Slow-paced Normalization between Egypt and Turkey

Ankara Wants to Break Its Regional Isolation
Egypt's Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza (background) meets with his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal (Foreground) in the foreign ministry headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 5, 2021. (Getty)

Ankara is apparently doing its best to improve its political and diplomatic ties with Egypt after years of deterioration since 2013, due to the Turkish support of Muslim Brotherhood who moved all their activities to Turkey following the collapse of former president Mohamed Morsi’s regime and the escape of most MB leaders from Egypt.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formed a parliamentary friendship group with Egypt last April with the aim of approaching Cairo. Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesperson and special adviser to the Turkish President revealed that the official delegation which visited Egypt recently included the Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister, while Turkish media reported that another potential meeting would be held between Turkish and Egyptian intelligence chiefs.

Turkish semi-official sources told Majalla that, “In the present, there is no fear for MB leaders who fled their country to Turkey, but MB members would face deportation to Egypt if the relations between Ankara and Cairo are mended.”

"The Erdogan government is aware that given the significant disagreements between Ankara and Cairo on a long list of issues, there can only be limited progress in mending diplomatic relations with Egypt. Since Turkey is diplomatically isolated to an unprecedented degree regionally and globally, any small sign of improvement in bilateral relations with Egypt would be perceived as a win for Ankara,” said Dr. Aykan Erdemir, CHP former member of the Turkish Parliament and senior director of FDD's Turkey program.

Dr. Erdemir told Majalla, “Erdogan is keen on signaling to the Biden administration as well as to Western investors that Turkey is a constructive actor. When it comes to Biden, the Turkish president would like to improve his tarnished image by presenting himself as a partner who can be part of the solution in the Middle East and beyond. When it comes to Western investors, Erdogan would like to remedy Turkey’s image as a country with a high level of political risk that is in conflict with almost all of its neighbors.”

"Overall, since Erdogan’s ongoing patronage of Islamist politics is at the core of Ankara’s disagreements with Cairo as well as many other capitals in the Middle East, any Turkish attempt to improve bilateral relations can only be limited in scope. Neither can Erdogan commit to ending his Islamist policies nor his counterparts would trust him even if he pledges to do so,” Dr. Erdemir added.

For the past few years, the Turkish authorities offered nationality to thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members, but Cairo is demanding the extradition of those who were involved in violence eight years ago. This condition is terrifying for MB members and is forcing them to search for alternative places to go to in case Turkey and Egypt’s diplomatic relations are mended.

Prominent political analyst Omran Salman said, “the Turkish delegation’s visit to Egypt is a practical interpretation of the Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s statement last month, when he announced that his ministry’s relations with Egypt will be resumed. It is supposed to be followed by a meeting between both countries’ foreign ministers, which implies a breakthrough in normalization of Turkish-Egyptian ties.”

Salman added to Majalla, “the overall context for this development comes in line with Turkey’s decision to reposition itself regionally, after the Turkish President found himself isolated in a narrow corner due to bad relations with US President Joe Biden, as well as European and Arab countries. Thus, he decided to change his previous strategy, which proved damaging and failing, by mending relations with the largest Arab countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Israel and maybe later UAE. This comes in hopes for alleviating American and European pressures and reclaiming Turkey’s traditional role.”

Egypt demands that Ankara shut down three MB Arabic speaking satellite channels, which are used to attack Egypt and its incumbent President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Egypt is also requesting the extradition of some MB leaders and thousands of the group’s members, as a condition to restore diplomatic relations with Turkey, in addition to Cairo’s repeated calls to end Turkish presence in Libya.

In this regard, Salman said, “I believe that, in this stage, Egypt will be satisfied with the Turkish promises to put MB and other dissent’s activities in Turkey in check and to prevent them from damaging Egypt’s interests, particularly in media and politics. Ankara has already begun fulfilling this promise.”

“However,” he added, “I don’t think Turkish authorities will extradite some wanted figures to Egypt. It will likely ask them to freeze their activities in order to stay in Turkey or find a third country. It is also clear that MB leadership understands the new Turkish stance.”

According to Salman, Ankara’s rapprochement with Cairo aims at breaking its regional isolation and mending ties with Egypt and Gulf countries, especially in the economic side which was hugely affected by the deteriorating relations.

He also said that “mending relations between Ankara and Cairo will enable Turkey alleviate the impact of Western pressure and restore its role in regional equations. Let us not forget the new context in the Middle East represented in Arab normalization agreements with Israel, which will add increasing political and economic pressures on a number of major countries in the region, particularly Turkey, Iran and maybe Egypt.”

The political analyst added that restoring Turkish-Egyptian ties will take some time, and currently it is in an initial phase.

He went on to say, “Now we see a mutual willingness between Turkey and Egypt to have a kind of normalization, but the speed of such process will differ. Despite the Turkish large enthusiasm, Egyptians seems more cautious.”

Speaking of potential impact on regional issues shared by Ankara and Cairo, Salman explained that “mending of relations will positively affect the east Mediterranean crisis, whether it was about Libya, oil, gas and territorial waters, Cyprus problem, or other disputed issues between the two countries.”

Eight years ago the relations between Ankara and Cairo were severed. More deterioration ensued over Turkey’s direct intervention in Libya, especially after Ankara sent hundreds of soldiers to Libya along with more than 15 thousand Syrian militants in early 2020.

Moreover, Ankara held two agreements with the Libyan National Accord Government which obviously enraged Egypt, especially that one of the two deals was a maritime boundary treaty.

However, since US President Joe Biden came to power few months ago, Turkey has changed its usual tone with Egypt. It moved soon to restore relations and formed a parliamentary friendship group in late April, following contacts between Turkish and Egyptian intelligence officials.

It is also noteworthy that Turkish opposition parties blame Erdogan’s AKP party for the deteriorating relations and demand that he abandons MB group to turn a new page with Egypt.