, the Ottoman Empire controlled the entire modern Middle East, making it one of the most significant Islamic empires in world history. When the empire collapsed at the end of World War I, many new states emerged in its wake and established new diplomatic relationships,” he writes.

Özoğlu argues that it would be unwise to try to read the complexity of the relations of Turkey with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia away from the historical background that explains the relations and diplomatic ties between the former Ottoman Empire and these two countries.

“Ottoman-Egyptian relations began with Sultan Selim the Grim’s (Selim I) 1517 invasion of Mamluke Egypt. Egypt occupied a special place in the Ottoman administration, as was evident in the privileged status of its Ottoman governors. Until the 19th century, they held the top administrative rank in the empire with the title beylerbeyi (lord of lords). During this time, Cairo was the empire’s second-most-populous city after Istanbul,” Özoğlu writes.

Then, with the ascent of Mohamed Ali to power in Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire acknowledged his family as the hereditary rulers of Egypt and “Ottoman diplomatic interactions in Egypt were carried out by messengers travelling back and forth between Cairo and Istanbul.” This set up, he adds, put Egypt, which was still de jure part of the Ottoman Empire, in an assembly of autonomous states.

As he follows the trail of events, Özoğlu reflects on the subsequent ups and downs of relations between Istanbul and Cairo until 1914 when Egypt became a de facto British mandate territory, “even though it was still considered an Ottoman territory in terms of the international structure”. Relations between Egypt and Turkey then became unsteady at a time when the first was pursuing independence and the latter was losing the empire it had once had after 1918.

“Many Egyptians also sympathised with [Turkish leader] Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s successful struggle against British imperialist designs in Turkey. King Fouad’s declaration of fraternal ties between Turkey and Egypt [in 1927] was aimed at creating a unified front against Britain and strengthening a political alliance with another Muslim country that had concluded a successful war against Western imperialism,” Özoğlu writes.

As he goes through the profile of relations in subsequent years, he reminds the reader that “after 1935, Turkey and Egypt became closer allies due to shared concerns over Italy’s policies, which threatened the Mediterranean region. Ataturk’s standing with the Egyptian public was elevated to such an extent that in 1936, Alexandria’s Young Christians Society picked him as the most influential living politician.”

Following the rise of Gamal Abdel-Nasser to power as president of Egypt in 1954, suspicion between the two countries grew. “In 1954, Nasser expelled the Turkish ambassador in Cairo, Hulusi Fuad Tugay, due to his criticism of the Egyptian coup d’état and Nasser himself,” Özoğlu writes.

 “In response, Turkey remained silent during the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which France, Great Britain, and Israel invaded Egypt. Nasser was not pleased with Turkish prime minister Adnan Menderes’ lack of support against Western imperialist designs.”

With Saudi Arabia, the author argues, history also comes with much baggage attached. “The Ottomans’ prestige within the Islamic world grew when Sultan Selim I conquered Egypt and most of Arabia in the 16th century,” he writes. “As the new protector of the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, the Ottoman Empire opened a new chapter in Islamic history. The Ottoman governor of Egypt initially administered these newly conquered territories, until the rebellion of Mohamed Ali of Egypt in the 19th century.”

There again, there were ups and downs until the early 19th century when the Ottomans faced a new challenge with the rise of the Wahhabi Movement in the Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula, Özoğlu writes.

“In 1801, while the Ottomans were dealing with the French invasion of Egypt, Al-Saud forces captured the holy cities. Although the Ottoman governor of Jeddah, Sherif Pasha, temporarily took back control, Al-Saud forces finally defeated the Ottomans in 1806 and imposed strict Wahhabi practices, forbidding any mention of the name of the Ottoman sultan and caliph during Friday sermons,” the author says.

There was a “second Saudi state” between 1824 and 1891 and a “third Saudi state established in 1902” that continued to form the current Saudi Arabia, the author adds, noting that a couple of decades later, the Hashemites captured the holy cities but were later replaced by Saudi rule.

Eventually, on 8 January 1927 Ataturk’s Turkey acknowledged king Abdulaziz Al-Saud as the ruler of Arabia and on 3 August 1929 Turkey signed a treaty of friendship with the kingdom of the Hijaz in Mecca.

“Although the new Turkish Republic emerged as a secular and Western-oriented country and the Saudi regime had a deeply conservative Islamic and Wahhabi worldview, a political alliance must have seemed to both countries like the only viable alternative in the face of Western imperialism,” Özoğlu states.

The one point that is essential to the argument is the perception on the Turkish side that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia were once part of the Ottoman Empire and that this was something the secular and Western-style Kemalist Turkey had inherited even though it did not see itself as the head of the Muslim-majority countries.

A SAUDI VIEW: In his chapter of the book, author David Dumke also argues that the baggage of history cannot be overlooked in any analysis of how Riyadh views both Ankara and Cairo today.

“Saudi Arabia’s relationships with its neighbours and the broader global community were shaped by the modern kingdom’s distinct phases of growth, which for organisational purposes line up with the reigns of its first five kings. During this time, relations with Egypt and Turkey have ebbed and flowed. Riyadh and Cairo have been bitter enemies and strong allies, and when convenient have supported each other when it served their respective interests,” he writes.

 “Ideological threats, from the Saudi perspective, have come from the various “isms” — Zionism, pan-Arabism, communism, socialism, and for the most part liberalism in its different forms, including Western-style democracy — and antithetical Islamic political ideologies,” he says.

This, he argues, was a crucial part of the Saudi antagonism towards Nasser, who tried but failed, with the devastating defeat in 1967 in the war with Israel, to keep Egypt as the leading Arab state.

In the wake of the 1967 military defeat, Saudi Arabia was able to vouch for a shared leadership of the Arab countries with Egypt. This continued to be the case, the author suggests, until Erdogan was elected as Turkey’s prime minister. Turkey “largely recused itself from regional Arab affairs for decades, and it was not a significant player, except in the Cold War context, until the rise [Erdogan].” By that point, he adds, both Turkey and Egypt were becoming of concern to Saudi Arabia.

Dumke offers an interesting review of the changing foreign policy parameters of Saudi Arabia to Egypt and Turkey through the decades of the past century. Saudi Arabia first supported Egypt’s monarch king Fouad in his attempts to save Palestine in the 1940s, and during this phase the Saudis took exception to Turkey, which after 1948 had acknowledged Israel.

Then, a few decades down the road, the author writes, it was the Turks who were taking a firm stance against Israel and the Saudis who were being lenient to it, given the shared hostility towards Iran and Political Islamism.

This has been the case despite the fact that in the middle of the 20th century, the Saudis, along with the Egyptians, though without the Turks, resorted to Political Islam, with the support of the Americans, to defy communism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This, he suggests was one of the moments of close alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both close US allies in the 1970s, “as Riyadh and Cairo found themselves on the same side of the Cold War” after having overcome the tensions with the US prompted by the oil boycott that the Saudis under king Faisal imposed during the 1973 War with Israel in support of Egypt and Syria.

With the end of the Cold War and in the wake of the oil boom that made the Saudi kingdom exceptionally prosperous, both Riyadh and Cairo had to revisit their positions on the wide range of Islamist groups that they had made deals with, Dumke says.

For Egypt, it was clear that after the assassination of former president Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981 it was unlikely that Egypt under former president Hosni Mubarak would be ready for any political collaboration with the Islamists, militant or not.

He adds that for their part, the Saudis continued to accommodate the Islamists, especially the non-militant factions, though with the red line that they would not act to topple the regime in Cairo, with which the Saudis had reached a tacit agreement on the joint management of the region.

Saudi Arabia, the author adds, was keen to regain Egypt after the assassination of al-Sadat, and it was Riyadh which offered support for the return of Egypt to the Arab League when its membership was suspended in the wake of the signing of the peace agreement with Israel in the late 1970s.

For its part, Egypt returned the favour as it sent troops to join Operation Desert Storm that liberated Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation in 1991 and dispelled the worries of the Saudi royal family that the kingdom was possibly subject to an Iraqi assault.

Then, with the Arab Spring that excluded Egypt from its shared leadership with the Saudis on the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Riyadh found itself almost unchallenged in the leadership of the Arab world, at least at that particular moment. The role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab Spring had also caused a crack in relations with Riyadh and the support that Erdogan gave the Muslim Brotherhood strained his relations with Riyadh, the author notes.

SAUDI AVERSION: “To understand the deep aversion of Saudi Arabia to the growing religiosity of Turkish policies under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it is useful to visit the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul. One of the chambers is a ‘Pavilion of the Sacred Relics,’ a shrine devoted to objects and artefacts from the early history of Islam, including clothing, weapons, and drinking vessels said to have been owned or used by the Prophet Mohamed himself,” writes author Thomas W Lippman in a chapter dedicated to discussing the rivalry between Saudis, Turks and Egyptians over Islamic leadership.

“The religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, who regard their country as the global heart of Islam, have spent years tearing down houses and other buildings associated with Mohamed and his early followers because pilgrims prayed at them. An exhibition such as the one at Topkapı repudiates Saudi Arabia’s claim to be the repository of Muslim authenticity; it is a fitting symbol of post-Kemalist Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan and of his vision of Turkey as the true centre of Islam,” he adds.

Obviously, most of the artefacts on display at Topkapi come from Mecca and Medina when these cities were part of the Ottoman Empire. And the Topkapi itself, Lippman argues, is only one manifestation of the challenge that Turkey has been offering to Saudi Arabia as Muslim leader owing to the fact that Turkey was the seat of the Ottoman Empire of which most of Saudi Arabia was once a part.

Today, the author argues, the Saudis are not only in rivalry with Iranian Shia Islam, but also with Turkish Sunni Islam. This rivalry, he adds, is not made easier by the wish of Egypt, the seat of Al-Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university, to claim a leading role too.

The wish to assume Muslim leadership, he reminds the reader, is not just about foreign policy, but is also about the internal strength of the Saudi ruling family, given that “in Saudi Arabia, the faith is the state and the state is the faith”.

Consequently, he argues that despite the close political association the Saudis might have with Egypt today and their joint apprehension about the regional ambitions of Erdogan, the Saudis will want to keep an eye on how far Egypt will go in promoting itself as an influential Muslim power.

In the last chapter of the book entitled “The Political Veneer of Economic Exchange: Turkish Relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” author Robert Mogielnicki writes that the three countries are not yet ready to move beyond their differences, even if for now Egypt and Saudi Arabia would seem to be set on a close level of cooperation in the face of a likely contentious relations with Turkey.

However, he says that what will likely keep these relations from falling into an all-out confrontation is the economy and of course also demography. “Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt possess outsized economic and demographic positions relative to other MENA countries. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have the two largest economies, with gross domestic products (GDPs) of $782.5 billion and $766.5 billion, respectively, in 2018. Separately, Egypt’s population of 98.4 million people remains the region’s largest,” he writes.

 “Bilateral trade flows between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have remained relatively constant since 2011, averaging approximately $5.2 billion each year.” This, he adds, has been the case despite the fact that the last meeting of the Turkish-Saudi Business Council, established in 2003, took place in Istanbul in 2013.

Moreover, Mogielnicki states, “the total volume of Turkish-Egyptian bilateral trade is comparable to that of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.” This year, however, the free-trade agreement between Egypt and Turkey is up for renewal, and the issue of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean is likely to weigh heavily upon it.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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