Turkey and Egypt, two nations on opposing sides of the Eastern Mediterranean, have initiated the first steps towards a normalization process.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavuşoğlu has announced that an official delegation from Ankara will visit Cairo and held diplomatic contacts during the first week of May.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has signaled that his country is ready for a process to improve relations with Turkey.
It seems that a tough negotiation process will take place between the two countries, after the whole eight years of tension.
Ankara and in Cairo might in the diplomatic meetings possibly discuss the issues of sharing the natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, the fate of Ikhwan, the clashes in Libya, in Palestine, and in Africa.
Delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean
One of the issues that will most likely be discussed between Turkey and Egypt will be the delimitation of exclusive economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the sharing of the natural resources in these respective zones.
It has been known that both the official and unofficial delegations from Turkey have repeatedly sent messages to the Egyptian side, warning that Cairo’s the maritime agreements with Greece and Southern Cyprus contain many verdicts against Egyptian benefits.
Egypt is taking steps with respect to the Turkish theses in its latest gas exploration bid and indicates that these messages from Ankara have somewhat been understood by Cairo.
Afterall, the normalization process between the two countries has been initiated right after these events.
The press reported that there are positive intentions on the Egyptian side, especially within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to reach an agreement with Turkey on the Eastern Mediterranean. However commitments that Egypt had made to the European Union by bilateral agreements with Greece and Southern Cyprus severely limit the Egyptian range of action.
Likewise, the Gulf countries are also against Cairo’s normalization process with Ankara. And when the financial relations between Egypt and the Gulf states are taken into account, these reactions cannot be ignored.
Israel is also likely to be dissatisfied by a Turkey-Egypt normalization process, especially when its relations with Ankara are quite rough.
It is possible that all the powers mentioned above might try provoking in one way or another a crisis, which could disrupt the normalization between Ankara and Cairo.
For that reason, it is a very important achievement that Ankara and Cairo have chosen to contact directly. But it is also obvious that there is a mutual mistrust after the eight years of high tensions.
The way to overcome these difficulties and provocations, would be through taking the relations between the two countries to a far more inclusive and a long-term perspective and to include many topics other than the Eastern Mediterranean.
And when we say “other topics”, the first issue that comes to mind is the fate of Ikhwan…
Ikhwan between Turkey and Egypt
The issue that severed ties between Turkey and Egypt back in 2013, was the support that Ankara has given for the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which had been toppled back then.
And the Turkish government has offered asylum to Ikhwan members, as well as the permission to operate the organization’s broadcasting organs, throughout this process.
Egypt has considered Turkey’ support for Ikhwan an intervention in Cairo’s internal affairs and responded by degrading the diplomatic relations with Ankara to chargé d’affaires. Egypt additionally has taken an opposing stance to Ankara in the regional conflicts.
After mutual positive signals on the Eastern Mediterranean, the question how to solve the Ikhwan issue still remains as one of the topics at the Ankara-Cairo diplomatic table.
Sources in Ankara say Turkey is planning to limit its support for Ikhwan and the organization’s media outlets in Turkey have been urged to end their broadcastings that intervene with the Egyptian internal affairs.
The positive signals from the Egyptian government towards Ankara are a clear indicator for Ankara’s progress on Ikhwan.
And the fact that the AKP government has shaped its foreign policy through Ikhwan and other affiliated organizations until 2016 makes it very difficult for Ankara to make a hard step away from Ikhwan.
Ikhwan on the other hand, is known to have lost its former power in the region, has gone underground, and has suffered many schisms in its administration, especially after the major blows it had taken in Egypt.
The diminishing of Ikhwan is just a secondary priority for Egypt, but that does not mean that the al-Sisi government will bring the Ikhwan issue on the table during the talks with Turkey.
Although the release of 130 Ikhwan members among the total 1,400 political prisoners of Egypt in the recent weeks has been evaluated by some media outlets in Turkey as an Egyptian reconciliation process to Ikhwan, those who closely observing the country say that the Egyptian government had previously made similar clemencies during the holy month of Ramadan before.
In summary, it would be a mistake to expect flexibility from the Egyptian government regarding the Ikhwan issue.
So, the right attitude for Ankara would be to cut off its support for Ikhwan in Egypt, and to degrade its relations at least to a neutral stance.
What kind of an agreement in Libya?
Another issue that will be at the negotiation table of Ankara and Cairo, will be the fate of Libya.
Libya is a vital region for Turkey in Eastern Mediterranean issues, while Egypt has a very long land border with Libya, reason why Cairo sees the events in this country as a matter of national security.
Ankara, which pays attention to the region in terms of its maritime border, and Cairo that focuses on its land border, have been on opposite fronts in Libya so far.
The political balances and the overall political landscape in Libya have been reshaped after the victory of the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord against the Egyptian-backed Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
The Libyan issue, where Turkey and Egypt are involved along with the United States, Russia, France, Britain and Italy, has been put on a hold since the election of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who has been equally close to all sides, to the presidency of the interim government.
We have a process that will prioritize a political resolution ahead of us, but if we fail to see any results, it is imminent that armed conflict will continue in the region.
Turkey and Egypt had already discussed about Libya in their contacts through their intelligence agencies. The region will surely be relieved if the two countries develop a political and mutually agreed solution on Libya, through a process that will be held on a diplomatic scale in the near future.
A common solution in Palestine
Palestine is one of the issues to be discussed in the diplomatic talks between Turkey and Egypt.
Turkey maintains close ties with HAMAS in Palestine. Egypt, on the other hand, has an influence on both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the other groups in the country. Cairo is also trying to balance its relations with Israel by using its influence over Palestine.
There are some disagreements between Egypt and HAMAS, which is backed by Turkey. And as a part of that, Egypt is trying to break the Turkish influence in Palestine.
However, if Ankara and Cairo consider the Palestinian issue as an area where they can develop a common initiative rather than a clash zone, the balances may change completely.
The inclusion of Russia which has strong ties to Palestine, to that equation would mean the total desolation of the US-Israel axis.
The upcoming elections stand as an important opportunity for establish the Ankara-Cairo dialogue in Palestine.
Egypt and the Turkish influence in Africa
Another factor that has triggered Egypt to feel surrounded by Turkey after its interventions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Palestine is that Ankara has become a major influence in the Red Sea region and in Africa, which can be described as the backyard of Egypt.
The growing Turkish influence especially on Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia, is causing a disturbance in Cairo. Cairo, which is at odds with Ethiopia over the sharing of Nile River water, is carefully monitoring the Turkish activities there.
At a meeting, that is claimed to have taken place between the Turkish and the Egyptian diplomats and intelligence service officials in the city of Sharm El Sheikh, Turkish officials are alleged to offer their Egyptian counterparts a mediation over the dispute with Ethiopia, and in response, the Egyptian side is claimed to offer a mediation between Turkey and Greece.
Likewise, the Turkish activities in the Red Sea through Sudan are also perceived as a threat by Egypt.
However, if a different approach is taken, Africa and the Red Sea region may offer Ankara-Cairo axis many opportunities for cooperation rather than clashes.
A new perspective
An agreement is not possible between Ankara and Cairo solely on the Eastern Mediterranean issue and by ignoring the other issues.
Our need is a holistic perspective that evaluates all the problematic topics together.
And a holistic perspective is achieved through a mutual change of perspectives on both sides, and an approach to the problems through a collaborative perspective rather than a competitive one.
A correct approach will solve the issues in Libya, Palestine, Africa, Red Sea and with Ikhwan, as well as creating many opportunities for cooperation with a positive multiplier effect between the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish-Egyptian cooperation will open the doors of Africa for Turkey and the doors of Eurasia to Egypt, and it will bring the two major nations of the Eastern Mediterranean together once again.
If the common social and cultural values, commercial interests, and geopolitical necessities are combined with policies based on a mutual trust, the two sides of the Eastern Mediterranean may finally be reunited.