In the Face of Isolation, Erdogan Reaches Out to Egypt


March 09, 2021


FILE – This combination of pictures shows, at left, a photo released by the Turkish President Office of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Oct. 23, 2018, and, at right, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Jan. 28, 2019. PHOTO: AFP


By Dorian Jones | VOA News


ISTANBUL – Turkey is looking to reset relations with Egypt after years of animosity in a move analysts say is part of a broader strategic shift in the face of its growing isolation.

“(A) new chapter can be opened; a new page can be turned” in ties with Egypt as well as Gulf nations, Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said earlier this month. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusolgu has confirmed diplomatic efforts are under way to repair ties.

Egypt and Turkey are traditionally allies. But relations have been in a deep freeze since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup led by current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, when both countries withdrew their ambassadors.

Morsi was a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who publicly wept over the crackdown against the ousted Egyptian leader’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Ankara’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring was central to a largely ideologically-driven goal of projecting its influence by promoting Muslim solidarity across the Middle East.

Pragmatism vs. ideology

Analysts suggest Erdogan is looking for a way to turn that policy back.

“It was a mistake to support Muslim Brothers. But the (Turkish) government now realize Muslim Brothers do not have the slightest chance of coming to power again, so we can’t keep on with this policy,” said Huseyin Bagci of the Foreign Policy Institute, a think tank in Ankara.

“But how to get out of this wrong policy in public is Erdogan’s problem,” added Bagci. “Turkey officially cannot say we will renounce Muslim Brothers’ support. Erdogan will not say this officially. But probably slowly, he will move from his official position of being anti-Sisi. But Erdogan will not shake hands with Sisi.”

Turkey has paid a high price for alienating Egypt. In a move that wrong-footed Ankara, Cairo last year signed an agreement with Turkey’s rival Greece to develop the Mediterranean Sea. Recent energy finds in the Mediterranean have sparked for a series of territorial disputes between Greece and Turkey.

“Egypt is acting against Turkey just because of Turkey’s wrong policy based on theology, like supporting Muslim brotherhood,” said retired Turkish admiral Cem Gurdeniz, who is now a regional analyst. “When Turkey leaves the religious policy, I am sure Turkey-Egypt relations will be better.”

Difficult switch

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Saturday said Ankara was close to realigning with Cairo. “We have many historical and cultural values in common with Egypt. When they are put in use, we consider that there may be different developments in the coming days.”

Turkey is eyeing a Mediterranean agreement with Cairo to weaken Egyptian ties with Greece.

Cairo has so far refrained from commenting on Ankara’s overtures. “In Turkey, there is the public view that the Egyptians are always ready for what Turkey proposes. That is not true,” said Bagci.

“For tango, you need two, and Egypt is not so interested. Egypt wants to show to its public that Turkey has done wrong. Turkey is like a demanding gentleman who wants to dance. But the lady who’s been disappointed before by the gentleman, so it will take time to dance again. But Egypt will realize it’s in its interests economically, politically, technologically, diplomatically to work with Turkey,” Bagci said.

There is an awareness in Ankara of the need for patience. “There have been some (Turkish and Egyptian) intelligence officers talking together,” said Turkish Presidential Advisor Mesut Casin of Istanbul’s Yeditepe University. “But we need real on-table diplomatic talks. It will be in the interests of everybody. We can have full diplomatic relations by March.”

Casin says Turkey’s recent efforts to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Egypt, could also provide impetus to its Egyptian rapprochement efforts.

Europe and Africa

Erdogan has recently made overtures to another key Egyptian ally, France. “Turkey, France can make significant contributions to security, stability, peace efforts from Europe to the Caucasus, Mideast and Africa,” read a Turkish Presidential statement, after Erdogan spoke by video link last week with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

It was not long ago that the Turkish and French leaders had been exchanging angry barbs, with Erdogan at one point suggesting Macron needed mental health treatment, prompting France to recall its ambassador temporarily.

Beyond the personal animosity between presidents, there is an increasing rivalry in Africa.

France, along with Egypt, faced off against Turkey as proxies in the Libyan civil war. Ankara military backing of the Libyan Government of National Accord averted its almost certain defeat against forces of Khalifa Haftar, the de facto leader of eastern Libya. But analysts suggest Ankara could be learning the importance of diplomacy.

“I don’t know how long you can rely on hard power, which is pretty expensive,” said international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, pointing out Turkey’s involvement in military conflicts from Libya to Syria to Iraq.

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