After years of estrangement and political tension between Egypt and Turkey, relations between the two countries have witnessed developments in recent months that indicate a common desire for calm, in light of regional and international transformations and interactions that may lead to dramatic scenarios in the region’s alliances.
The Turkish-Egyptian dispute dates back to the summer of 2013, since Ankara opposed the military coup against President-elect Mohamed Morsi, when (current President) Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was Minister of Defense.
The intensity of the dispute increased with regional developments and conflicts over areas of influence and exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean, in contrast to the Libyan crisis, which reached the point of confrontation between the two countries, before the two parties separately supported a ceasefire agreement.
According to indications, it is expected that the Egyptian-Turkish relations will witness a calm in 2021, but without reaching the return of normal relations to what they were 7 years ago.
Indicators and messages
Although Sisi continued to support fronts hostile to the Turkish regime with Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the UAE, during which he made major concessions, the index of relations during 2020 was characterized by an unstable pace, most notably:
- Yesterday, Wednesday, statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about that his country and Egypt are seeking to define a roadmap regarding their bilateral relations, indicating that intelligence communication between them continues to strengthen relations, and that dialogue is based on the foreign level, stressing that there are efforts to move according to the principle of non-conflict in international forums.
- In June, Cavusoglu stressed that the most rational way to restore relations with Egypt was through “dialogue and cooperation with Turkey, instead of ignoring it.”
- In August, Yassin Aktay, an advisor to the Turkish president, stressed the importance of communication between the two countries despite the differences, pointing to the existence of understandings, statements to which Cairo responded that “it needs actions and policies to start a new page.”
- Days after Aktay’s speech, President Erdoan said that his country does not object to dialogue with Egypt.
- In October, Ankara rejected Egyptian criticism and accusations that Turkey was “destabilizing the region.”
- The economic file remained far from political tensions, as the Egyptian parliament ignored a request in early 2020 to cancel the free trade agreement signed with Turkey in 2007, which entered into force in 2013.
- The agreement officially ends at the end of 2020, but one of the parties must inform the other 6 months before taking the decision to terminate it, which indicates its continued activation.
The Libyan file
According to Tarek Diab, an Egyptian researcher and political analyst in international relations and Middle East affairs, the most prominent indicators of appeasement in the Libyan file are:
- The absence of a military confrontation between the two countries.
- Erdogan’s announcement that there are mutual contacts with Egypt at the intelligence level.
- The two sides supported a ceasefire agreement in Libya.
- Cairo’s commitment to the policy of positive neutrality, which necessitates it not taking sides with one of the parties to the conflict, and forging strong relations with the two parties as an entry point to play the role of mediation and appeasement.
As for the eastern Mediterranean, Diab monitored the most prominent Egyptian indicators to put an end to tension in this file and limit it, which were:
- Despite the angry Turkish reactions to the maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Greece, there are data within the agreement that came in favor of Turkey and its legal narrative.
- According to the agreement, Greece made a fundamental concession when it accepted the demarcation of its economic maritime borders with the Egyptian side, starting from the main Greek coast, not the island of Crete, and that the agreement did not grant the latter a continental shelf, but only limited territorial waters.
- Thus, the agreement provides direct support for the Turkish position in the dispute with Greece over the economic maritime borders of both countries in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea.
On the other hand, Turkish researcher and journalist Abdullah Aydogan monitored the repercussions of the truce between the two countries for the new year, which are represented in the following:
- The Libyan file will be the most controversial between the two countries in the coming period.
- The increase in tension in Libya will be reflected in the Egyptian-Turkish relations, and in the event of a return to war, relations will witness more tension.
- Excluding the existence of major tension between Turkey and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean file, and the dispute between Turkey and Greece only.
- Communication between Egypt and Turkey regarding the security file is only intelligence, and it will continue to exist in this context.
- It is unlikely that a ministerial meeting will take place during the current period between the two countries.
- The Egyptian opposition file in Turkey will not change from what it is.
- Many Egyptian and Arab opposition channels operate in Turkey for reasons including the presence of large communities or the low cost of launching.
- The situation continues as it is in the Egyptian-Turkish relations.
According to the Egyptian political analyst Diab, there are many regional and international developments that will affect the future of the relationship between the two countries, most notably:
- The file of normalization between Israel and some Gulf states should represent an incentive for Egypt to reconsider its foreign policy strategy and tools.
- The wave of normalization will not only affect the Egyptian regional role in light of the escalation of the Israeli role and its pursuit of regional hegemony from the Gulf gateway, but it is also likely to affect the Egyptian strategic capabilities such as the Suez Canal.
- The developments related to Joe Biden’s arrival to the White House and the solution to the Gulf crisis coinciding with it and the possibility of a return to improvement in Turkish-Saudi relations, which may represent a calming factor for the policy of burning regional axes in the region.
- It is unlikely that these developments will positively affect the Egyptian-Turkish relations file during the next year, at least in the first half of this year.
- It is likely that the two countries will continue the policy of setting limits to the tension in their bilateral relations, without reaching the point of returning and improving these relations.