Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

An Egyptian-Turkish thaw?

Efforts to bring about reconciliation between Egypt and Turkey will depend on the will of the two main actors, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In a few days, Anatolia will serve as the stage for an important development when the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) holds its 13th summit in Istanbul on 10-15 April. Egypt, which currently chairs the organisation, will presumably hand over the presidency to the host country Turkey, but there has been little love lost between the two countries over the past three years.

As a result, this year’s OIC Summit has stirred considerable interest, especially in the light of recent statements by OIC Secretary-General Iyad bin Amin Madani regarding new efforts to promote reconciliation between Cairo and Ankara.

Madani has expressed his hope that the handover of the presidency will serve to demonstrate that Islamic countries can overcome their disputes. Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz has already also attempted to induce a thaw, and following his three-day visit to Cairo this week he will set off for Istanbul.

But lest imaginations stray too far, Madani was careful to stress that nothing specific has been established so far.

If talks on this matter do proceed, which appears likely in the light of recent third-party efforts, the results will still depend on the will of the two main actors, Egypt and Turkey.

In the opinion of neutral observers, the ball is currently in the Turkish court, and so far that side has a record of taking two steps forward and three steps back.

 A prime instance of this took place a couple of years ago at the inaugural ceremonies of the UN General Assembly session in New York. At Ankara’s request, a meeting had been arranged on the fringes of the occasion between the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministers, but then Ankara cancelled at the last moment.

Moreover, the then Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyep Erdogan, gave his then foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, a harsh dressing-down for having taken such a decision without consulting him first.

Erdogan’s positions have not changed since becoming president. However, he now seems ready to countenance meetings between Turkish officials and their Egyptian counterparts so long as they are not at a leadership level.

Therefore, in accordance with instructions from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who appears keen to mend fences in spite of enormous differences of opinion between the two sides, his minister of foreign affairs congratulated his Egyptian counterpart on the occasion of his birthday four months ago.

It was even reported that the two had met in a European capital.

However, Erdogan then undermined such gestures of good will in his own idiosyncratic way. There would be no talks with the “Egyptian regime” until the Muslim Brotherhood leaders and former president Mohamed Morsi were released from prison, he proclaimed.

Cavusoglu has tried to smooth things over to get the ball rolling again. He has stressed how important it is that Egypt attend the Islamic Conference summit, which should be understood as participating in an international conference.

He also indicated that bilateral meetings had been held with Egyptian officials on many international occasions and therefore there should be no problem in holding bilateral talks. He also stressed the importance of the role of a strong Egypt to the region as a whole.

But only 24 hours later, an unanticipated development occurred that stunned decision-making circles in Ankara and Erdogan in particular. A US Congressional committee approved a bill to brand the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

Naturally, Erdogan hit the ceiling of his multi-million dollar Ak Saray Palace and dispatched his official spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, to caution against the US drive to brand the Brotherhood as terrorists.

The Muslim Brothers “have not been involved in any acts of violence over the past four years,” said Kalin on behalf of Erdogan, thereby negating all the positive effects that Cavusoglu had sought to produce.

Clearly, there are major contradictions and inconsistencies in the halls of power in Ankara. The government, which is to say the cabinet, is not all that interested in the Muslim Brotherhood “cause” and seems ready to drop it if this will advance Turkey’s interests.

This seems to be the pragmatic stance of Davutoglu and a significant segment of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan, on the other hand, knows very well that he has set impossible-to-meet conditions in improving relations with Egypt.

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