“Türkiye and Egypt could set a new equation in the Eastern Mediterranean”

“Türkiye and Egypt could set a new equation in the Eastern Mediterranean”

UWI author Onur Sinan Güzaltan evaluated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Egypt on Turkish TV channel Ulusal Kanal.

Below we present the transcription of the interview translated to English.

How do you assess the recent developments in Türkiye-Egypt relations?

There has been a long period of “estrangement” between Türkiye and Egypt. Contrary to expectations, President Erdoğan and his Egyptian counterpart El Sisi met at the end of that period. An important meeting for not only the relations between the two countries but also for the future of the region.

To understand how the process started, recall that the relations between the two countries severed on July 3, 2012, following the overthrow of the Morsi government. The fundamental point of disagreement was the Muslim Brotherhood issue for a long time. Later on, the two countries found themselves in different camps in the Eastern Mediterranean. The two countries confronted each other in Libya as well. Today’s meeting of the two leaders indicates that the disagreements have been overcome at certain points.

What potential impacts would the normalization of Türkiye-Egypt relations have on the region?

There are several points about it.

The first issue is the extraction and utilization of gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. The issue of Exclusive Economic Zones will come to the agenda. In this issue, the two countries have the potential to determine a joint strategy.

The second issue is the ongoing low-intensity civil war in Libya. Both Türkiye and Egypt are active in Libya. Ankara and Cairo can take joint steps for stability in Libya.

Thirdly, the issue of Palestine will come to fore. The two countries can develop a joint initiative on the Palestinian issue. Such a step would be precious in preventing the genocide in Gaza.

Fourthly, Egypt can mediate between Türkiye and Syria. Normalization between Türkiye and Syria, following the normalization between Türkiye and Egypt, would provide relief to the region generally.

Another issue to be adressed would be Africa. Egypt is the gateway of Africa to the Mediterranean. Türkiye has activities, especially in Sudan, Ethiopia and North African countries.

The normalization of Türkiye-Egypt relations will have a positive impact on resolving problems in the countries and regions I mentioned. Thus, evaluated from a broad perspective, we see that there is a rich potential for cooperation between the two countries.

You touched upon the Eastern Mediterranean issue. Would normalization with Egypt strengthen Türkiye’s hand in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Without doubt. Egypt was part of the East Med project in the confrontation in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, Egypt made agreements with Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, but it avoided signing an agreement that targets Türkiye’s interests in the terms of Exclusive Economic Zone.

There is still the possibility for Türkiye and Egypt to sign an agreement regarding the sharing of gas fields in the region. Because, despite 11 years long estrangement, Egypt has not signed any agreement on the Eastern Mediterranean issue that could position Egypt against Türkiye in the medium and long term.

Secondly, there is an Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement signed between Türkiye and Libya. Egypt could be included in this agreement. Turkish and Egyptian officials can take joint steps for both achieving stability in Libya and, in connection with this, determining maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Of course, in this regional equation, we shouldn’t forget that Palestine, through Gaza, also has rights to the gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon and Syria too. Türkiye and Egypt could pioneer here and develop a joint strategy with these countries on the gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean.

There is an ongoing influence of the European Union through Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, and the US through Israel, in the Eastern Mediterranean. Collaboration between Ankara and Cairo has the potential to limit the impact of “external actors” in the Eastern Mediterranean.

President Erdoğan and his Egyptian counterpart Sisi signed many agreements. Do you have an evaluation of the scope of these agreements in terms of trade? What kind of opportunities could arise economically?

Trade between Türkiye and Egypt was progressing well during both the Mubarak and Morsi periods. Many Turkish companies, especially in the textile sector, were have been making business in Egypt.

There was a significant transport agreement, RORO agreement, between the two countries which facilitated the passage of Turkish ships through the Suez Canal. Unfortunately, with the rupture of relations in 2013, privileges granted to Turkish companies and Turkish products in Egypt were terminated. In this context, the emphasis on trade in the Erdoğan-Sisi meeting is important.

There are many new construction sites in Egypt, especially in New Cairo. In the coming period, Turkish construction companies are likely to be active in these areas.

Erdoğan-Sisi meeting was also covered in the Greek press. Is Athens unhappy with the normalization between Türkiye and Egypt?

Greece is an economically bankrupt country deprived of a strong demographics and military structure.

Unfortunately, Greece has been under the control of Washington and Brussels for a long time. I say “unfortunately” because it would also be in our favor if our neighbor Greece be independent. The Greek political elite’s steps regarding Türkiye are not to protect Greece’s interests but those of Europe and the United States. If there were an independent government in Greece, it would adopt policies for good relations with Türkiye.

The Türkiye-Egypt normalization has disturbed Greece at certain points, and the EU and the US too. At this point, we should carefully monitor how the EastMed project will take shape in the coming period. What kind of initiative centered on the Eastern Mediterranean between Türkiye and Egypt will be coming? Will the two countries take concrete steps regarding Gaza? Answers to these questions are important.

Another important point is how normalization in Türkiye-Egypt relations will affect Iran’s situation in the region. Iran-Egypt relations severed after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. However, in recent times, we see steps to normalization in Iran-Egypt relations.

The possibility of Türkiye, Egypt and Iran, countries with deep-rooted tradition of statehood in the region, coming together would change all the balances.

Will we see a joint project with Greece in the coming period? Where will the Israel’s position? Will Ankara and Cairo take joint steps against Israel’s claims in the Eastern Mediterranean? We should follow such questions to understand the tendencies in the coming period refraining from definitive determinations.

What are the implications of Türkiye-Egypt normalization for West Asia?

We know that Qatar played a significant role in the normalization process between Türkiye and Egypt.

Qatar, despite being influential in both financial and political aspects in Türkiye, is an interesting country that is not thoroughly examined. Understanding Qatar’s choices in foreign policy is crucial. Qatar is developing good relations with Türkiye and Iran, but at the same time, it has deep and longstanding relations with the United Kingdom. Exactly for this reason, it is necessary to refrain from definitive comments on relations between Türkiye and Egypt mediated by Qatar. We will see what the future brings.

The fundamental question here is whether we are talking about only a regional initiative or the US and the EU involved in this agreement at certain points. We need to find an answer to the question that “what kind of role the Us and the EU played in the normalization between Türkiye and Egypt”.

Unfortunately, both Türkiye and Egypt are not fully independent economically and both countries have relations with Western financial authorities bordering on “obligation” hands tied. We saw one outcome of such in Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. That was a good case to see only political maneuvers are not enough  without economic independence. The “balance policy” of Erdoğan and the AKP government is in harmony with Washington and Brussels on critical issues.

There are similar problems in Egypt. The Cairo government has agreements with the IMF, and at the same time, is in need of hot money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Egypt is in a severe economic situation.

Morever, the war in Ukraine and Gaza has hit global trade routes and thus Egypt.

We should carefully assess how far the decisions of the political elites in Egypt, including normalization with Türkiye, are sovereign and independent decisions.

Again, it is too early to make definitive judgments. Nevertheless, the rapprochement of the two countries is a positive development.

In the Turkish press, some criticised Erdoğan like “He met with Sisi, whom he called a killer.” What would you say about such criticisms?

Without doubt, foreign policy of a state can undergo some changes. But Türkiye’s recent history with Egypt presents some important lessons in two aspects.

Firstly, one shouldn’t make “sharp statements” in foreign policy. This point has now been well understood. Erdoğan had made such statements, but now he is sitting around the same table with Sisi.

Secondly, unfortunately, the opposition’s approach in Türkiye is nothing but “cheap politics”. The development of Türkiye-Egypt relations is beneficial for both countries and the region. Criticisms tp undermine this are not in anyone’s interest.

The lesson here is not to disrupt relations with deep-rooted states in the region for the sake of short-term ideological approaches. I am talking about the Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Organizations and individuals come and go, but states are permanent. You cannot afford to severe ties with Egypt, a state with which you share the coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean. And the same goes for Egypt.

The two countries experienced a similar process to this recent one in the 1950s between Turkish prime minister Adnan Menderes and president of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser. Türkiye was in the Western camp and Egypt was cooperating with the Soviets at that time. Relations had severed for a certain period, but it did not last long. Everyone should draw lessons from what has happened. We lost 10 years.

We hope that the Ankara-Cairo normalization also paves the way for the improvement of relations between Ankara and Damascus. Because there is also a “reciprocity of necessity” between Türkiye and Syria.

How did the Egyptian side take the Erdoğan-Sisi meeting?

The Egyptian side welcomes the development of relations, with a certain hesitation due to past 10 years though. We are talking about two nations that have shared a common destiny for centuries, these will be overcome over time.

Even in the tensest times of relations, no negative reaction or sentiment towards the Turkish people and culture has ever arisen in Cairo, quite the contrary.

Steps critical issues like the Muslim Brotherhood would accelerate the normalization process. There is also some information about cooperation in the military field. If the two countries cooperate in these areas, the relations will return to their old course.

Onur Sinan Güzaltan
Onur Sinan Güzaltan was born in Istanbul in 1985. He had his Bachelors's degree in Law, from the Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne Universty /Paris XII and a Master's degree in International and European Law. He got his certificate of diploma equivalence at Galatasaray University. Later, he got a Master's degree in International Trade Law, at the Institut de Droit des Affaires Internationales, founded jointly by the Sorbonne Universty and the Cairo Universty. In this process, he had served as the Cairo representative for the Aydinlik Newspaper. He has several articles and television streams within the international press, in such as People's Daily, Al Yaum, Al Ahram, Russia Today FranceAl Youm Al Sabea. In addition to being the author of the Tanrı Bizi İster Mi?, a work that studies the 2011-2013 political period in Egypt, he had also contributed to the multi-author study titled Ortadoğu Çıkmazında Türkiye, with an article that focused on the Turkish-Egyptian relations. While currently working as a lawyer, he also writes a weekly column for Aydinlik Newspaper on the subject of international politics and geopolitics.

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April 2024