Under US Pressure Erdogan Reverses Position on Egypt

There has been much talk recently about the Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement, although this rapprochement has had effects in reality, especially after the visit to Egypt by a Turkish delegation headed by deputy foreign minister Sadat Onal on 5 May 2021. Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the meeting was conducted in a positive atmosphere and the means that could lead to improving relations between the two sides were debated. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu indicated that the meeting between the Turkish and Egyptian delegations was exploratory and it had come in response to an invitation by the Egyptian side adding that “discussions will continue on the steps that can be taken to normalise relations in the upcoming period,” (Hurriyet Daily 07/05/21) and that regional issues concerning both countries were also addressed during the meeting, such as Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Eastern Mediterranean.  

The visit came after weeks of statements issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last March wherein he he stated that cooperation with Egypt “may not be at the highest level but directly below, and obviously we hope to pursue this process with Egypt with much more momentum,” (Reuters 06/05/21). As for the recent visit, Erdoğan was quoted as saying on 7 May 2021: “We are in efforts to re-gain this historical bond with the people of Egypt and to resume anew as brothers and friend rather than brothers and enemies” adding “it would be sad to see them in solidarity with Greece” (ibid 07/05/21)  

Turco-Egyptian relations turned sour following the coup d’état staged by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi against Mohammed Morsi in 2013, and the standpoint of Erdoğan vis-à-vis the ouster and his fiery statements against al-Sisi whom he dubbed on more than one occasion as criminal. Relations worsened when several members of the Muslim Brotherhood began using Turkey as a media and political platform against the regime of al-Sisi.  

Regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members being present in Turkey and the Egyptian regime dubbing the movement a terrorist organisation, the more important issues upon which Egypt and Turkey have differed, centre around the Turkish military presence in Libya and the demarcation of the maritime border between Turkey and Egypt, after Turkey announced she had signed a “Maritime Boundary Treaty” with the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli.  

Foreign relations of dependent functional states such as Egypt are not built on national interests in the first place as they may claim; they are rather subject to their functional role which is determined by the influential power, namely the US, as long as her policy does not threaten the ruler and his future, and as long as the ruler is capable of regulating domestic reaction to his collusion with foreign powers, especially as the regimes of the region are by and large dictatorial and their domestic and foreign policies are shaped according to the whims and desires of the ruler whose reign depends on foreign powers. Hence, it would be implausible for the foreign relations of functional states to yield any interests for themselves or for their masses, for all the benefit would go to foreign powers. 

In light of this reality, and as Egypt needs a rapprochement which would be advantageous to the Egyptian regime in terms of halting the media attacks on president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi emanating from Turkey and by the Egyptian opposition which continues to act as a scarecrow undermining his regime, in addition to Turkey’s need to mellow her relations with Egypt in order to secure her presence on the Libyan scene and her interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, based on the political pragmatism which Erdoğan practises, healing the rift and  restoring relations between the two countries has turned out to be timely and sensible, especially as America is willing to offer Erdoğan some incentives, such as restoring his ties with Egypt to curb his inclination towards Russia and weaken Russian presence in Libya which has been bolstered by the Turco-Egyptian rift.

Moreover, America is still endeavouring to regain Turkey from the grip of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development party (AKP) through various styles and means based on the principle of “Turkey is bigger than Erdoğan”.  Hence, America continues to cause Erdoğan a host of economic problems to curb his domestic popularity, support the rise of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria and Iraq, and threatens to fragment Turkey on ethnic and nationalistic grounds. She is also attempting to exert pressure on him through Biden’s recognition of Armenia’s genocide and by inciting the domestic opposition forces and supplying them with political ammunition to slam Erdoğan, such as the deteriorating economy and the file of regional and international relations.    

Consequently, Erdoğan has decided to make a U-turn in reviewing his relations with the countries of the region after the Turkish economy, from which he derives his popularity and electoral powerbase, had been compromised due to the American onslaught and the coronavirus pandemic. The U-turn in Erdoğan’s policy occurred when Biden took office and threatened him and his party, and after Erdoğan realised that the file of the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to power in Egypt has been put on ice by America for the time being, as the policy of a “Turkish Islamic model” was no longer a bargaining chip he could rely upon, and that Turkey is facing regional isolation that the opposition is exploiting to chip away at his domestic popularity.

Erdoğan wants to nullify the pretexts of his opponents, who accuse him of having squandered Turkey’s good relations in the region after Ahmet Davutoğlu succeeded in his “zero problems” foreign policy, neutralised Egypt on the issue of demarcating maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean in which Egypt sided with Greece, Greek Cyprus and Israel, and dissipate France’s reliance on Egypt and Greece in this respect.  Hence, restoring relations between Egypt and Turkey is in the interest of the leaders within the context of the American interests in the region rather than the interests of the masses. Turkey had paved the way for this rapprochement through a host of meetings between the intelligence services of both countries, which culminated in muzzling the media discourse of the Egyptian opposition based in Turkey, so as to allow the normalisation of ties. 

Copyright © LCIR 2021

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