memri
June 11, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9389

Egyptian Journalist On Turkish Website: Egypt-Turkey Rapprochement Stems From Temporary Political Considerations, Will Not Lead To Real Reconciliation

June 11, 2021
Egypt, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9389

In the recent months, there has been a considerable warming of relations between Turkey and Egypt, following many years of intense tension and hostility stemming mainly from Turkey's support of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement, which is outlawed in Egypt and is considered the bitterest enemy of the Al-Sisi regime.[1] On April 10, 2021 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Turkish counterpart Cavusoglu spoke on the phone, and five days later, on April 15, the latter announced that "a new era" in the relations between the two countries had begun, and that a Turkish delegation would visit Cairo in May to discuss the normalizing of relations and reappointment of ambassadors.[2] A Turkish delegation indeed came to Egypt on May 5 and met with senior officials to discuss the relations between the countries and various regional issues of mutual interest.[3]

In fact, reports about mediation efforts and contacts between the two countries in attempt to settle the controversies began appearing in the Arab media already in August 2020.[4] Shortly afterwards, in September 2020, Turkish officials, including presidential advisor Yasin Aktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, confirmed these reports, and Turkish President Erdogan himself called for dialogue with Egypt.[5] 

The rapprochement between Turkey and Egypt in the recent months has also been evident in the Egyptian media, which gradually stopped publishing the anti-Turkish content that had been prevalent on it for years. Turkey, for its part, also restrained the anti-Egyptian rhetoric in the Turkish and Turkey-based media.[6]  According to reports, the Turkish authorities ordered MB-owned media outlets based in Istanbul to curb the criticism and incitement against Egypt.[7] Elements in the Turkish regime and in the MB confirmed these reports.[8]  In addition, the two countries have been holding talks to settle controversies pertaining to their maritime border and natural gas resources in the Mediterranean, and progress has apparently been made on this front as well.[9] Yet another manifestation of the rapprochement is the agreement signed in Libya in February 2021, which led to the formation of a national unity government there and to a cessation of the hostilities that had been ongoing in the country for years between the camp of Haftar Khalifa, supported by Egypt, and Fayez Al-Sarraj's National Accord Government, supported by Turkey.

However, some reports indicate that Egypt doubts the seriousness of Turkey's reconciliation with the Al-Sisi regime, and demands that it take clear and tangible measures to prove its sincerity, such as ceasing its intervention in Egypt's internal affairs; recognizing the legitimacy of the Al-Sisi regime, which it has frequently challenged; withdrawing its forces from Libya and expelling MB members from its territory or surrendering them to Egypt.[10]  Moreover, Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry said on March 15, 2021, in a address to the Egyptian parliament's foreign relations committee, that Egypt expected to see "a real change in the Turkish policy" and that "talk is not enough, and should be accompanied by action."[11] In this context, uncorroborated reports recently claimed that Turkey has begun revoking the citizenship of MB members and expelling them from the country after years of sheltering them.[12] Other reports claimed that MB officials sheltering in Turkey are considering moving to another country.[13]

The warming of Turkey-Egypt relations after years of bitter rivalry sparked a lively debate in the Arab media, with many analysts attempting to explain the shift and understand the reasons for it. Among them is Egyptian journalist Shams Mahmoud, who on March 27, 2021 published on the Turkish website Turkpress.co an article titled "Erdogan and Al-Sisi – Rapprochement or Reconciliation?". In the article he argued that the warming of relations does not reflect real reconciliation, but is motivated mainly by economic interests and by the need of both regimes to preserve public support and prevent domestic unrest. In the case of Turkey, he said, this is just a limited pragmatism aimed at serving its internal interests without relinquishing its essential values and foreign relations goals.


Shams Mahmoud (Source: ida2at.com, March 19, 2021)

The following are excerpts from Shams Mahmoud's article:[14]

Turkey's Rapprochement With Egypt Is Based On Limited Pragmatism That Does Not Compromise Its Principles

"Anyone who looks at international relations today can see that they are based on interests and pragmatic [considerations, whose weight] goes up and down depending on [the identity of] the rival, on [matters of] principle, and on the benefit that can be derived [from the relations]. If a country like the U.S., with all its influence and its military, economic and media power, is [sometimes] compelled to give up some of its principles and general operational [tendencies] in order to preserve its interests, [and therefore] suffices with a verbal war and with useless condemnations – while simultaneously [sitting] in front of the cameras and openly signing large-scale security and economic agreements with the very countries it criticizes – then a state like Turkey will certainly do the same. For all the radical character of the Egyptian regime, and despite the media campaign that it and its allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been [waging] against Turkey… [Egypt] is very interested in maintaining strong economic relations with Turkey, in order to preserve one of its sources of income – [money] that it uses to pay the bodies that support it at home and burnish its image abroad…

"The essential difference between one pragmatic [leader] and another is that one of them believes in pragmatism as a fundamental principle, and [the goal of preserving] interest is his constant guiding  star – even if this means selling out his religion and reputation – while the other opts for [pragmatism] only when circumstances and developments force him to change his mode of operation in order to preserve what he considers important. For the first [of these leaders], pragmatism is a way of life, and he is willing to change his ways and his religion for its sake, but for the second it is limited by supreme principles or noble ideology, which are more important than pragmatism and its requirements.

"The history and positions of Turkey's Justice and Development party, and of its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicate that they belong to the second category [of leaders], not to the first. Had they followed the approach of the first group, political pragmatism would have compelled the Turkish president and this party to suffice with condemning the Egyptian coup [i.e., Al-Sisi's ouster of Muhammad Morsi in 2013] and with hosting some  [Egyptian] oppositionists on [Turkish] soil, without escalating the hostile discourse vis-à-vis the Egyptian regime [as the Turkish regime has done]. [This is] because the economic benefit Turkey can derive from a regime like the Egyptian one is much greater [than the benefit it can derive] from pleasing a group of [Egyptian] oppositionists who lack any weight or influence… The [same kind of] pragmatism would have also compelled Turkey to favor Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other boycotting countries over Qatar in the recent Gulf crisis, because it would have derived twice as much benefit [from these countries] than from Qatar…[15]

"But Turkey's new policy is also aimed at forming strong ties with real allies, on whom it can rely in its real war against the pragmatism of [Western] capitalism, so as to ease the pressures it is suffering on the regional and global [levels] and defend its borders against international manipulations… That is what prompted [Turkey] to make serious efforts [to form] a coalition consisting of Iran, Malaysia, Qatar, Pakistan and Indonesia; assist the Azeris in their recent war against Armenia;[16] deploy [forces] in Iraq and Syria; send frigates to escort the Oruc Reis [survey] vessel in the eastern Mediterranean,[17] and sign security and maritime agreements with Libya's legitimate National Accord Government.[18]       

"Pragmatism should have prompted [Turkey] to ease [the tension] vis-a-vis Saudi Crown Prince [Muhammad bin Salman], who displayed openness and friendliness towards Turkey after the crisis of the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, but [in fact] the opposite occurred. Pragmatism should have also prompted [Turkey] to side with Israel on the issue of Jerusalem and with the [Assad] regime on the issue of the Syrian revolution…

"The question is, what would cause a party like Justice and Development and a president like Recep Erdogan to turn to pragmatism [at this stage]? If we look closely, we will find that election times, domestic [politics] and [public] opinion surveys… [are the factors] that motivate any reasonable regime to either change its actions or persist in them, and which [dictate its] assessment of the success or failure [of its actions] and their positive or negative impact on the voters…

"Anyone who closely examines Turkey's situation understands that the achievements of the Justice and Development Party in the domestic and foreign arenas, as well as the projects that the new Turkey aims to continue, compel the party and the president to sit back and make some concessions, lest they lose everything [they have gained]!…

"Why now? Turkey made brisk efforts in the domain of foreign policy after its 'Zero Problems' period [ended],[19] especially during the 'Arab Spring,' and proved to everyone that it could defeat or change the global and regional calculations and deliver painful blows to the large [superpowers] on the ground and in the [battle]field, not only with political measures and statements. [This has been] especially true since the failure of the last military coup [attempt] against [the Turkish regime], which was supported, financially and in the media, by the U.S. and by several Arab and European countries.  

"Turkey [also] scored considerable successes against the PKK, and against its plans and its supporters around the world, by entering Syria. It also scored successes [in the Mediterranean] against Egypt and Greece, which are backed by Europe, after backing the [National] Accord Government in Libya. It managed to secure its borders with Iraq, Syria and Iran in a reasonable manner, and displayed a measure of 'real' equality [of power] vis-à-vis the Russians and Americans in several situations. But all these issues, in which Turkey was forced to intervene simultaneously – as part of its limited pragmatism – clearly impacted its economic situation. That is why it is [now] trying to ease the tensions exerted upon it, so it can continue [to provide economic backing for its political decisions], given that it is now able to advance a 'stick and carrot' policy on the regional and global levels.

"The Turkish voter on whom President [Erdogan] and [his] party rely does not vote [for them] just based on his ideological affiliation. Some Turks who belong to the Islamist current or to the secular one vote for Erdogan not out of love for him and his party, but because the freedom [they enjoy] under his rule is much greater than the freedom [the Turks enjoyed] in the Kemalist era. Some of the Turks who ideologically oppose [Recep] Tayyip Erdogan vote for him thanks to the economic boom he achieved, which benefited them much more than betting on his rivals would have…"

Egypt Is Isolated Today, And Exploited Even By Its Closest Allies

"Therefore, the recent rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey is the result of considerable pressures exerted on both of them, which have forced each of them to consider its [best] interests. [The rapprochement] began with the Libyan reconciliation[20] and became overt in the [handling of] the Mediterranean issue. Egypt is isolated today, and is exploited even by its closest allies, [as evident from] what Israel and Greece did when they signed an agreement that excluded Egypt.[21] Saudi Arabia and the Emirates treated Egypt the same way in the recent months, and this has also been [evident] in the recent crises, such as the Nahda Dam crisis, which constitutes a real threat to the Egyptian regime, because the Egyptian people is on the brink of explosion. All it takes [for the Egyptian people] to start rebelling, even if [only] with sticks and stones, is further [crises], on top of the economic, political and sovereign crises they have been experiencing since the rise of the stars of the 'new' Egyptian military coup [of 2013]…

"Turkey's desire to repair and strengthen its economy – which helps it to bolster its military decisions and its development projects, and [thus] to reassure the Turkish voter –   compels it to adopt a softer tone with foreign elements in the regional and global arena, and to try and reach new regional and global agreements, in which it will have special privileges, advantages and influence – now that it has proved to its friends and foes [alike] that it is a powerful enemy to those who are hostile towards it and a loyal ally to those who trust it and its partners.

"At the same time, the considerable difference between the positions of Turkey and Egypt, as well as the desire of the Egyptian regime to 'take revenge' on Turkey and Turkey's desire to 'educate' the Egyptian regime, mean that the relations between them are permanently strained and depend on the external support [received by] Egypt and on the economic situation in Turkey. This, [in turn], means that what is [currently] taking place [between them] is just rapprochement based on interests, not [real] reconciliation. It is similar to the 'Gulf reconciliation,' where no side believes the others, especially after those waves of hostility that almost ended with a military invasion of Qatar and a military coup against [Recep] Tayyip Erdogan and his party."

 


[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 13, 15, 16, 2021.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 7, 2021.

[4] Arabi21.com, August 24, 2020; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), August 28, 2020.

[5] Rassd.com, September 13, 2020; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), raialyoum.com, September 18, 2020.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 15, 2020.

[7] Alarabiya.net, March 19, 2021; raialyoum.com, April 10, 2021.

[8] Twitter.com/ samykamaleldeen, alarabiya.net, March 18, 2021; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 21, 2021; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 22, 2021.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 3, 2021; raialyoum.com, March 3, 4, 2021; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 7, 22, 30, 2021.

[10] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 10, 2021; gate.ahram.org.eg, arabi21.com, March 13, 2021; raialyoum.com, April 10, 2021; alarabiya.net, April 14, 16, 2021. 

[11] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 14, 2021.

[12] Alarabiya.net, November 25, 2020; December 3, 2020, January 25, 2021.

[13] Alarabiya.net, March 11, 2021, 'April 14, 21, 2021; raialyoum.com, April 10, 2021.

[14] Turkpress.co, March 27, 2021.

[15] On Turkey's involvement in the Gulf crisis see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1549 – The Gulf Reconciliation: A Resounding Qatari Victory, Or A Temporary Truce In The Gulf?, January 19, 2021.

[16] On Turkey's involvement in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8951 - Reports In Syria: Turkey Is Sending Syrian Rebel Fighters To Azerbaijan To Participate In Fight Against Armenia – October 10, 2020.

[17] In the summer of 2020 Turkey sent this ship, escorted by Turkish navy frigates, into a part of the Mediterranean disputed between Turkey and Greece. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 13, 2020.

[19] "Zero problems with neighbors" was the name given to Turkey's foreign policy in the initial stages of the Justice and Development party's rule.

[20] This refers to the ceasefire agreement signed in October 2020 by the sides in the Libyan civil war.

[21] The reference is to a MoU signed by Greece, Cyprus and Israel in March 2021 to lay a subsea cable linking their electricity grids.

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