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