The imminent rapprochement: Egypt and Turkey need each other

Icebergs between Egypt and Turkey seem to be melting after years of hostility and mutual escalation.

Over the past months, both governments started making promising statements regarding restoration of normal relations and positive cooperation between the two countries. Relations between them have been deteriorating since the overthrow of the late Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was a close ally to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The tensions escalated with the Turkish military intervention in Libya, which Egypt considered as a potential threat to its national security. On the contrary, Egypt sided with Greece in its maritime borders conflict with Turkey.

Over the past days, recurrent Turkish official statements showed Turkey’s willingness to maintain good relations with Egypt. It began with Turkey’s FM Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said that Ankara looked positively to Egypt’s respect of Turkey’s continental shelf in offshore hydrocarbon exploration bids that Egypt has recently announced. Cavusoglu added that Turkey and Egypt could negotiate a maritime boundary deal in the Mediterranean if the progression in relations allowed such a deal.Cavusoglu was followed by Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s minister of defense, who appreciated the Egyptian step. Akar said that Turkey and Egypt have common historical and cultural values, expressing his trust that such values could be reflected on relations between the two countries over the upcoming days in the form of a deal or at least a memorandum.

Two days letter, Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of the Turkish presidency, said, on 8 March, that Ankara “can open a new page with Egypt and some Arab Gulf states with the aim of achieving regional peace and settlement.” Kalin described Egypt as “the heart of the Arab world” and revealed ongoing communications between both countries over various issues, expressing Ankara’s readiness to recondition relations with Cairo.

Later on, Omer Celik, the spokesman of the AKP, stated, “There are such tight connections with the Egyptian state and its people which go back to ancient history, and without our historical partnership the history of the region cannot be written.” On 12 March, Turkish President Erdogan himself revealed “continuous diplomatic and intelligence communications with Egypt,” in a statement that was confirmed in the same day by Cavusoglu. “We want those communications to continue and we will strengthen and promote their level if they achieved positive results,” Erdogan added.

Egyptian caution

On the other side, Reuters reported that two Egyptian intelligence sources said that Turkey suggested a meeting to discuss cooperation between the two countries. An Egyptian high-profile security official received, on 11 March, a call from a Turkish counterpart, who expressed Turkish desire in a meeting in Cairo to discuss potential all-fields cooperation between the countries. The two sources clarified that Egypt welcomed the Turkish demand. However, Egypt has dealt with caution with the Turkish statements. An Egyptian official stated to the Middle East News Agency, “there is nothing that could be titled ‘resumption of diplomatic communication’, as Egypt’s and Turkey’s mutual diplomatic representation is still at the level of Charge d’Affairs and has not restored its normal level yet.”

The Egyptian official added that “promoting relations between the two countries requires considering lawful and diplomatic frameworks on the basis of mutual respect of sovereignty and Arab national security.” “Egypt expects from any state that proposes normal relations with it, to adhere to international law and principles of good neighbours, and not to intervene in its domestic affairs,” he added whilst stressing on the tight connections and relations between the two people.

Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry commented on the Turkish statements in his meeting with the parliamentarian foreign affairs committee: “If we found a real change in Turkish politics and targets to meet with the Egyptian ones, this will lay the groundwork to restore normalisation between the two countries.” Shoukry affirmed the close relationship between Egypt’s and Turkey’s people, but he added that “sayings alone are insufficient, and they have to be confirmed by deeds.”

Why now?

Egyptian prominent journalist and political analyst Abdel Azeem Hammad talked about the causes of the current calm between Egypt and Turkey, explaining that, far from childish media quarrels, Israel’s expansion politically, economically and militarily over the Arab world, is about to be a strategic domination, and it is accompanied by Iranian, Russian and Chinese expansion. This will inevitably concern Egypt and Turkey, which have more interests and historical roles in the region than such countries.

Hammad added that the new US policies create chances and challenges that motivate Egyptian-Turkish-Saudi rapprochement in the upcoming phase. “Both countries realise the importance of each to the other, so I expect that Turkey considers seriously Egypt’s remarks on Turkey’s interventions in the region, while Egypt also considers Turkey’s concern regarding the Egyptian support for Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.”