The reconciliation process between Egypt and Turkey is finally moving to the diplomatic track, heralding the end of a heated dispute between the two countries that lasted for more than seven years. The progress of talks between Egypt and Turkey is the fruit of months-long successful negotiations between the intelligence bureaus of the two countries. The echo of Turkey-Egypt rift caused waves of turmoil that went way beyond their immediate bilateral interests to disturb the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It also altered the dynamics of the ongoing conflict in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey.
However, we may not assume that fixing the rift and restoring relations between Egypt and Turkey could immediately bring peace to the region. For this to happen, the two countries should spend more time on appropriately reconstituting confidence in each other that allows them to effectively cooperate on handling the complex geopolitical and security regional issues.
In early May, a Turkish delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Cairo and held exploratory talks with Egyptian diplomats, in preparation for broader meetings between Turkish and Egyptian senior state officials, in the near future. A joint statement issued by the Egyptian and Turkish sides described the talks as "frank and in-depth" as they went beyond bilateral issues to discuss "the need to achieve peace and security in the eastern Mediterranean region" and some MENA countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Despite the fact that the joint statement is brief and short, it portrays the future agenda, not only for Egypt and Turkey, but for MENA and the eastern Mediterranean as well.
The joint Egypt-Turkey statement was followed by a number of positive statements from senior Turkish officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who emphasized his country's keenness to “rebuild unity with the Egyptian people.” The same approach was also eloquently expressed by the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who enjoys more credibility and respect in the region and worldwide. Akar said that the Egyptian and Turkish peoples “cannot be separated from each other,” given the common values that they share and the common history of brotherhood and friendship that ties the two peoples.
"There may have been a pause in our relations for several reasons. But I am confident, with all my heart, that this will be overlooked in a short time and that our brotherhood and our friendship with Egypt will reach high levels again;” said Hulusi Akar. In more than one speech following the exploratory talks, Hulusi Akar emphasized that the development of Turkish-Egyptian relations should be beneficial and necessary for the MENA region; especially for countries of immediate interest to both Turkey and Egypt, like Libya.
Despite the optimism instigated by the success of the exploratory talks in melting the mountain of animosity between Egypt and Turkey, more work still needs to be done to realize the highest potential of Turkish-Egyptian regional role. A strong bond of mutual confidence and fruitful interdependency needs to be appropriately constructed. There are a lot of points where the process of rebuilding confidence can start.
The economic sector is one of them. In spite of the political rift, over the past seven years, economic relations have never stopped Turkey and Egypt. Actually, the trade exchange between the two countries has been continuously growing, to the point that Egypt has become Turkey's largest trading partner in Africa, followed by Libya, according to recent statements by the head of the Turkish-Libyan Business Council.
On the security level, Turkey has already shown its good intentions towards Egypt by making the brave decision to curtail the hostile activities against the Egyptian state by the Muslim Brotherhood members residing in Turkey. Still, Turkey needs to hand over the terrorists of HASM who killed the Egyptian public prosecutor and are currently living safely in Turkey.
Nevertheless, the direct bilateral relationship between Turkey and Egypt is linked to several overlapping and intertwining interests. The two countries need to spend appropriate time breaking down these entanglements in an attempt to reach a formula, good enough, that prevents any conflicts between them in the future over their regional interests and alliances. Clearly, regional security is expected to be the main engine for cooperation between Egypt and Turkey in the coming period, especially in light of the United States decision to withdraw from the Middle East to devote more time and resources to its political and economic battle with China.
This leaves the Middle East with one of two options. The first option is to act apathetic and leave the door open for another international power (in this case, Russia) to take advantage of the American withdrawal and enhance its influence over MENA; which will certainly harm Arab interests and strengthen Iran. The second option is for the leading countries of the Middle East to drop down their disputes and unite, so they can write the future of their region with their own hands. Egypt’s reconciliation with Turkey should encourage a wider Arab-Turkish reconciliation; which will definitely benefit the entire Middle East. Turkey is a member of NATO that has a proven ability to challenge and resist Russia’s influence of the region.
The restoration of relations between Egypt and Turkey is the first step in the right direction for a stable and peaceful Middle East. Both Egypt and Turkey enjoy a distinguished geographic location and superior military capabilities. According to the Global Firepower ranking for 2021, Turkey and Egypt hold the first and second places, consecutively, in terms of military strength among all other Middle East countries, including Iran and Israel.
Putting an end to conflicts and overlapping interests in regional issues, especially in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and the eastern Mediterranean, between Egypt and Turkey, and then between Turkey and the Arabs, is very important to maintain security and ensure the stability of the region, and also to ensure the sustainability of strong bilateral relations between Egypt and Turkey, on the long term.