Turkiye in bid to heal ties with Egypt, Syria

Special Turkiye in bid to heal ties with Egypt, Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2022

Turkiye in bid to heal ties with Egypt, Syria

Turkiye in bid to heal ties with Egypt, Syria
  • Ankara, Cairo could reappoint envoys, restore full diplomatic ties within months: Turkish foreign minister

ANKARA: Turkiye and Egypt could reappoint ambassadors and restore full diplomatic ties between the two countries within months, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.

His announcement came just days after Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed plans to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad when “conditions are right” in a bid to rebuild relations.

Ankara has recently attempted to mend bridges with several nations in the region, and the warming of bonds with Egypt follows years of tensions since the 2013 ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a military coup.

On Sunday, Erdogan said he had recently spoken with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for around 45 minutes on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar, where last week the two leaders shook hands on a fresh start to restoring bilateral links.

The deputy foreign ministers of both countries are expected to meet soon to begin the process of opening new avenues for cooperation.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News that Turkiye’s normalization moves with Egypt mirrored similar efforts with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to break its isolation.

He said: “There are also financial incentives in the form of swap deals with and investments coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Turkiye’s normalization with Egypt would alter the balance between Turkiye and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean in favor of the former,” he added.

Ankara and Cairo have a loaded agenda of issues to resolve including their competing policies toward Libya, not least the recent hydrocarbon exploration deal between the Libyan Government of National Unity and Turkiye, and the presence of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and dissident Egyptian journalists in Turkiye.

Nigar Goksel, Turkey project director at the international Crisis Group, told Arab News: “Turning the page with El-Sisi appears to be a pragmatic approach, taking into account a few dimensions.

“One is the recognition that the Muslim Brotherhood will not be able to make a comeback in the near future.

“Another is the conviction that Ankara’s severed relations with Cairo has strengthened Turkiye’s traditional adversaries, in light of Cairo and Athens signing an exclusive economic zone agreement, and the most likely destination now for Greek Cypriot natural gas discoveries being Egypt’s liquefied natural gas terminals,” she said.

Goksel pointed out that normalizing relations with Egypt was part and parcel of a larger regional reset for Turkiye that included Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE — a package that for Ankara had both financial and geostrategic value.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based geopolitical analyst, said the controversial Oct. 3 hydrocarbon deal was unlikely to pose a major challenge to rebuilding ties between Cairo and Ankara, as the agreement had been rejected by Libya’s eastern-based parliament, and Egypt.

“The eastern shores of Libya are located along the potential gas pipelines of Egypt that would reach to European shores. In the case of normalization, Turkiye would not challenge Egyptian plans to explore gas in the region,” he added.

On Sunday, Erdogan extended an olive branch to the Assad regime, after the two countries have been at odds for more than a decade over Ankara’s backing of Syrian rebel forces.

Erdogan said last week that he may meet Assad following elections in June when the “conditions are right” as “there is no place for eternal resentment in politics.”

Russia has also offered to organize a meeting between Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers to initiate negotiations.

Experts say intelligence chiefs from Syria and Turkiye have recently held regular meetings to discuss ways of preventing the advance of Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria and to begin the safe return of Syrian refugees in Turkiye to their homeland.

“Prospects regarding talks with Assad involve Moscow’s encouragement, and attempts to create a front against the YPG,” Goksel added.

However, Unluhisarcikli suggested there was little real prospect for normalization between Turkiye and Syria anytime soon.

He said: “From Turkiye’s perspective normalization with Syria should include a partial return of the Syrian refugees in Turkiye, but Assad is not ready to accommodate this.

“Assad would on the other hand require Turkish troops to withdraw from Syria, but Turkiye cannot do this until the final status of Syria is determined for its own border security.”

Any normalization efforts with the Assad regime were also expected to facilitate about 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Ahead of general and presidential elections next year, several Turkish opposition parties have pledged to normalize relations with the Syrian regime to relieve Turkiye from hosting refugees.

In May, Meral Aksener, the leader of the Good Party, vowed to travel to Syria, shake hands with Assad, and send immigrants from Syria back to their homeland.