Can Egypt-Turkey ReconciliationMake theDisturbed WatersSleep?
The world is closely watching the intense diplomatic rapprochementbetween Egypt and Turkey,over the past month. The many disagreements between Cairo and Ankara kept the two countries apart for nearly eight years. But, eventually, the two countriesfound themselves drawn towards each other, not only by the mutual interest in realizing the fruitful potential of their unique alliance, but also by the need to settle the disturbed waters in their surroundings; either in the eastern Mediterranean or in the Nile River.
On one hand, Turkey’s primary concern, at the moment, is to settle its century-long disputes with Greece and Cyprus over the maritime delimitations in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The Lausanne Treaty, signed in 1922 under the fog of war, prevents Turkey from enjoying its basic right to benefit from seabed resources, despite the fact that it owns the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean. As a result, Turkey cannot drill for gas, which is a matter of life or death for the Turkish people. Every year, Turkey pays more than 40 billion dollars to import gas, mainly from Iran and Russia.
Over the past two years, Turkey has been, particularly active in fighting for its rights in the Mediterranean. In December 2019, Turkey decided to get politically and militarily involved in Libya, in hope that it could help improve its situation in the Mediterranean. Then, in the summer of 2020, Turkey started seismic research for gas in the disputed waters. This aroused military tensions with neighbor Greece and Cyprus, which attracted other navy forces from Russia, France, and the United States in a way that threatened the security and stability of the countries sharing the Mediterranean basin.
Amidst this chaos, Greece succeeded in convincing Egypt to sign a maritime agreement that designates an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which crosses with the zone previously delaminated in Turkey’s maritime agreement with Libya. For decades, Egypt used to turn Greece requests to sign an EEZ agreement out of respect for Turkey. However, this time, motivated by the need to secure its own national security which Turkey threatened from the north, in the Mediterranean, and from the west, in Libya, Egypt decided to sign the EEZ agreement with Greece, in August 2020.
The Greece-Egypt maritime agreement and the formation of EastMed Gas Organization, excluding Turkey as a member state, further complicated Turkey’s situation in the Mediterranean. However, by the beginning of 2021, Egypt decided to tone down its standoff with Turkey. In March, Egypt decided to limit its gas drilling activities in eastern Mediterranean outside the area which Turkey unilaterally designates as the delimitation of its continental shelf. Egypt’s respect for Turkey’s demarcations, despite its EEZ agreement with Greece, was warmly welcomed by the Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar.
“Egypt’s respect to our continental shelf is important. We have many historical and cultural values in common with Egypt. The activation of these values could make a difference in relations in the coming days;” said Hulusi Akar, who also hinted that a maritime agreement between Turkey and Egypt should be created in the near future. Hulusi Akar’s brief but honest statements, on March 6th, aroused a lot of controversy in the region, especially in Greece and Cyprus, but were positively received in Egypt. Despite being part of Erdogan’s regime with its infamous profile of flawed foreign policies, Hulusi Akar is widely respected and trusted for his word.Hulusi Akar’s statementswere the spark which initiated a round of positive statements from both sides and opened the door for actual steps to be taken towards the long-delayed reconciliation between Cairo and Ankara.
On the other hand, Egypt’s primary concern, at the moment, is to settle the waters of the disturbed waters of the Nile River, by ending itsdispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which was illegally founded in 2010. Ethiopia’s insistence on filling the GERD, despite legitimate objection from other Nile valley countries, especially Egypt where the Nile River ends, represents a serious threat to the lives of the Egyptian and Sudanespeople. For two years, Egypt has been lobbying the international community, in vain, to stop Ethiopia from proceeding with building and filling the dam. On March 16th, the United States indirectly withdrew itself from acting as a mediator between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Some observers argued that the current diplomatic dispute may escalate into a military conflict between Ethiopia, on one said, and Egypt and Sudan, on the opposing side. At the beginning of March, Egypt and Sudan signed a military cooperation agreement that enables the two countries to join forces to counter regional threats.
Meanwhile, Turkey signaled that it could intervene as a mediator in the GERD crisis, if Egypt agrees. On March 12th,Erdogan’s special envoy to Iraq said on a televised interview that Turkey is ready to mediate in the GERD, provided that western countries do not intervene, because their intervention may complicate the issue. Turkey enjoys a massive political and economic influence over Ethiopia, that has continued for decades. According to the official statistics of the Ethiopian Investment Commission, Turkey is the thirdbiggest investor inthe operational capital ofEthiopia, after China and Saudi Arabia. Over the past seven years, Turkey supported Ethiopia in its conflict with Egypt over the GERD, due to the long political rift between Cairo and Ankara. If Egypt wins Turkey as an ally, or at least neutralizes Turkey’s involvement in the GERD crisis, this would definitely give leverage to Egypt in its negotiations with Ethiopia.
“Suuyur” or “water sleeps” is an idiom the Turkish people use to push away the evil and give power to the good. If Cairo and Ankara manage to successfully settle the political disagreements that kept them apart for almost eight years, their future cooperation may change the geopolitics of the eastern Mediterranean and alter the outcomes of several conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. But, most importantly it may help them work together on making “water sleep” in a way that serves their national security and the welfare of their peoples
BY: Dalia Ziada