Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Not the right time

Ankara is deliberately sending mixed signals about its relations with Egypt, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The fact that Turkey has recently improved its relations with both Israel and Russia following bitter diplomatic rows begs questions about whether a similar thaw could happen in Egyptian Turkish relations.

The last two weeks have seen conflicting Turkish statements regarding the issue. This week, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that though Ankara has not yet taken steps to normalise relations with Egypt it would like to restore bilateral affairs. Yet earlier this month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed he had no problem with the Egyptian people, only with the Egyptian government. Asked whether Ankara would pursue reconciliation with Egypt Erdogan insisted “steps taken [towards reconciliation] with Russia and Israel are different” and ruled out a thaw with Egypt’s “oppressive regime” any time soon.

Erdogan insisted Turkey “does not have any problem with the Egyptian people; the problem is with its administration, and in particular with its leader”.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid responded by pointing out that the Egyptian people selected their leader in a democratic election.

“It is important to repeat that respecting peoples’ will is the starting point for establishing normal relations between countries because this is a fact some people keep forgetting,” he said.

According toTurkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim Ankara is keen to develop economic relations with Egypt regardless of the political conflict.

“There is no obstacle in the way of better commercial and economic ties with Egypt. Turkey is ready to enter a new phase,” he said last month.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the statement but noted the gap between declarations coming out of Ankara and Turkey’s actions.

A diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity agreed that contradictory signals are being sent by officials in Ankara. “This probably means they are not yet ready to improve their relations with Cairo,” he said.

Former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister Rakha Hassan says what is happening is that Ankara is testing the waters and trying to gauge the Turkish public’s reaction to any rapprochement.

“Opening an issue for discussion sometimes involves issuing seemingly contradictory statements,” he says.

Relations between Egypt and Turkey reached a highpoint during Mohamed Morsi’s one-year rule when Cairo and Ankara signed 40 agreements in the fields of trade, science, banking, tourism and other areas. The situation deteriorated following the ouster of Morsi since when Erdogan has repeatedly criticised the Egyptian government and called for Morsi’s release from detention.

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

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

In December 2014 Egypt imposed restrictions on citizens travelling to Turkey. Egyptians are now only allowed to travel after securing approval from the security authorities.

Turkey continues to provide a safe haven for leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ankara also allows TV stations run by sympathisers of the Brotherhood to broadcast out of Turkish territory.

Cairo has often accused Ankara of interfering in its domestic affairs. Last month Turkey condemned the life sentence handed down to Morsi in an official statement issued on the day of the verdict.

“We express our deep concern and condemn the life sentence given to President Morsi who has remained in prison since 2013,” said a statement posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Website. “We believe that this decision will not contribute to Egypt’s peace and stability.”

Hopes that the convening of this year’s 13th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit in Istanbul offered a chance to improve relations proved ill-founded. As OIC president, Egypt was supposed to attend the summit to hand over the presidency to Turkey but the event passed without any noticeable thaw.

Injecting warmth in the relationship between Cairo and Ankara, says the diplomat, will need Turkey to halt its attacks on Egypt’s leadership and stop hosting the Egyptian regime’s political opponents.

“Without these two steps nothing will happen,” he says.

Hassan agrees, saying Ankara must stop offering shelter to those who criticise Egypt and halt any interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“The key is for Ankara to accept the current regime. This would pave the way for the return of ambassadors and to resolving all other matters of difference,” he says.

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