A new wave in Turkish-Egyptian relations


A new wave in Turkish-Egyptian relations

A new wave in Turkish-Egyptian relations
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attend a signing ceremony in Cairo. (Reuters)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a well-advertised visit to Cairo on Feb. 14 and met his counterpart, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The agenda included a range of items touching on defense, energy, trade, culture, tourism, education, LNG, nuclear and renewable energy. Egypt has made huge investments in the defense industry and if the two countries can avoid unnecessary duplications, they will save huge sums of money.
The meeting became a stock-taking of missed opportunities as well. However, a new beginning is always full of expectations and new prospects.
The two leaders vowed to increase their bilateral trade volume to $15 billion. The potential effectively exists, but it will require the determination of both countries’ business communities in order to achieve the goal.
Last year, 22,000 Egyptian students registered for courses in Turkish. At the same time, the number of Turkish students who are interested in learning Arabic has reached thousands.
Turkiye is eager to play a positive role in the solution to the Gaza crisis; however, countries such as Qatar and the UAE are achieving more concrete results.
Turkish-Egyptian relations have had both good and bad patches. When I was serving as Turkish ambassador in Cairo between 1988 and 1992, our relations were not cordial. Thanks, however, to excellent personal relations with my counterparts in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our relations were conducted on a friendly level. Turkiye’s then-conservative government led by Necmettin Erbakan did not encourage relations with Israel, while the Turkish military, on the contrary, wanted to promote relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv. Turkish-Egyptian relations were negatively affected by these opposing policies.
The leaders signed a joint communique to restructure the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
Relations on the people-to-people level have been stable for centuries. When Ahmed ibn Tulun was made governor of Egypt in 868 by the Abbasid Caliphate, he accepted this task only on the condition that he would be authorized to establish his army. When the Caliphate agreed to his condition, he formed an army that included tens of thousands of Kipchak Turks. These Turks, together with other Turks that joined later, are now part and parcel of the Egyptian people. After the addition of Egypt to the Ottoman Empire in 1517, the mixing of Turkish and Egyptian peoples continued for another four centuries. The old Egyptian printing house, Boulac in Cairo, is full of manuscripts written in the Kipchak dialect of the Turkish language.
There have been some unpleasant moments in relations between the two countries, but even when political relations were strained, economic relations continued to increase. They will probably revive soon after political relations return to a more normal state. 

Egypt is Turkiye’s biggest trade partner in Africa. The trade volume is likely to become bigger after the present warming of the relations.

Yasar Yakis

The recent Gaza crisis was a major item on the two leaders’ agenda and Gaza has remained so for years. After the US, it is Egypt that acts as a game-maker in the Gaza crisis. Settling the Gazans near the border with Egypt is one of the most sensitive issues and Egypt will not allow a policy that goes against its preferences.
Turkish and Egyptian positions may not be identical on the Gaza issue. The forming of an axis by Turkiye and Egypt is unlikely because these two countries have interests that are at odds with one another. The US will try to encourage Turkiye and Egypt to settle their divergent positions on this issue.
The Turkish media has always supported Gaza against Israel and tried to promote peace in the Middle East. It is also closely involved in humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of Gazans through Egypt.
In addition to bilateral relations, the Turkish and Egyptian leaders also raised the question of the eastern Mediterranean, Syria and other multilateral problems. When the tension in the Middle East is running high they cannot turn away from such critical issues.
The Libyan problem was also an important item in the talks between the leaders. Their positions vary widely from each other’s. Turkiye cooperates with the Government of National Unity, which operates from Tripoli and is recognized by the UN, while Egypt supports Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Ankara endeavors to minimize the difference between these two parties.
The subject of the eastern Mediterranean conflict was also raised by the leaders. Turkiye and Egypt are the two countries with the longest coastlines in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, their cooperation is important. The agreement for the delineation of the exclusive maritime zones signed between Turkiye and Libya created a sizable maritime jurisdiction area that is shared between the two countries. If a similar agreement could be signed between Turkiye and Egypt, both countries would acquire additional maritime jurisdiction areas.
Washington is carefully following the development of Turkish-Egyptian relations because the impact of these relations will affect the power balance in the Middle East. Both Turkiye and Egypt need to clarify their positions in light of the recent Gaza crisis. The US will not let the situation get out of its control but at the same time, there are dissenting voices within the US.

Defense is a critical issue because, after the surprise ousting of Russian military experts from Egypt by then-President Anwar Sadat in 1972, the Egyptian army became Americanized to a large extent.

Turkiye has proposed selling unmanned drones to Egypt. If the cooperation remains at that stage, the US may not intervene because many countries sell drones to each other. However, the US will not be happy with Turkiye selling other critical defense materials to Egypt.
Egypt is Turkiye’s biggest trade partner in Africa. The trade volume is likely to become bigger after the present warming of the relations, but the reticence may remain because of the background of relations between them.

Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. X: @yakis_yasar

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