Egypt, Turkey: Can they still make up?
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.”