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Thursday, 29 September 2022
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Egypt Turkey Relations Back to Square One
Dalia Ziada
It seems that the Egyptian-Turkish relations have returned to square one. That is highlighted by the sudden halt of exploratory talks between diplomatic and intelligence bureaus, since June. In addition, some of the regional complexities are forcing the two political leaderships to remain apart because each of them already adopts contradicting and confrontational stances towards them. That is not only limited to Egypt and Turkey inconsistent positions on issues related to the armed conflicts and political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, such as the situation in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and recently Tunisia. But these confrontational visions also extend to determining conflicts in Africa and Europe, that directly influence the national security of each of them; especially the conflict between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the Nile River, and the conflict between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus over the maritime delimitations in the eastern Mediterranean.

When the Turkish military intervened in Libya, in late 2019, Egypt objected the presence of Turkish troops at its western strategic depth. This created a series of clashes that almost reached the brink of a military fight between Egypt and Turkey inside Libya. As a result, a series of security talks had to be initiated between Egyptian and Turkish intelligence bureaus. This was the first direct dialogue between the two countries in about eight years, during which the two countries were deliberately hurting each other’s economic and political interests.

Only in March, talks of reconciliation between Egypt and Turkey began to take a serious form, especially after the success of the Gulf reconciliation between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, and Qatar’s intervention to reconcile between Egypt and Turkey. At that stage, the dialogue between the two countries moved to the diplomatic track. In May, a meeting was held in Cairo at the level of Egyptian and Turkish deputy foreign ministers in order to hold exploratory talks on reconciliation.

Optimism about the success of the reconciliation talks between Egypt and Turkey dominated the scene, between March and May. That is especially after Turkey took actual steps to control the propaganda machine against the Egyptian state and president, driven by the Muslim Brotherhood members, who are living in Turkey. Also, Turkish President Erdogan, as well as senior officials of the Turkish government, especially Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, did not spare an opportunity without stressing the importance of relations with Egypt and the sincerity of Turkey's intentions to turn the page on the past and resolve the issues that caused the rift in Egyptian-Turkish relations.

Yet, unfortunately, contradicting moves of Turkey and Egypt, in the last two months, indicate that Egyptian-Turkish relations have begun to deteriorate again. The second round of exploratory talks was supposed to be held, in Ankara, in June. But that never happened and there is no clear official statement explaining why. Most likely, the Egyptian court decision, in June, to execute leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood is the real reason behind that. There was a strong objection, in Turkish media and political circles, on the Egyptian court decision. Turkey is one of the strongest international supporters to political Islamist groups in the Middle East, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian leadership saw this as an intervention into a domestic issue by Turkey and thus breaks one of Egypt’s provisions to reconcile with Turkey.

Since then, Egypt took strong stances against Turkey on most of the regional issues directly affecting or affected by the Turkish leadership. On July 20th, the Egyptian President met with the Greek Prime Minister, in Cairo, and confirmed Egypt’s full support to Greece in its struggle against those who want to infringe its sovereignty. The next day, the President El-Sisi received Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Cairo, and confirmed his support and admiration to her strong stance against the presence of foreign troops on Libyan soil. Although El-Sisi did not mention Turkey by name, in any of the two meetings, but it did not need much effort to guess.

With the escalation of the forest fire crisis that affected a large sector of southern Turkey, as well as some of the Greek islands, causing a humanitarian and economic crisis, Egypt chose to help Greece and not to help Turkey. On one hand, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of condolence and support to the Turkish people, without mentioning the Turkish regime at all. Perhaps, this was a response to the Turkish official statements of support to the Egyptian people during the train accident crisis, that killed dozens earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Armed Forces sent fully-equipped Chinook helicopters to Greece to participate in firefighting efforts. The official statement issued by the Egyptian Armed Forces in this regard described this procedure, as “Egypt's commitment to support brotherly and friendly countries in times of crisis.” Undoubtedly, this caused a lot of disappointment towards Egypt inside Turkey.

However, it seems that Egypt's position regarding the forest fires disaster came as an equal response to Turkey's provocative position on Egypt’s conflict with Ethiopia over the Nile River. In early August, Turkish President Erdogan made a call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in which he affirmed his solidarity with Abiy Ahmed's government's position on the internal and external conflicts it is involved in, and that “Turkey will continue to provide all kinds of support to Ethiopia.” With these statements, President Erdogan has clearly chosen to stand against Egypt in its conflict with Ethiopia, which represents a matter of life or death to Egyptians. This is despite the fact that in March, Turkey proposed to help Egypt resolve the conflict over the Renaissance Dam, as Turkey is the third largest investor in Ethiopia’s operational capital, after China and Saudi Arabia.

All these indicators tell us one thing: unfortunately, the Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation is standing on the brink of failure; if it had not failed already. More political clashes, that will affect the entire region, are expected to intensify between the two countries in the next months.

Dalia Ziada

BY: Dalia Ziada