News / Middle East

    Turkey, Egypt Take Steps Toward Rapprochement

    FIILE - Egyptian security forces clash with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at Nasr City district in Cairo, Nov. 22, 2013. Ties between Turkey and Egypt were severed following Morsi's removal, but relations between the two countries are warming up again.
    FIILE - Egyptian security forces clash with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at Nasr City district in Cairo, Nov. 22, 2013. Ties between Turkey and Egypt were severed following Morsi's removal, but relations between the two countries are warming up again.
    Dorian Jones

    This week, Ankara welcomed Cairo's participation in an international working group to resolve the crisis in Libya. 

    The move followed reports that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has authorized renewing contacts with Egypt at the ministerial level. Diplomatic relations were cut after Egypt's military deposed President Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Erdogan, in 2013.

    Political columnist Semih Idiz, of Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper and the Al-Monitor website, notes the move to repair ties with Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries follows a deterioration in Turkey's relations with all of its southern neighbors and Russia.

    "The isolation [Turkey] has found itself in in the Middle East is forcing it to try and re-establish some links that it had before," Idiz said.

    Common enemy

    Ankara's relations with Saudi Arabia have markedly improved under the new Saudi ruler, King Salman. The two countries are closely coordinating their support of the Syrian rebels. 

    International relations expert Soli Ozel, of Istanbul's Kadir Has University, says Turkey's steps toward a rapprochement with Egypt are tied to its improved relations with Saudi Arabia.

    FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before a meeting in Ankara, Oct. 15, 2015.
    FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before a meeting in Ankara, Oct. 15, 2015.

    "Turkey cannot increase its intimacy with Saudi Arabia and keep a very inimical relation[ship] with Egypt, which is being financed by Saudi Arabia,” Ozel said. “Remember: The common enemy for those three countries is Iran."

    Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all concerned that Iran's power in the region will grow now that international sanctions against it have been lifted. The three countries’ leaders will have a chance to meet face to face at the next Islamic Summit, set to take place in Istanbul in April.

    Complications

    Idiz says Erdogan is aware that the idea of warming up to Egypt is a sensitive subject inside the Turkish president's ruling AKP party, given the Egyptian government's treatment of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    "A full rapprochement at a time like this, I think, ... would not be received well by the ruling AKP grassroots supporters," Idiz said.

    But Cairo's hardline stance against Gaza is also seen as a complicating issue, given Ankara's strong backing of Gaza's Hamas government.

    In addition, Ozel says the fate of former Egyptian President Morsi, who is facing a death sentence, is key.

    "If they [Egypt] hang Morsi, I am sure it will be very difficult to sustain this revitalization of relations," Ozel said.

    Analysts suggest Erdogan is pushing for commuting the death sentences against Morsi and his followers — and possibly full amnesty for them — as the price Egypt must pay to restore diplomatic relations with Turkey. But with Ankara close to an agreement with Israel, another estranged former ally, it appears ready to compromise to end its isolation.

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