Analysis: Why Turkey’s Rapprochement with Egypt is Faltering?

Analysis: Why Turkey’s Rapprochement with Egypt is Faltering?

While the media and political observers were focused on the de-escalation between Turkey and Egypt, Cairo all of a sudden halted the talks about normalization of ties with Ankara. Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier expressed his serious will to de-escalate with Egypt, the reality was that levels of tensions and differences between the two states were too high to end up at an agreement.

Ahlulbayt News Agency:  While the media and political observers were focused on the de-escalation between Turkey and Egypt, Cairo all of a sudden halted the talks about normalization of ties with Ankara. Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier expressed his serious will to de-escalate with Egypt, the reality was that levels of tensions and differences between the two states were too high to end up at an agreement. 

Hope for de-escalation; from diplomatic contacts to suspension of talks 

Diplomatic relations between Ankara and Cairo were severed in 2013 following a military coup by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the then military chief, against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically-elected President. In the next years, despite the escalation of tensions between the two sides, especially after the escalation of the Libyan crisis that brought Ankara and Cairo face to face in two opposite camps, rapprochement has always been a topic of discussion. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government set three main conditions for a détente with Turkey: "First, respecting the will of the Egyptian people. Second, committing to the principles of international relations, including non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Third, respecting the relations and the principle of good neighborliness." 

However, after almost 8 years of cold and tense ties between the two countries, on March 3 the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. At the same time, Turkey announced its readiness to draw the maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean if relations with Cairo improved. At the same time, media reported that a meeting was held between the political, security, and military officials of the two countries to reach a comprehensive agreement on issues such as the crisis in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Mediterranean Sea. 

Going against the expectations, the Egyptian government on April 10 in a statement of protest to the Turkish procrastination in implementation of the Egyptian demands regarding Muslim Brotherhood leaders and recall of mercenaries from Libya, suspended the normalization dialogue with the Turkish government. Sources familiar with the development said that Turkey asked for more time to remove its military advisers and militias loyal to it in Libya, while Cairo insisted that the withdrawal should be as fast as possible. Further reports said that Ankara relatively limited Muslim Brotherhood activities on its soil but Cairo wanted its actions against the Islamist movement permanent and resolute. The Egyptians wanted fugitive Brotherhood leaders Yahya Musa and Ala al-Samahi handed over to them but Turkey told them it needs more time. 

Erdogan agenda in North Africa fails 

Although Erdogan has tended to de-escalate tensions with Egypt in order to make political gains in domestic and foreign policy, he looked set to face two major obstacles in implementing his approach. 

Libya and the sensitive withdrawal issue 

Turkey has invested billions of dollars— $30 billion— in Libya over the past few years. Geopolitically and geo-economically, the country deems Libya as a stronghold for building its influence and vying with Arab and Western countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Israeli regime, and even Europe, in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, the political logic suggests that the expectation of Turkey's immediate withdrawal from Libya is more a naive belief than based on field reality. 

From another dimension, presence in Libya is a matter of face and prestige for the Ankara foreign policy, influence, and power, regionally and internationally. Erdogan and other Turkish officials are well aware that any quick withdrawal from the war-torn country and withdrawal of support for its ally in the Government of National Accord (GNA), would mean accepting a political defeat and wasting huge military and economic investments in the North African nation. The political observers and media in Turkey would interpret this as failure of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the foreign policy management, leaving negative influences on the party's internal image. Therefore, Erdogan does refuses to yield to the Egyptian blackmail and such a bitter defeat would be a lose-lose game for him in the foreign policy. 

It needs to be taken into account that currently supporting the Brotherhood offshoots in the Muslim countries is the central point of the Turkish foreign policy. Supporting the Brotherhood in the past years, Turkey has already built the basis of its regional influence. Therefore, Egypt's demand for immediate and unconditional Turkish retreat from Libya and quitting the support to the Brotherhood-affiliated GNA are unlikely to get affirmative response from Erdogan. 

The Mediterranean in the heart of neo-Ottomanist policy 

The modern Turkey since drawing its new borders always cherished the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, also called National Treaty, in a show of tendency to revive the fallen Ottoman influence and borders. The Mediterranean basin here was the main center of concentration and strategic depth of the Ottoman Empire in the past, and in recent years, Erdogan's government has tried to rebuild the key role of the Ottoman Empire in this region. 

To this end, the Turkish government in December 2019 signed a pact with the GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Siraj to explore energy sources in the Mediterranean Sea. Erdogan said according to the agreement, Turkey can drill in the Libyan territorial waters for oil and gas, saying that this would not be in conflict with international law as the GNA authorizes. Turkey argues that other countries cannot explore energy in this region, and that specifically the Greek part of Cyprus, Egypt, the Israeli regime, and Greece would require the Turkish permission for any gas and oil pipelines construction in this region. 

This means that the Mediterranean takes a center stage in the Turkish regional power and influence agenda, and is a key setting for competition with regional rivals. No logic, thus, would justify accepting the Egyptian demands by the Turkish leaders, and therefore the tensions in the region remain intact. 

The obstacles considered, any Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement is highly unlikely. The future of reconciliation between the two countries goes more in dark path than in a clear and defined course, and cannot bear fruit at least in the short run.

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