Time to Break Egypt-Turkey Stalemate



Last week, some interesting news was widely spread about Ankara appointing a new ambassador to Cairo. Some Turkish resources on social media noted that Salih Mutlu Şen, who served as the Turkish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Turkey representative in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is the candidate for the position. Although the news is not officially confirmed by Ankara or Cairo, neither side denied it is happening.


Turkey and Egypt withdrew their ambassadors in 2013, as soon as the diplomatic standoff between them over the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood, erupted. Yet, the embassies and affiliated cultural centers continued operations as usual. Also, the trade and economic relations between the two countries never stopped, but rather grew and improved.


One year ago, the Arab Gulf countries decided to resolve their own conflicts, in preparation for the expected regional transformations that may result from the change in the United States Administration from Trump to Biden. Under the effect of this peace trend, Turkey and Egypt, which used to take confronting sides in the Arab Gulf conflict, started to consider fixing their own broken ties. Since then, only two reconciliation meetings were held, in Cairo and Ankara respectively, between diplomatic bureaucrats. But they led to no tangible progress on the ground.


Since the last round of bilateral meetings in Ankara, in September 2021, the talks have not been upgraded beyond the level of deputy foreign ministers, as expected. That gave the impression that the long-waited rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey has fallen into another gap of hopelessness.


The irony here is that although the Egypt-Turkey reconciliation is still stumbling on a muddy road, each of Turkey and Egypt were separately able to reconcile with their rivals in the Arab Gulf region, in a record time. In less than one year, Qatar and Egypt, on one hand, compared to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the other hand, have converted from worst rivals to best allies. Yet, Turkey and Egypt are unable to reconcile with each other. There are two ways to explain that.


On one hand, neither Egypt nor Turkey has the “money power” that the Gulf countries (namely Qatar and UAE) usually use to convert old rivals or allure new allies. The money poured by Gulf countries in the Egyptian and Turkish economies, during the past few months, offered a quick fix that literally saved both economies from failure under the pressure of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


However, Cairo and Ankara need to understand that, whether they like it or not, they are codependent neighbors in a very complicated geography. Through positive pragmatic cooperation, especially in the economic and military sectors, they can grow rich and powerful in a miraculous way. Europe’s starvation for the Mediterranean gas, during the Russia-Ukraine war, and the increasing demand on military armament in the Middle East after the United States withdrawal, are two areas where Turkey and Egypt can perfectly use to their own benefit.


On the other hand, the personal prejudices of the Turkish and the Egyptian leaderships are making reconciliation between the two states almost impossible. None of them wants to appear weak in the eyes of their public citizens, who had been dragged into the state-level conflict through the pitiless media wars that continued to boil between the two countries for more than seven years. A large sector of the Egyptian and Turkish citizens, who are obviously dominated by their emotions not their brains, are watching the reconciliation process as if they are watching a football match; waiting for the loser team to bow and cry on the feet of the winning team. The political leaders of Cairo and Ankara need to free themselves from their citizens’ emotionally-blinded expectations so they can get the reconciliation accomplished on realistic and pragmatic basis.


That being said, there are a few signs that we may see positive developments in the relationship between Turkey and Egypt, in the next few months. Some of the media outlets working from Cairo, and funded by Abu Dhabi, to attack Ankara, have been notified, in March, to stop attacking the Turkish state leadership. Some of them had to close their businesses, as a result. Last year, Turkey took similar action towards the news outlets working from Istanbul, and funded by Qatar, to attack the Egyptian state leadership.


Moreover, last week, the Tactical Report website mentioned that Egypt is interested in domestically producing Turkey’s surface-to-air missile system “HISAR.” Around the same time this news came out, a number of Egyptian Military personnel were in Ankara, attending a promotion event for the Turkish arms manufacturers by the Defense Industry and Technology Training Center. Rebuilding the military-to-military relations between the Turkish and the Egyptian militaries could be a critical first to maneuver the complications on the political level.


In any case, it is refreshing to see the news about Egypt-Turkey rapprochement making the headlines once again. It is about time for Egypt and Turkey to break their decade-long diplomatic impasse, and start cooperating for the good of their people. Both countries are among the most affected by the heat of regional and international conflicts that erupted over the past two years. Yet, they can together mitigate most of the negative consequences of these conflicts on themselves and on their regional milieu, only if they choose to drop down a decade of useless diplomatic disputes and effectively collaborate on a deeper strategic level.


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