Border demarcation with Greece: A new crisis with Turkey

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that a maritime border demarcation deal was signed with Greece on Thursday evening. The deal aimed at allocating the exclusive maritime economic zone for both countries. This announcement infuriated Turkey and caused diplomatic sparring with Cairo, thus adding a new crisis to the already strained relationship between the two countries. That relationship has been deteriorating since the late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was close to the Turkish regime, was removed by the army’s commander at the time, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who assumed the presidency later on.

The Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, on Thursday morning in Cairo in a quick visit that lasted only a few hours. During the visit, the official page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Facebook published a video taken of the ceremony in which they signed an agreement on the allocation of the exclusive economic zone between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Republic of Greece in a conference.

During the conference, Shoukry said that the agreement will open up new prospects for economic cooperation with Greece. In turn, Dendias considered the maritime border demarcation agreement with Egypt a “legal” one that reflects the countries’ collaboration to meet the region’s challenges. The signing of the agreement today comes months after the twelfth round of technical negotiations about maritime delimitation between the two countries that was held last June.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release following the Egyptian-Greek announcement rejecting the agreement and describing it as invalid as far as Turkey is concerned. The ministry stated that there are no maritime borders between Egypt and Greece and the area stipulated in the agreement falls within the Turkish continental shelf that Ankara informed the United Nations about earlier.

The Turkish statement added that Egypt gave up 11.500 Km2 under the agreement signed with Cyprus in 2003 and that the new agreement with Greece costs Egypt more of the exclusivity of its maritime boundaries. Moreover, the statement described the agreement as an attempt to usurp Libyan rights.

In its statement published by the official Anadolu Agency, Ankara emphasised that it will not allow any activities to be carried out within the stipulated area and it will undoubtedly continue to defend its legal rights as well as those of the Turkish-Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Egyptian authorities responded to the Turkish statement on the foreign ministry’s spokesperson’s webpage: “As for the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s response to the agreement that was signed today on the allocation of the exclusive economic zone between Egypt and Greece, it is bizarre that such statements and claims should be issued by a party that was not acquainted with the agreement and its details in the first place.”

In January 2018, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced a possible demarcation of the maritime border with Greece during the opening ceremony of the Zohr gas field in northeast Egypt. At the time, al-Sisi had referenced the border demarcation with Cyprus and said, “If we did not demarcate the borders with Cyprus, we would have never had the opportunity to discover the Zohr field seeing these areas as governed by certain rules and agreements.”

Al-Sisi added: “The demarcation gave us great opportunities to interact with the companies and, consequently, make discoveries.” He proceeded to criticise what he called the “uninformed speech” about these agreements: “When some people start talking about this matter without understanding, they are actually talking without knowledge. We would never have been able to expose that had it not for the maritime demarcation with Cyprus.” He then pointed to a map and continued: “The continuous line refers to our demarcated maritime boundaries with Cyprus. As for the dotted line, it represents possible borders with Greece that have not yet entered into force.”

In September 2014, al-Sisi issued a decision approving the agreement between his country and Cyprus on the collaboration in the development of gas fields within the waters of the Mediterranean. That approval was followed by a legal proceeding rejecting the agreement as it claimed that “Cyprus and Israel have taken over huge expanses of natural gas fields in the northeast of the Mediterranean despite the location of these fields within less than 200 kilometres from Damietta,” a city in northern Egypt.