Egypt, Turkey: Can they still make up?

Sunday 28/08/2016
Opening session of OIC Istanbul Summit in Istanbul, last April

CAIRO - A failed coup in Turkey will likely slow a drive to mend fences with re­gional states and make Ankara more focused on putting its own house in order, analysts said, but the failed putsch is not likely to cause a U-turn in a newly formulated vision for bring­ing Turkey’s ties with these states back on track.
Analysts added that Egypt could be the next country with which Turkey rebuilds damaged ties, given Saudi efforts to forge a new Sunni bloc to counter Iranian influ­ence and the need for joint action against terrorism.
“Cairo will likely be on the list for the new government in Turkey after it managed to bring relations with Russia and Israel back to nor­mal,” said American University in Cairo political science Profes­sor Tarek Fahmi. “Saudi Arabia is expected to play the mediator between Turkey and Egypt in the days to come.”
Relations between Egypt and Turkey took a sudden turn for the worse in 2013 when the Egyptian Army ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi. Ankara strongly objected. Egypt expelled the Turk­ish ambassador to Cairo and Tur­key responded in kind. Egyptian analysts attributed the anger to ideological links between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Binali Yildirim, a close associate of Erdogan who took over as Turk­ish prime minister in May, seems to favour a more reconciliatory approach with neighbours, some­thing, analysts said, that would bring Turkey back to the “zero problems” with neighbours pol­icy it had adopted before the 2011 “Arab spring”.
Yildirim told AKP members there can be no lasting enmity among countries in the Black Sea and Med­iterranean region. A party member revealed that a Turkish delegation would be sent to Egypt in prepa­ration for improving relations be­tween the two countries.
Egyptian Labour Minister Mo­hamed Saafan met with his Turk­ish counterpart Suleyman Soylu in July on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Labour and Employment ministers meeting in China to dis­cuss cooperation. Soylu highlight­ed the importance of better rela­tions between Turkey and Egypt in resolving regional crises, the Egyptian Labour Ministry said in a statement.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on August 16th said it was up to Turkey to take the first steps, accusing Ankara of advocat­ing policies that were “detrimen­tal” to Egypt. Ten days earlier, his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Ca­vusoglu, said Ankara was ready to help Egypt once it fixed its internal weakness and created a culture of reconciliation.
The conciliatory messages were received with caution in Cairo. Egyptians said that, to improve its relations, Turkey needs to view Morsi’s ouster not as a military coup but as a popular uprising against a president who failed to deliver on his promises or solve Egypt’s prob­lems.
“This is an important condition for relations to go back to normal track,” said Mohamed Orabi, a for­mer Foreign Affairs minister and now head of the Egyptian parlia­ment’s Foreign Relations Commit­tee. “Turkey also needs to stop sowing the seeds of unrest around Egypt.”
Fahmi said that Egypt believes Turkey has a hand in the anar­chy raging around it, especially in Libya, where the unending flow of arms fuels battles between rival mi­litias and armies.
Still, the Egyptian Foreign Minis­try welcomed Yildirim’s gesture.
“However, the starting point of smoothing the ties would be rec­ognising the official institutions which were established after June 2013,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a state­ment.
Whether Ankara will recognise them remains to be seen. Erdogan said in early July that the situa­tion with Egypt was different than dealings with Russia and Israel. “Turkey’s dispute was with Egypt’s government, not its people,” he was quoted as saying.
Erdogan, however, has a history of changing his mind. When the Turkish Army downed a Russian warplane near the border with Syr­ia, he said he would not apologise to Russia. Nevertheless, he recently did just that.
Erdogan also criticised Israel and condemned what he called its ag­gressive policies against Palestin­ians. His government, however, hammered out a reconciliation deal with Tel Aviv in June, opening the door for normalised relations.
This is part of the reason Egyptian analysts said Turkey’s reconcilia­tion with Egypt is likely.
Nevertheless, it is not clear how Erdogan will react to the welcome with which Egyptians received news of the attempted putsch in Turkey. Many in Egypt cheered as Erdogan was reported ousted by his army. Egypt even blocked a UN Security Council resolution against the coup over wording.
Along with Saudi Arabia, Algeria is making efforts to bring Egypt and Turkey closer together, according to a Foreign Ministry source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Turkey lost a lot by antagonis­ing its neighbours,” said Bashir Abdel-Fattah, a researcher with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “This is why it is trying to return to the regional fold at a critical time for everybody.”