Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey’s position not clear

The last few weeks have seen a change in Turkish foreign policy, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Turkey is still sending conflicting signals about its wish to improve relations with Egypt. Meanwhile, it is taking steps towards boosting ties with other states including Israel, Russia, Iran and the US.

However, Egypt’s stance concerning Turkey was clearly outlined in President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s interview with the daily national newspapers this week.

"We give them [Turkish officials] the time to correct their stands and statements, but there is nothing new on the level of relations. We objectively respond [to any statements] if there is need. But not all statements deserve a response," Al-Sisi said.

"In relations between states, there should be an appropriate level for statements. But regarding relations between the two peoples, there is no reason for enmity," President Al-Sisi added.

Turkey has been issuing conflicting statements regarding its relationship with Egypt, explained a diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity, to prove that it is not taking a stand against Egypt. "In reality, Ankara needs to take clear steps to prove that it isn't against Egypt, namely to stop criticising the regime and stop providing sanctuary for Muslim Brotherhood members," he added.

In a news briefing this week, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed Ankara would work towards normalising its relations with its neighbours in the Middle East and step up efforts to reduce "instability" in the region. "We think we need to develop economic and cultural ties with Egypt as countries that use the two sides of the Mediterranean," Yildirim told reporters.

However, he sounded a note of caution that high-level relations would not be repaired overnight.

"We think we need to start from somewhere," he said.

Yildirim also stated last month that Turkey was keen to develop economic relations with Egypt regardless of their political conflict, but the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that his declarations and Turkish actions do not match.

Early this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that his country's aim is to make more friends through a policy of "not causing problems, but resolving them”, as quoted by Turkish news agencies.

"We want to develop our relations with Egypt. We did not want our relations to sour but there was a souring in ties after the coup attempt," Cavusoglu said in response to journalists who asked about possible positive developments in relations with Cairo following recent speculation of reconciliation after three years of strained ties.

In an official statement, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri criticised statements by Cavusoglu on improving relations between the two countries as containing "unacceptable conditions".

He said that Cavusoglu's statements had “positive indicators” that point to a Turkish wish for a restoration of relations with Egypt but still held a lot of contradictions.

“The terms that the foreign minister is putting forward suggest that Turkey and its officials are guardians of the Egyptian people and (Egyptians) should follow them,” the statement said.

Shoukri also said that boosting bilateral ties on an international level requires a respect for declarations between countries and non-interference in domestic affairs.

Although there are positive indicators in Yildirim and Cavusoglu's statements, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that a thaw with Egypt's "oppressive regime" is not likely any time soon, adding that his country's dispute is with Egypt's government, not its people.

He repeated his condemnation of Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and blasted judicial verdicts against its members.

In the meantime, Turkey's relations with Israel have recently shown noticeable improvement.

Turkey’s parliament approved a reconciliation agreement signed with Israel in June this week. The agreement brought to an end a six-year rift between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

Relations between the two countries became strained in 2010 after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish humanitarian aid ship in order to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

According to the agreement, Israel will pay $20 million to the bereaved and wounded of the incident in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims.

In an attempt to repair its ties with old allies, Turkey has also reached out to both Russia and Iran in the hope of resolving the Syrian crisis.

This month, Erdogan met Russian President Vladimir Putin while Tehran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came to Ankara. Turkey and Russia have reached a clear consensus on normalising ties.

A wish for a breakthrough in Ankara's relations with the US was also reflected in Yildirim’s statement. He emphasised that the US was Turkey's "strategic partner, not our enemy" despite Ankara's anger at Washington for failing to extradite Fethullah Gulen whom it blames for last month's failed coup.

"There can be ups and downs in the two countries' relations [but] we need to remove elements that harm our relations," Yildirim told journalists in Istanbul, referring to Gulen who is based in Pennsylvania.

Gulen is accused of running a "parallel state" in Turkey. Ankara had previously suggested any failure to deliver Gulen would severely damage bilateral ties and create an anti-US feeling in Turkey.

US Vice-President Joe Biden is expected to visit Ankara next week in the highest-ranking visit to Turkey by any Western official since last’s month coup attempt, according to the White House.

Egypt’s relations with Turkey have seen several ups and downs since Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Starting from the earliest stages of the revolt in January of that year, Turkey supported the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people and the steps taken towards democratisation in Egypt.

Relations between Egypt and Turkey reached a highpoint during Mohamed Morsi’s one-year presidency when Cairo and Ankara signed 40 agreements in trade, science, banking and tourism.

The situation deteriorated following the ouster of Morsi. Since then 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 freed and what he called a ban on religious political parties lifted.

In December 2014 Egypt imposed restrictions on citizens travelling to Turkey. Egyptians are now only allowed to visit 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. In June, 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.”

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