Turkey and Egypt: What Is After Presidential Handshake?



The Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan have shaken hands and smiled at each other, at the inauguration ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Doha. If you have been following the past nine years of media wars and diplomatic boycotts that compounded a heap of personal prejudices between the two leaders, you will realize that this handshake was bigger than an act of courtesy. It is a historical moment marking a turning point in the relationship between Egypt and Turkey.


It would also be a mistake to expect this historic handshake to happen as a coincidence. The two presidents have previously met in several international forums, but have always been careful not to involve in any direct encounter with each other. However, this time each of them wanted, with sincere intentions, to swallow personal grudges for the benefit of their people.


Over the past year, in particular, there have been lots of arrangements, on more than one level in the two countries and beyond, to bring the Egyptian and Turkish leaders together at this particular time and place. Since its successful reconciliation with Egypt in 2021, the Qatari leadership of Prince Tamim Bin Hamad has been determined to fix the rift between Egypt and Turkey and subsequently restore the geopolitical and geo-economic balance in the regions of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, where the two countries are key agenda-setters.


Nevertheless, the meeting between El-Sisi and Erdogan, despite its significant symbolism, is merely the beginning of a series of serious negotiations that need to happen between the Egyptian and the Turkish state. Diplomatic and military leaders from both countries need to clear the air by sincerely discussing their future policies on several critical regional issues where the two states adopt confrontational positions. That includes Libya, the maritime delimitations in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Muslim Brotherhood.


On the issue of Libya, a meeting between the Egyptian and the Turkish leaderships needs to happen to discuss their divergent perceptions about the presence of the Turkish troops in Tripoli. The Egyptian state is still concerned about the issue and sees it as a threat to Egypt’s national security, despite the insistence of the Turkish state that the troops in Tripoli are only there to preserve the balance of power and prevent the eastern militia from taking over the government. However, Egypt is still a staunch supporter of the eastern political elite and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).


In the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt will not be able to back down from its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement signed with Greece in 2020. Yet, this should not prevent Egypt from convening similar agreements with Turkey or make it even hesitate to do so. In all cases, it is in Egypt's best interest not to involve in the century-long conflict between Turkey and Greece, or side with one party against the other. Needless to mention, Egypt is set to harvest bigger benefits from a maritime agreement with Turkey than it can have from any other agreement with any other country on the northern side of the Mediterranean.


Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, it would be unrealistic to expect that Turkey may extradite the members of the group, who sought refuge in Turkey to escape prison sentences in Egypt, following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, in 2013. However, in the past year, Turkey has been exerting tremendous effort to prevent them from using Turkish land as a platform to attack the Egyptian state. That should be appreciated by Egypt, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood group has become too weak to act as a threat to any party. The group is already collapsing from within and it needs years to rebuild its severely damaged bases and credibility. This is, also, something that President Erdogan is now clearly aware of.


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