Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Improving Egypt-Turkey relations?

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit could give a boost to Egyptian-Turkish relations, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

“In spite of the good diplomatic intentions, the rift between Cairo and Ankara is just too wide,” Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby, director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly recently.

“To be fair, Egypt did not play any role in causing this rift. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has prioritised his ideology over the interests of two states that were making genuine efforts to establish good bilateral relations.”

The issue of improving Egypt’s relations with Turkey has been in the limelight ahead of the 13th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit meeting in Istanbul, due to be held from 10-15 April. As current OIC president, Egypt will be attending the summit to hand over the presidency of the group to Turkey. But it is the level of representation that is most important.

“Attending the OIC is a mere procedural matter. Whether it can give strained relations with Turkey a boost depends on Turkey and how far it is ready to change its support from the Muslim Brotherhood,” said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Should President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi attend the summit, it could see the first meeting of its kind between Al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But Egypt has not decided yet on the level of its representation. “The Turkish stand in the few weeks ahead of the summit will have an effect on Egypt’s decision regarding the level of representation,” the diplomat added.

There have been reports of behind-the-scenes Saudi mediation efforts to ease the strained relations between Cairo and Ankara. Egypt has denied reports of these efforts, however, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid saying that Ankara “must change” its views concerning the situation in Egypt before relations improve.

At a meeting with foreign correspondents last week, he added that ties with Turkey are “going through a crisis” due to interference by Turkey in Egypt’s internal affairs. He emphasised that there will be no improvement in relations between Cairo and Ankara unless there is a “fundamental change” in Ankara’s views concerning the situation in Egypt.

Shalaby did not rule out the presence of mediation efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia, which is looking for a united stand within the coalition formed last week to combat terrorism. The coalition led by the Saudis includes both Egypt and Turkey, in addition to another 35 Arab and Islamic countries.

“I expect that Egypt’s diplomacy will respond by saying that it will react positively to any mediation if Erdogan changes his stand on Egypt,” Shalaby said.

The diplomat agreed, saying that Ankara’s stand on the post-30 June developments in Egypt is the main hurdle preventing any improvement in the strained relations. Other hurdles are Turkey’s stand on the Muslim Brotherhood, which has not seen any sign of change, as well as Erdogan’s repeated statements that reaffirm that support.

“Other factors include the rivalry between Egypt and Turkey for a leading role in the region and the different stands they have taken on important issues such as the Syrian issue,” added the diplomat.

While there are some factors that stand out against any easing of relations, there are other factors that work in favour of easing them, among them the Saudi will to patch up differences to make the coalition to combat terrorism more effective.

Although Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri denied any Saudi mediation, he expressed his hope that Egyptian-Turkish relations will return to normal, as in the past they were built on mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs.

“We are always open to positive relations that work in the interest of our two peoples,” Shukri said in an interview with a satellite TV channel last week.

Meetings were held recently between the Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers, the last of which was held this week on the periphery of a meeting in the UAE. Analysts say the issue of Egyptian-Turkish relations was one of the issues discussed during the meetings.

Another factor working in favour of easing tensions is the fear of increasing Iranian influence in the region, especially after the international sanctions imposed on Tehran were lifted earlier this month.

“Post-sanctions Iran is ready to spread its influence. It has also been fighting proxy wars in Yemen, Iraq and Syria in search of the same end: influence. A united stand from the other influential powers in the region, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, is now required,” the diplomat said.

Perhaps the other important factor that could push towards improved relations with Turkey is the economic effect of the rift on both states. The strained relations have negatively affected trade between the two states.

Another factor is that a united Egyptian-Saudi-Turkish stand within the OIC could have a positive impact on the organisation and on its attempts to take a unified stand on various issues in the region. The OIC is one of the largest inter-governmental organisations in the world and is considered to be the collective voice of the Muslim world.

Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the OIC, met Al-Sisi this month in Cairo. The two men were said to have discussed how to promote joint Islamic action in all fields. A further OIC emergency meeting was held last week in Jeddah to discuss the Iranian attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Egypt condemned the attacks and reiterated its full support for Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara were good under former president Hosni Mubarak but deteriorated after the 25 January Revolution. During the one-year rule of president Mohamed Morsi, Cairo and Ankara signed some 40 agreements in the fields of trade, science, banking, tourism and other areas.

Relations between the two countries have been tense since the ouster of Morsi in July 2013. Erdogan has repeatedly criticised the Egyptian government and called for Morsi’s release from detention.

In November 2013, Egypt declared the Turkish ambassador in Cairo persona non grata and asked him to leave the country. Turkey responded by expelling the Egyptian ambassador in Ankara.

In August 2014, Erdogan called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Egypt. He has said that Turkey’s relations with Egypt will not return to normal until Morsi is released, all capital punishment sentences are annulled, all political prisoners are released, and the ban on religious political parties is lifted.

Judging from Erdogan’s policies and statements over the past two years, Shalaby ruled out a change in favour of improving strained relations before the OIC Summit.

However, the diplomat said that there are still a few weeks before the summit takes place. “Unforeseen developments could take place and work in the favour of both states. The summit itself could open doors to a new and better phase in relations,” he said.

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