Turkey, Egypt inch toward long-awaited normalization

Turkey, Egypt inch toward long-awaited normalization

Turkey, Egypt inch toward long-awaited normalization
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (Reuters)
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A new semi-concrete step has been taken to further mend Turkish-Egyptian relations, as Turkey has decided to appoint a senior diplomat to Egypt. The diplomat, Salih Mutlu Sen, previously served as Ankara’s permanent representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Two details are worth noting in this step. First, news of the appointment came from neither Turkey nor Egypt — it came from a UK-based media outlet. The second detail is that, deviating from established practice, the ambassador has been appointed as a charge d’affaires. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “The present charge d’affaires in Cairo had completed his term. He is now being replaced by a new one.” The Egyptian authorities did not make any comment on the subject.
Nine years ago, when the two countries withdrew their ambassadors from each other’s capital, the representation was lowered to charge d’affaires level. Turkey has also resorted to this practice in its relations with Israel. In that case, Ankara used to send an ambassadorial-level diplomat to Tel Aviv and call him the charge d’affaires.
Something similar may now be taking place in Egypt. It appears that the two countries have not yet agreed to return relations to the full ambassadorial level. Egypt may be insisting on doing everything according to the book, so there will be records in the archives. Or Cairo may not yet be ready to elevate the representation to the ambassadorial level. In other words, it may still be dragging its feet to see if Turkey fulfills some additional conditions.
The main reason for the withdrawal of ambassadors was Turkey’s disproportionate reaction to the 2013 removal of the Mohammed Morsi-led government in Egypt by Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The reason for Ankara’s strong reaction was the ideological affinity between the ruling Justice and Development Party and the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Ankara’s objection to Morsi’s removal was understandable. However, international practice in this field is that, once law and order has been established, countries begin to recognize the new government and establish relations with it, as it is not expected to remain cut off indefinitely.
Last year, Turkey belatedly woke up to the reality that being cut off from Egypt had detrimental effects on its national interests. So it took initiatives to mend fences. This time, Egypt has put forward conditions. It asked the Turkish government to control the activities of Muslim Brotherhood members operating in Turkey. To meet the Egyptian demands, Ankara asked Brotherhood activists not to broadcast television programs that criticized the Abdel Fattah El-Sisi government and instead produce cultural and social programs. Cairo asked Turkey to extradite these activists to Egypt, but they were eventually moved to third countries.
Apparently, the Egyptian government was not fully satisfied with Turkey’s attitude on the way the Brotherhood question was handled. We can see this in the slow progress of the thaw between the two countries.

Turkish-Egyptian relations will continue to move forward, but hurdles remain.

Yasar Yakis

While the reconciliation process was underway, fighting in Libya broke out. Turkey and Egypt found themselves on opposing sides in this crisis. Though the Government of National Unity, which was formed in March 2021, eased the tensions between the Tripoli and Tobruk governments, Turkey and Egypt still do not see eye to eye on the Libyan conflict.
When the reconciliation initiative between Turkey and Egypt was launched last year, Cavusoglu said that Ankara would make some goodwill gestures to Egypt within NATO. It later turned out that this gesture was the removal of Turkey’s veto preventing Egypt from forming a partnership with the alliance in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish media last week carried news about possible cooperation in the field of tourism, originating from Russia. As Ankara did not join NATO and EU countries in imposing economic sanctions on Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, Russian tourists may extend their trips from Turkey to Egypt.
Turkish-Egyptian relations will continue to move forward, but hurdles remain.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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