Middle East

Revived kinship between Egypt and Turkey will be positive for the region – Middle East Monitor

Every Muslim in the world wishes to see the differences between Muslim countries get resolved, their relations restored, and the wounds in the Muslim body politic healed in order to return to being a strong structure able to face the challenges it faces. This will help the Ummah around the world, but it cannot happen unless the leaders of these Muslim countries agree on the basis of the main goals of the Ummah as a minimum level of understanding. Details are not essential, as the devil is in the detail.

They must also redefine friend and foe, because the meaning has been lost amid the crazy struggle for leadership of the Muslim world. They have been blinded and have handed it over to the enemies who have given the Ummah a taste of humiliation and disgrace.

I mention the leaders of the Muslim countries specifically, because the Muslim people know the Ummah’s goals well, and their belief in the principles has never been shaken. They do not need to redefine who is their friend and who is their enemy.

This is how I feel on hearing the news of the imminent reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt on the one hand, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the other. Ankara has been flirting with Cairo in recent months, and has been met with positive statements from the Egyptians. The latest of these was Egypt’s announcement of a tender for hydrocarbon energy exploration which took into consideration the southern edge of Turkey’s continental shelf referred to in the Turkish-Libyan maritime border agreement.

Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar welcomed this, and stressed that it serves the rights of the Egyptian people. This is undeniable, because the agreement with Libya provides Egypt with 11,500 square kilometres in the Mediterranean, which is much larger than the area in the Cairo-Athens agreement. The Greeks are dismayed by this new Egyptian position, which suggests the possibility of a memorandum of understanding between Cairo and Ankara to demarcate their maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish-Egyptian reconciliation: The prospects of success and of failure

It’s a blow to Greece, which along with France has made a great effort to exclude Turkey from the area. I think they will continue to plot against Turkey and try to block such a memorandum. The Greek prime minister rushed to contact Egypt’s president, and the foreign minister dashed to Cairo to meet his Egyptian counterpart. I do not know what happened during their talks, but reading between the lines I am certain that Cairo will not change its stance towards the eastern Mediterranean. It has abandoned its vindictive policy against Ankara, which made it sign an agreement with Athens to spite Turkey; this time is over.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that it is possible to negotiate with Egypt on maritime borders depending on progress made in mutual relations. Just a few months ago, he hinted about contact with Egypt at the intelligence level, in addition to diplomatic dialogue, to strengthen relations. This was confirmed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Friday.

Indeed, a meeting took place between Cavusoglu and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry on the sidelines of international meetings last year, in which they stressed the need to work on a roadmap for the restoration of relations between their countries.

“A new chapter can be opened, a new page can be turned in our relationship with Egypt as well as other Gulf countries to help regional peace and stability,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Bloomberg. “Egypt is an important country in the Arab world and remains the brain of the Arab World; it is the heart of the Arab world.”

Protesters hold a poster with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s former president Mohamed Morsi during a demonstration against the US and Israel at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. [YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images]

From this I conclude that discussions have been taking place between Egypt and Turkey, behind the scenes, since September 2019, on intelligence matters at Cairo’s request. This has helped to solve a number of crises in the region, perhaps the most important of which is in Libya, where Egypt and Turkey are on opposite sides: the former backs renegade coup leader Khalifa Haftar, and Turkey supports the internationally-recognised government; they have been able to stop the fighting and perhaps save Libya from being split in two. The formation of the transitional government with officials from both sides of the conflict has actually boosted Turkish-Egyptian relations.

Based on “back door diplomacy”, the government in Tripoli is being arranged and polished, after which Egypt-Turkey reconciliation will be made public, dazzling and delighting the supporters of both countries. Any gaps will be bridged and, I believe, decorated with a meeting between Presidents Erdogan and Al-Sisi. Erdogan has hinted at this possibility.

The split with Egypt goes back to the July 2013 coup, when Turkey took a principled stand and refused to recognise it. The Turks have suffered greatly from military coups over the past century and are well aware that foreign countries are often behind them with the intention of weakening the country and people. Turkey is consistent in opposing coups wherever they take place. The best example of this is its position against the attempted military coup in Armenia, despite the hostility between the two countries; if the coup had succeeded, Turkey would have benefitted.

History demonstrates that there are neither permanent friendships nor permanent enmities in the international community; there are instead permanent interests and pragmatic policies, as Winston Churchill mentioned after World War Two. Turkey and Egypt have both suffered from the tense relationship between them, even though relations were not completely severed. Economic and trade relations have continued despite everything — including shameful Egyptian media campaigns against Turkey and Erdogan — and have actually increased in value. The decline of such campaigns is to be welcomed.

READ: Developments in Turkish-Egyptian relations

No one can deny history and geography, or erase their influence on the human, emotional and intellectual structure of all people. Egypt and Turkey have close and deep ties that go back centuries to the time of the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt, the Levant, Iraq, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula from 1250 to 1517. Moreover, Egypt ruled as a vassal for the Ottomans for more than three centuries. This long period of Turkish presence in Egypt strengthened the social ties between the Egyptians and the Turks, with many Egyptians tracing their roots to the Turks, and vice versa.

Indeed, the colloquial dialect in Egypt contains many words from the Turkish language, and Egyptian cuisine includes the most delicious Turkish food. The streets of Egypt are still full of Ottoman and Mamluk architecture and landmarks, and bear the names of historical Ottoman figures. In a somewhat childish move, the famous Sultan Selim I Street in the Zeitoun area of Cairo was renamed after the Mamluk Sultan, Tuman Bay, who fought against the Ottomans. He was defeated and Sultan Selim I ordered his execution. It is ironic that the two men were both Turks.

Egypt and Turkey are thus two large countries that share religious, social and cultural values. President Erdogan was right when he said that, “Friendship between the people of Egypt and Turkey will not be the same as relations between the Egyptians and the Greeks.” It is fair to say, therefore, that the people of Egypt and Turkey will be happy to see their governments moving towards reconciliation. It will be positive for the whole region.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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