Egypt’s role in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been attracting a lot of attention, recently. In less than one week, since the beginning of March, Egypt hosted the Arab League ministerial meeting, received high-profile diplomatic delegations from Qatar to accelerate the process of reconciliation between Cairo and Doha, coordinated a presidential visit to Sudan that had been preceded by a historical military cooperation agreement between the Egyptian and Sudanese armed forces, and held discussions with UN Special Envoy for Libya, as the Libyan parliament is convening to approve the formation of the new government.
However, the most outstanding event, in this regard, is the aggressive endeavors taken, lately, by senior Turkish officials to court Egypt. In a rare incident, during the naval exercise “Mavi Vatan 2021,” on March 6th, Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar saluted Egypt for respecting Turkey’s continental shelf and considered this as an opportunity for Ankara to improve relations with Cairo in the future. “We have many historical and cultural values in common with Egypt. The activation of these values could make a difference in relations in the coming days;” said Hulusi Akar.
The next day, İbrahim Kalın, the spokesperson of Turkish President Erdogan, said to Bloomberg that “a new page can be turned in Turkey’s relationship with Egypt and Gulf countries to improve regional peace and stability.” He described Egypt as the brain and heart of the Arab World. "We are interested in talking to Egypt on maritime issues in the eastern Mediterranean as well as other issues in Libya, the peace process, and the Palestinians. We can lower tensions and that kind of a partnership can help regional stability from North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean;" Kalin said.
For the past few months, meetings between Egyptian and Turkish intelligence officials have, reportedly, been held regularly, with the purpose of negotiating the political differences between Cairo and Ankara. The end of the seven-year rift between the two countries may play a significant role in changing the geopolitics of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean regions.
As expected, Ankara’s rapprochement to Cairo panicked the Greeks and the Cypriots. Many Greeks believe that the restoration of good relations between Turkey and Egypt is a threat to Egypt’s partnership with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean. On March 8th, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs paid a surprise visit to Cairo to make sure that Egypt would not abandon Greece, if it restored relations with Turkey. This is not possible. Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel's partnership in the Mediterranean is ratified by domestic parliaments and international laws, thus permanent and irreversible. Turkey may join this partnership in the future, but it cannot break it.
Nevertheless, the important question, now, is whether a reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt is possible, especially after Egypt’s actively progressing reconciliation with Qatar, since January. The endless contradictions in the stances adopted by Turkey’s political leadership towards Egypt are hindering the process of fixing the rift and normalizing relations between the two countries, each of which constitutes an economic, political, and military value added to the other, should they choose to cooperate.
The Egyptians did not have a direct disagreement with the Turks. On the contrary, as Hulusi Akar noted, there are many cultural and historical commonalities, and several mutual economic and political interests and geographical convergence, which should make Egypt and Turkey partners not opposites. The Egyptians’ main dispute with Turkey revolves around Turkish President Erdogan’s insistence on continuing to support the Muslim Brotherhood's activities against the Egyptian state.
If Turkey wants to establish stable and fruitful relations with Egypt, which is what Egypt also wants, then Turkey must first end its support to the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a condition that neither the Egyptian state nor the Egyptian people may give up on. Many Egyptians, today, see Turkey as a hostile state because of Erdogan’s continued support to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to a public survey, conducted by the Liberal Democracy Institute, in 2017, more than 80% of Egyptians said that they consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, and refused the proposal of state reconciliation with the group, under any conditions.
Hulusi Akar’s brief but honest statements, on March 6th, aroused a lot of controversy in the region but were positively received in Egypt, on many levels. Despite being part of Erdogan’s regime with its infamous profile of flawed foreign policies, Hulusi Akar is widely respected and trusted for his word. To put those statements into action, the next mission – or more accurately a challenge – for Hulusi Akar, and the otherwise officials in Turkey’s political leadership, is to persuade Erdogan to end his support to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially those using Turkish media platforms to attack the Egyptian state. I want to be optimistic, but watching Erdogan waving Rabia (the four fingers salute of the Muslim Brotherhood) on all his public appearances, makes reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt sound like a mission impossible, that neither Akar nor other officials, can accomplish.
Also, read on The Levant