In May 2013, on a military plane that took off from Almaza military airport – east of Cairo – carrying 11 Egyptian army officials to Turkey, there was a lonely man for whom the Turks arranged a one-on-one meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a special mission I sent him. The Egyptian presidency, as part of efforts to expand military relations between the two countries. Two months after that meeting, the Turks did not expect that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian Minister of Defense who was assigned with this task, would lead the process of deposing President Mohamed Morsi, and then use Gulf funds to strike at Turkish plans in the region. Faced with this sudden blow, Ankara revolted and tried unsuccessfully to push the Security Council to impose sanctions on Sisi. Egypt responded by expelling the Turkish ambassador from its lands, and thus began the page of the most intense political tension between the two countries since the establishment of their republics.
The sharpness of the differences between Ankara and Cairo reached a climax after the latter signed an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders with Greece in August of last year, an agreement that angered Turkey and considered it invalid as it includes areas it considers within its continental shelf. The deterioration of relations was already exacerbated after Turkey signed a maritime delimitation agreement with the Libyan government in Tripoli in 2019. However, the subsequent events brought a surprise to Turkey. As the Egyptian Official Gazette published the text of the maritime border delimitation agreement with Greece, and it was found that the agreement did not violate the Turkish continental shelf, unlike what Ankara had thought, as it turned out that what was concluded between the two countries was nothing more than a partial delimitation of the borders, with the addition of a clause allowing the agreement to be amended. In the future, if one of the two signatories enters into negotiations with a neighboring party to demarcate the border, a sign that Turkey received positively, indicating that it has not completely disappeared from the minds of the Egyptian agreement makers, it hastened to open a new door for negotiation with the Egyptian government.
In the face of these expected gains from the scenario of rapprochement with Egypt, during the past six months, Turkey changed the tone of the continuous escalation over the seven years of Sisi’s stay in power. A new Turkish engagement has begun for rapprochement with Egypt in order to achieve strategic goals that Turkey seeks to achieve in several regional files, and considers that the keys are currently in the hands of Cairo. Turkish pro-government journalists spoke to Meydan about their view of the reality of the latest approach, and considered that the current pacification course can only be described as a cautious rapprochement between two competing regimes in the region. Hence, it is too early to talk about the possibility of him turning into a warm relationship. One of them said, on condition of anonymity, “Turkey still wants a lot from Egypt, but most of these demands cannot actually be obtained, because they harm the alliances of the ruling Sisi regime.”
The previous proposal supports the cautious Egyptian response to the Turkish initiative, although Ankara has expressed its willingness to implement some of Cairo’s demands, most notably imposing restrictions on the Egyptian opposition TV channels on its soil, and forcing it to moderate the criticism directed at Sisi. But Cairo had to make its own goodwill gestures as well, such as curbing domestic anti-Turkey propaganda, and launching some diplomatic initiatives such as the call between the two countries’ foreign ministers, and the thank- you letter from the Egyptian Prime Minister to Erdogan. The road seems open, then, for removing thorns on the road between the two countries for a diplomatic partnership in the core files of both, such as Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, at a time when expectations that spread during the past two years about the possibility of a military collision between the two parties, even indirectly, have faded.
During the recent visit of the Turkish delegation to Cairo, the Turks discussed with the Egyptians negotiations on the division of the maritime borders, which is a strategic issue for Ankara, whose coast extends for 1,200 km, cutting off the largest area in the eastern Mediterranean, but whose maritime borders are restricted by dozens of islands under Greek sovereignty. In addition, United Nations Convention on the the 1982 Law of the Sea entitles all states, whether continental or island states, to have 12 nautical miles (about 22 km) within their sovereignty, as well as an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles (30.4 km) deep. ), and because the area of the Mediterranean Sea is narrow, not reaching 200 nautical miles between countries and some of them, so the midline was adopted as a measure for calculating the continental shelf.
The provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention are subject to many interpretations, and many countries have fought diplomatic wars that have not ended yet to consolidate their water gains within its framework, while some have rejected it entirely, as Turkey does. While Ankara insists that the land is the main measure of the continental shelf and not the islands belonging to it, Greece, along with Cyprus and Israel, adopt the other version by adopting the islands as a criterion for this. The Turkish-Greek dispute in the eastern Mediterranean revolves around the island of “Kastelorizo”, which is 500 km from Greece and only two kilometers from the Turkish shores; What prevents Turkey from benefiting from its exclusive area in accordance with international law. Therefore, the latter refused to sign the United Nations agreement, incurring sanctions from the European Union for its exploration activities in what it considers its exclusive area, and which the Union considers to belong to Greece according to the law of the sea.
If Turkey persuaded Egypt to sign a maritime agreement biased towards the Turkish vision, at least with regard to Kostelorizo, it would have dealt a major blow to its opponents in the eastern Mediterranean, and created a regional situation that pressured Greece to make concessions in the file of that island, especially since it had already made similar concessions during Demarcation of the border with Italy. Such an agreement would guarantee Turkey an escape from its water confinement and regional isolation, and it might also hinder the Israeli gas pipeline project “EastMed”, which competes with Turkey’s project “Southern Gas Corridor” to transport 31 billion cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas to Europe, a project that challenges Turkey’s ambitions in Transformation into a regional energy hub. As for Egypt, it will not be harmed in theory by the pipeline race due to its dependence on the export of liquefied gas, but it indirectly benefits from obstructing the Israeli project, of course. https://www.youtube.com/embed/wm0XvdoaE8o?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=ar&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Speaking of the economy, economic interests have been spared the conflict between the two countries for the past eight years, as the Egyptian regime ignored parliamentary demands to cancel the free trade agreement signed with Turkey, which amounted effectively to exempting Turkish goods from customs duties in January last year. Critics of the agreement in Egypt argue that it is completely biased in favor of Turkish exporters at the expense of the Egyptian industry. The value of trade exchange between the two countries is close to $5 billion annually and is expected to increase, and Egypt is a candidate, along with Libya, to be a logistical center for Turkish exports to Africa, as part of Ankara’s plans to transfer its products to 53 African countries with a total population of about one billion, a plan that aims to On the one hand, Egypt’s efforts to expand southward into Africa may ignite a commercial competition with it if Egypt decides to export its products to the continent as well.
Despite this, there are many reasons that impede the current meeting of the Egyptian and Turkish regimes to form a strategic partnership, despite the vital areas that stimulate their convergence. The first, of course, is the ideological differences represented in Turkey’s support for political Islam, and the hosting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders on its soil, in return for the complete suppression of this trend in Egypt. There is also a clear personal enmity between Sisi and Erdogan after years of media squabbling between the two capitals. Hence, arriving at a win-win formula for the two sides through the recent negotiations seems difficult. The Eastern Mediterranean file, which comes at the top of Turkey’s talks with Egypt, has expressed “difficult conditions” that Ankara has not yet accepted. According to what was published by the ” website Saudi Arabiya , “Al- quoting Egyptian sources, Cairo insisted on entering Cyprus and Greece in any negotiations with Turkey regarding the demarcation of the maritime borders, indicating that it does not want to enter into conflict with those countries with which it has good relations, relations that will of course become strained if The conclusion of an Egyptian-Turkish agreement could cut off maritime areas from Greece at least.
Otherwise, Egypt’s signing of a maritime agreement with Turkey would expand Turkey’s exclusive economic zone and support its plans to transform into a regional gas trading hub. Which means fierce competition in the long run between two countries with the same goal. The competition has already begun since Egypt announced its self-sufficiency in gas in mid-2019, but the other problem facing Egypt is that the Israeli “EastMed” project, which is scheduled to enter service in 2025, also threatens Cairo’s ambitions and endeavors. But perhaps ongoing series reconciliation between Turkey and its neighbors leading to Turkish rapprochement in Israeli energy file would threaten Egypt more than Turkey entry single line on competition, has displayed the Israeli Minister Energy already offer this regard Ankara ignored until moment. Therefore, Egypt will eventually prefer to deal positively with Turkey, rather than losing it to Tel Aviv.
by moving to Libya; Relatively far from the limelight, understandings took place between the two countries, and contributed to reaching a ceasefire agreement in the city of Sirte – central Libya – after the defeat of Haftar’s forces at the hands of the Government of National Accord supported by Ankara. Hence, it is expected that the developments of the transitional phase in Libya may open a horizon for coordination between the two parties, but it will also carry the seeds of a cold war between them within the Libyan arena due to several files, especially the reconstruction file, as this file is a priority for the Egyptian government in recent years, and aspires through it Egypt will send two million workers and about 500 companies, ambitions that will collide with desire Ankara’s to get a share of this pie.
The long-term strategic objective of this rapprochement, from Ankara’s point of view, lies in seeking to compensate for its lost political influence within the central countries of the Arab world, and to consolidate the legitimacy of its military movements, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. As for Libya, the spokesman for the Turkish president says that rapprochement with Egypt helps to end the war in Libya, and that Turkey simply wants to remove all mercenaries in parallel with the exclusion of Haftar, while maintaining its official military presence. The last item was among messages explicitly carried by the Turkish delegation to Cairo, confirmed by the Turkish Foreign Minister from Berlin, and strongly rejected by Egypt on the grounds that the Turkish military presence is undesirable in a country that is considered a direct Egyptian sphere of influence. Once again, reconciliation opens horizons for coordination, negotiation and understanding, but it is bound by competition in the same issues that the two countries aspire to influence.
Finally, Egypt cannot ignore the indications of Turkish courtship, which reinforces its image as having imposed a fait accompli that Ankara was eventually forced to deal with. In addition, the strength of Egyptian-Gulf relations has begun to be affected by differences related to the pace of Gulf normalization with Israel, which makes Cairo benefit from openness to all parties, and the possession of the largest possible number of diplomatic communication channels and regional papers. The limited reconciliation also brings many benefits to Cairo, including lifting the ban imposed by Turkey on its participation in activities with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), putting pressure on the Tripoli government to reopen the Egyptian embassy, reaching a satisfactory formula in the reconstruction file, and of course the pressure that Turkey will exert on the opposition Egyptian located in Istanbul. In return, it is expected soon that Ankara will demand the Egyptian government to place restrictions on the activities of the Turkish opposition movement “Fethullah Gulen” in Egypt. Both countries, then, have enough incentives to engage in the bold gamble of rapprochement, but they are well aware that the road between them is still strewn with thorns, and that the scene of Sisi and Erdogan shaking hands is still far away despite the accumulation of signs of rapprochement day after day.