Is a rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey on the cards?

(Shutterstock) Skyline in Ankara, Turkey

Are there positive signs that there will be an imminent normalization of Egyptian-Turkish relations? Ahmad Abdel-Rahman, who is based in Egypt, looks at whether this is likely.

New developments at the level of Turkish-Egyptian relations indicate the possibility of a breakthrough that may lead to a normalization between the two countries. This was recently stated by Turkish officials, in light of Ankara's taking advantage of a very constructive moment, which followed Egypt's decision to explore the eastern Mediterranean away from the area that Turkey drew for itself in the maritime boundary agreement signed with Libya.

As a reaction to the Egyptian position, Ankara expressed its willingness to sign a maritime agreement with Cairo, which would break Turkey's regional isolation and reduce tensions in this region. In addition, this step will lead to the strengthening of Turkey's regional presence, according to what Turkish observers believe. There is no doubt that Egypt's avoidance, within the framework of oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, to enter the area that Turkey drew for itself in the maritime border agreement with Libya, signed at the end of 2019, resulted in Ankara's satisfaction with Egypt. It viewed this as Cairo showing respect to Turkey. However, Athens viewed the Egyptian move as worrying.

This development comes at a time when there are many questions about whether there have been any changes in the direction of normalising relations between Turkey and Egypt. In this context, the Turkish Minister of Defence, Hulusi Akar, expected very positive developments in the next stage between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, said: "We seized a very constructive moment. These steps between the two countries open a new page, and relations will make progress." Speaking to Bloomberg, Kalin said: "If the two countries take reciprocal steps, such a partnership will reduce tension in the region and help stabilise North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean." In clearer terms, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that "the longest continental border in the eastern Mediterranean is between Egypt and Turkey". He affirmed his country's readiness to "discuss the limitation of the restricted marine

areas, and the possibility of signing an agreement in this regard," noting that "Egypt respects our southern continental shelf, and we meet that positively."

Yeni Safak newspaper quoted Erdal Karaghul, a high-ranking Turkish official, as saying that the meetings between Egypt and Turkey take place at a technical level. What happened recently, according to this official, gives rise to "pleasure, and we are ready to sign a bilateral agreement." Karaghul told the same newspaper that an agreement between Egypt and Turkey would "turn the balance upside down" and could contribute to reaching solutions for the existing disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean. On top of these contentious issues is the issue of retreating from the extension of the line called "Eastmed" which runs from Cyprus to Italy. There is perhaps an alternative route which passes by land through Libya and from under the sea to the Greek island of Crete.

Turkish-Egyptian relations do not depend only on the maritime border, however. But reciprocal political conditions stand in the way of the normalization of relations.

At the forefront of those conditions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's has recognised the regime of his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the cessation of describing the June 30 Revolution as a coup. Likewise, Egypt has called to a halt the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey. Ankara has turned into the most powerful platform of "Brotherhood" against Sisi.

The two countries also differ over the Turkish military presence in Libya. For example, as Egypt demands the withdrawal of the Turks, who had an active role in defeating the forces of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar, supported by Cairo. Perhaps the Gulf reconciliation that has recently happened between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, finally, despite and the reservations of the Emiratis and Egyptians over it, will contribute to Egypt's reconsideration of its relations with other countries, including Turkey. However, Egypt's initial respect for the southern Turkish shelf, through a tender that began on February 18 and ends on the first of next August 2021, and deals with Block 18 on the borders of the Turkish maritime region, sparked a wave of anger in Greece. Athens believes that the Egyptian position towards Turkey is a non-positive step that requires clarification from Egypt, especially since Athens considers that Turkey has no right to demarcate its maritime borders. Greece also believes that Egypt closes its eyes to Turkey's practices and flirts with it, and even opens the door to signing an agreement.

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Thursday, 13 May 2021