Checking Turkey’s Mediterranean influence motivates Egypt as it moves closer to Greece, Cyprus

November 26, 2017
Reaching out. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shake hands following a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, on November 20. (Reuters)

Cairo- A growing alliance be­tween Egypt, Greece and Cyprus carries ma­jor economic, political and security benefits, but could also serve as a check on Turkey’s influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey has been trying to ex­pand its regional influence at Egypt’s expense,” said Moham­ed Abdel-Kader, a researcher at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Politi­cal and Strategic Studies. “Egypt in return encircles Turkey by gaining presence in its immediate vicinity.”

An Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot sum­mit in Nicosia on November 21 was the fifth such meeting since Egyp­tian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2014.

The leaders of the three countries pledged at the latest meeting to work more closely to tackle illegal migration and terrorism as well as to broaden “strategic cooperation” on energy.

Cairo has complained about Turkish support for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, with Egypt’s prosecution ordering the arrest of 29 people on November 22 suspect­ed of carrying out espionage for Turkish intelligence services.

Ankara is watching the develop­ing alliance between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus with concern.

Ankara had previously com­plained about naval drills between Egypt and Greece on Rhode Island, calling them a “gross violation of international law” and warning that they could “lead to tension in the Aegean Sea region.”

Stronger Egyptian-Greek ties would certainly help both countries check their regional rival; however veteran Egyptian diplomat and for­mer head of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs Abdul Rauf Al Ridi denied that there was any for­mal anti-Turkey “bloc.”

“Relations between Egypt and Greece have many dimensions on the security, political and economic front,” he said.

“Ultimately, Ankara continues to stand against Egypt’s interests and is causing Cairo a lot of problems. There can be no doubt that the stra­tegic convergence between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus is cause for con­cern for Turkey,” he added.

Analysts acknowledged that Cai­ro had lately taken the initiative in the Mediterranean. “There is a role reversal in relations between Cairo and Ankara, one in which Egypt is taking an aggressive policy to turn the tables on Turkey,” Abdel-Kader said.

This comes as Egypt and Greece move to define maritime borders, meaning that Cairo and Athens could soon begin full exploitation of natural gas reserves in the East­ern Mediterranean. Egypt’s off-shore Zohr gas field is expected to start production before the end of the year.

On November 21, Egyptian Presi­dent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the untapped natural gas reserves would not only promote stability in the Eastern Mediterranean but also help supply Europe with its energy needs and allow Egypt and Cyprus to play a role in formulating region­al energy policies.

Egypt also has ambitions of be­coming a regional energy hub, given its close proximity to major production centres both in the Arab Gulf and the Mediterranean.

“Egypt has a huge infrastructure to serve this objective, including major liquefaction facilities and refineries,” said energy expert Ibra­him Zahran. “It stands to economi­cally benefit greatly if it succeeds in becoming a regional energy centre, being close to production wells in the Gulf and the market in Europe.”