The Beginning of a New Era in Egypt-Turkey Relations -Arman Sheikh


Egypt is one of the few countries in the world where the Western-backed junta government is in power. One of the top countries in the Arab world, which plays a significant role in the Middle East, both geographically and geopolitically. The current military government took power in 2013 in the country which ranks at the top of all Arab and African countries in the 2021 ranking of the famous Global Fire Power report. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi occupied the power by removing Brotherhood government and Turkey’s ruling AK Party was one of the strongest supporters of Muslim Brotherhood. That’s why, since the military coup, Egypt-Turkey relation has been deteriorated.

Tensions between the two sides have risen sharply over the Turkey-Libya Economic Agreement, signed two years ago in 2019. According to the signed agreement, a special economic zone has been created from the southern coast of Turkey to the northeastern coast of Libya, where the Greek island ‘Kriti’ has not been considered. As a result, Greece became furious. Egypt has also reacted sharply for fear of decline of its dominance in the Mediterranean Sea. Anti-Turkish activities began in the region when Greece and Israel sought support from the European Union and the United States.

Greece-Egypt signed a new agreement in August last year as a step in the right direction against the Turkish agreement, denying the Turkish economic zone. The result was tensions across the Mediterranean Sea. But before the tensions escalated into a military confrontation, the prudent President Erdogan managed to persuade Fattah Al-Sisi by conducting “backdoor diplomacy”. He meant that if Egypt signed an agreement with Turkey in exchange for an agreement with Greece that would increase Egypt’s special economic zone in the Mediterranean by 20,000 square kilometers. Cairo gives the ‘green signal’. The secret letters of the two sides started exchanging. In this context, Egypt’s recent tender for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea did not recognize Turkey’s declared territory and did not show it in its waters.

Naturally, no ally of Egypt wanted this progress in the relations between the two countries. However, no one except Greece has shown such a negative reaction and it is in their own interest. Unable to accept such a dramatic change in Cairo’s diplomacy, the Greek foreign minister visited Egypt three times and the prime minister once to try to change Cairo’s attitude. But taking lessons from the past, Cairo is now steadfast in its position. Angered by this, the Greek media has already branded Egypt as a traitor. Egypt’s disguised allies have also signaled their displeasure by not inviting Egypt to a recent foreign-level meeting among them (Cyprus, Greece, the United Arab Emirates & Israel).

In terms of the situation, it seems that Cairo is on its way, calculating how much trust its allies have maintained with Egypt in the past. As can be seen from the past, many countries have taken advantage of the weakness of the Egyptian junta government and have thrown out the Al-Sisi government at the end of the day. Egypt, along with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has imposed a “blockade” on Qatar. But in the withdrawal of the “blockade”, they did not give any importance to Egypt.

The United Arab Emirates that fueled Egypt against Turkey in Libya is now active in developing relations with Turkey. Also, Israel has not been seen to speak out against Turkey. This is because the 1,900 kilometers wide seven billion dollars’ worth “Eastmed Pipeline Project” which supplies gas from Israel to southern Europe, will pass through the territory claimed by Turkey. As a result, Israel is not opposing Egypt-Turkey relations for its own interest to turn the project into reality.

In the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt joined the anti-Turkish alliance at the call of Israel, Greece, France and the European Union. But now Israel is moving towards normalization of relations with Turkey, Greece recently held its first open meeting with Turkey in five years. France is also showing flexibility towards Turkey. As a result, the European Union has said it will not get into a big problem with Turkey. Egypt has not yet been asked for opinion on the coalition’s actions. But Egypt has lost a lot of interest in joining the alliance. In this context, it can be assumed that Cairo is now moving on its own path, ignoring the allies.

The ongoing normalization of Egypt-Turkey relations is not a coincidence, as the two countries already had secret communications as well as economic ties. On the basis of which, Ankara proposed to Cairo to increase bilateral trade, investment and gas imports during the pre-coronavirus period. Bilateral trade exceeded 5 billion in 2018. Following this, formal communication has started at present.

On March 12, the Turkish president RecepTayyipErdogan was the first to officially announce the contacts between the two countries. Later, on May 5 and 6, the world witnessed a meeting between the representatives of the two countries in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Although it is said that there is no precondition for this discussion, it is conceivable; the main interest of both sides is the sea area. According to analysts, Egypt’s foreign ministry and intelligence officials are more interested in a maritime deal with Turkey than Greece. And if the two sides sign an agreement on the maritime border, the Greece-Egypt agreement will become very useless and the Turkish economic zone will be established. As a result, there will be no maritime boundary between Greece and Cyprus.

Egypt is interested in a new agreement with Turkey for reasons other than maritime borders. Issues such as the lifting of the ‘blockade’ by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Qatar and efforts of them to improve relations with Turkey, the end of the Libyan war and the benefits of fuel extraction agreement, all have influenced Egypt to normalize relations. In addition, the discovery of huge mineral resources and military progress have added a new dimension to Turkey’s assessment. After discovering the mines with 405 million cubic feet of gas in the Black Sea last year, Last June 4 Turkish authorities declared that another 135 million cubic feet of gas mine has been discovered in the Black Sea.

Apart from this, the construction of the Al-Nahda (Renaissance) Dam in Ethiopia upstream of the Nile River has become a threat to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Both countries rely heavily on the Nile River for agriculture. Currently, Ethiopia is building the dam without an agreement between Egypt and Sudan, from which Egypt alone cannot can’t stop Ethiopia. In this case, it is expected that Turkey will be able to play an effective role in resolving the Egypt-Ethiopia-Sudan dam dispute. Note that Turkey has already offered to mediate in the matter.

In the wake of these events and Cairo’s geopolitical reckoning, Ankara is silently assessing the basis of their common interests in the Eastern Mediterranean area and Libya. And Ankara’s carefully crafted messages now serve as a winning formula. The issue of Cairo’s interest in cooperation with Turkey is also being brought to the fore strategically. Apart from this, one of the unannounced demands of the Al-Sisi government towards Erdogan is to ban the largest centennial Islamic movement “Muslim Brotherhood” or to return the Brotherhood leaders who have taken refuge in Turkey. Although some leaders have been reported to have been secretly extradited, Turkey will never officially accept this demand. Because Erdogan himself is a democratic leader who opposes military rule. Banning the Brotherhood would be a betrayal of one’s own ideals. In addition, the ban will never stop this large movement in the Muslim world, so Erdogan will not want to go against it and question his own future.

Above all, the steps taken by Egypt and Turkey to normalize relations will have a profound effect on the areas in which the two countries play an important role in regional and international geopolitics. We are already seeing the positive effects of this new turn in relations between the two countries in Libya. There, the two sides reached a compromise and Egypt began work on opening an embassy in the capital, Tripoli. Besides, the two countries have the capacity to deal with any situation. Egypt has a military presence in eastern Libya. They will be able to use its military forces to defuse any tensions there. On the other hand, if there is any disorder in the capital Tripoli, Turkey will be able to control it. As a result, Libya’s reconstruction is expected to accelerate once the ongoing Egypt-Turkey normalization agreement is formalized. Moreover, the Palestinian people, who are constantly being persecuted, will be the most blessed as a result of this relationship.

But emotions and dicta sometimes give way to the national interest. And if the head of that nation is a pragmatic president like Erdogan, it’s hard to imagine how normal relations will be.

Arman Sheikh is a promising writer on geopolitics, international relations etc.