The impossible rapprochement between Cairo and Ankara

Recently, Turkey made a new step towards Egypt when it totally suspended the activities of opponent Egyptian media figures in Turkey. The new decision is not confined to TV work but extended to social media campaigning against Sisi’s regime. Cairo received Ankara’s courtship cautiously with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stating that rapprochement is still in the “the exploratory phases.”

Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement began late in the last year with courting statements made by Turkish high-profile officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, about Egypt and the Egyptian authorities. “There is no objection against dialogue with Egypt,” said Erdoğan, followed by his FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said that there is indeed intelligence communication between Turkey and Egypt and “dialogue between the foreign ministries of both countries is on.”

In March, Ankara proved its intention to open a new page with Cairo when it ordered the opponent TV channels working in Turkey to revise their editorial policies to alleviate harsh critiques against the Egyptian regime, and not to humiliate Egypt’s high-profile officials, most importantly Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The TV channels responded positively to the Turkish directions up to suspending prominent TV host Moataz Matar and his popular show, M’ Mo’taz (With Moataz), on Al-Sharq TV.

Egypt behaved with extreme caution towards Turkey’s steps. Egypt’s foreign ministry explained that restoring normal relationships between the two countries is conditioned on closing the opposition Egyptian TV channels broadcast from Turkey, handing over those persons wanted by the Egyptian regime, and withdrawing Turkish troops and Turkey-sponsored militias from Libya.

In April, Shoukry received a call from his Turkish counter, who sent good will wishes to Shoukry for Ramadan. In response, the Egyptian authorities directed its media to stop attacking the Turkish leadership, which was a common practice for the pro-Sisi media since 2013. Early in May, a Turkish diplomatic delegation headed by deputy FM Sedat Onal reached Cairo to discuss rapprochement with Egypt’s deputy FM Hamdi Sanad Losa. Egypt described the negotiations as “exploratory” and that both sides are to assess its results. In June, rapprochement regressed unexpectedly. Egyptian opponent TV channels in Turkey reverted and fiercely attacked Egyptian authorities, including Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and prominent opponent media figures, such as Moataz Matar and Mohamed Nasser, criticised the Egyptian regime on social media.

Cairo resented the Turkish regression, and pro-Sisi TV host Amr Adib demanded the Egyptian authorities suspend dialogue with Turkey. Nevertheless, Ankara got back on track quickly with the total suspension of Egyptian opponent media activities. Put simply, Ankara wants a maritime deal with Egypt, which is to support the Turkish position in its conflict with Greece over maritime borders. Furthermore, rapprochement with Egypt will ease sharing the reconstruction of Libya between two countries, and will urge Egypt to suspend the activities of the Turkish opponent Gülen movement that has worked in Egypt since the Turkish failed military coup in 2016.

On the other hand, Egypt does not object to a maritime deal with Turkey, but it is not likely to side with Turkey in its conflict with Greece, with which Egypt enjoys strong ties. Moreover, Egypt is still adherent to its situation in Libya, which demands the withdrawal of Turkish troops and militias. Although Egypt considers the suspension of the opposition media in Turkey a big gain, it regards the Turkish steps as reversible, especially as it is unlikely that Turkey will go further and kick the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian opposition out of the country. It is possible that Egypt and Turkey could reach an agreement in favour of both regimes, but they are far away from being friends with a common vision.