Turkey and Egypt are in the middle of a historic process. The two countries have the opportunity to change the equation in the region and especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, if the right steps are taken.
Turkey has interpreted recent decisions of Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean as a move of goodwill, and Ankara has started calls to Cairo for reconciliation.
While until today it was always the Foreign Ministry in Ankara that made the official statements on Egypt, the Ministry of Defense spoke for the first time on the bilateral relations, indicating that a new phase has begun in diplomatic relations.
The recent developments raise many questions, especially on the roadmap for the normalization process. It is also important to lay a broader perspective on a possible cooperation between these two countries.
Let us start with the questions that still await their answers.
How was the message from Turkey received in Egypt?
Let me first mention this: I have asked former Egyptian diplomats and political experts on Egypt’s recent steps in the Eastern Mediterranean, which were all respectful to the Turkish maritime rights. All of them replied, as if they had agreed among themselves before, with the same response: “Egypt’s stance and actions are not motivated by worries of diplomatic messages sent to Turkey. Egypt simply complies with the needs of international law.”
Although the response may seem a little negative, it is not hard to guess the intention behind this attitude of the Egyptian side:
1. Not cutting any relations with Greece and with Southern Cyprus, without reaching an definitive agreement with Turkey before.
2. Achieving more gains before entering negotiations with Ankara.
The Egyptian side’s stance of raising the issue of a deportation of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) members from Turkey, in parallel with the Eastern Mediterranean issue, can also be interpreted in the same way.
I consulted retired Admiral Cem Gürdeniz on the matter. Gürdeniz says, “the problem between Turkey and Egypt is more of a political nature than disagreements on the maritime law and its judicial or technical application”, an assessment that also hints to factors behind Cairo’s attitude.
It will not be surprising if Ankara takes some restrictive actions against the Ikhwan members operating in Turkey in the near future, in connection with the current process.
However, more positive signs are needed from Cairo concerning the Eastern Mediterranean, if Ankara’s will and trust towards Egypt is to be strengthened.
Is there currently a dialogue between Turkey and Egypt?
The statements coming from Ankara one after the other inevitably raise the question whether there is an ongoing dialog between Turkey and Egypt.
Former Vice Minister of Egyptian Foreign Affairs Rahka Ahmed Hassan said about the issue: “I cannot say if there is a dialog between those two countries or not, but I still could not understand why these messages are sent through the national media. If there is a solid proposal, it should have been communicated directly through the embassies (…) There has to be an answer to the question what Turkey wants from Egypt, and a concrete proposal should be submitted.”
And all the experts I have consulted on the subject so far have also insisted on the emphasis of an official message through the diplomatic channels.
A dialog behind the doors between these two countries is still a mystery, but it is clear that the Egyptian side is expecting a reliable roadmap being presented through official channels, as the assessments from Cairo indicate.
Meanwhile this article was in preparation, the Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak reported that bilateral meetings have started. On the Turkish side, Çağatay Erciyes, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Bilateral Political and Maritime-Aviation-Border Affairs, leads the talks with the Egyptian Chargé d’affairs in Ankara, according to the newspaper. Yeni Şafak also reported that talks bilateral have started in Cairo, led by the Turkish Chargé d’affairs and Military Attaché in Egypt.
What would Turkish-Egyptian cooperation bring?
It would be narrow minded and insufficient to evaluate the Turkish-Egyptian relations only in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The cooperation of these two important states of the region will not only lead to changes within them but also trigger important regional and even global effects.
Of course, let us emphasize here that we are discussing a cooperation that is independent from the US-Israeli axis, a cooperation where Ankara and Cairo follow their own sovereign decisions.
Here’s a list of possible cooperation areas between the two countries and the gains of that cooperation:
1. The Turkish-Egyptian cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean can be expanded to include other coastal states, such as Syria, Palestine, and Libya.
2. As we have written many times before, a political accord can be reached on the initiative of Turkey-Egypt-Russia to resolve the Libyan crisis. While this would strengthen Turkey’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean, it would also solve the border security problems of Egypt.
3. A joint solution plan can be created in Palestine with the Turkish-Egyptian axis and even including Iran and Russia. This cooperation over Palestine will create an opportunity for Ankara and Cairo to gain the upper hand against Israel.
4. The normalization and cooperation in Turkish-Egyptian relations will also resonate on Turkey-Syria relations in a positive way. There is no doubt that this normalization will also have an impact on Damascus, when considering the Cairo-Damascus relations.
5. The normalization in Turkish-Egyptian relations would crush the plans like the Abraham Accords, whose main intention is to bring Arab countries into the US-Israeli axis against Turkey and Iran. It is known that Egypt is skeptical about these plans, but remains silent due to its financial dependence of the Gulf countries.
6. It would be easier for Turkey to develop its relations with the Gulf countries via Cairo. This would limit the possibility and extent of Gulf countries’ acting within US-Israel plans.
7. Turkey’s reach into Africa through Cairo would also be facilitated. There would be opportunities for the establishment of tripartite mechanisms, especially with Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, rejecting US and French influence in the region. Such possibilities would strengthen the Turkish influence in Africa in one hand, and would allow Egypt to ease up on the security issues over the Red Sea, on the other.
8. The cooperation between Turkey and Egypt is likely to ease up the tensions over the relations between Egypt and Iran, the other regional power. Turkey can take the initiative in this issue.
9. Turkey and Egypt, which are both have economic difficulties, will regain some strength with the revival of their trade routes, which are open already.
History will judge upon those in Ankara and in Cairo, who dare to deny all these opportunities due to reasons of fear of the US – and Israel, of short-sightedness, of focusing strategies on a political group that has no future, and following remnants of the narrow-sighted “Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbors”.