Increasingly isolated, Turkey seeks to woo Egypt, Gulf states

“We have serious potential for cooperation with Egypt in a wide spectrum of areas from the eastern Mediterranean to Libya,” said Edogan, adding that he “loved” the Egyptian people.

Wednesday 02/06/2021
Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza (background) meets with his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal (Foreground), in the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 5, 2021. (AFP)
Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza (background) meets with his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal (Foreground), in the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 5, 2021. (AFP)

ANKARA – Turkey hopes to maximise its cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations “on a win-win basis,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, as Ankara works to repair its damaged relations with Cairo and some Gulf Arab nations after years of tensions.

Ankara’s ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been strained over several issues, from opposing positions on political Islam, the Libyan conflict and the eastern Mediterranean to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Turkey has in recent months been pushing to repair links with the estranged regional powers. It sent a delegation to Cairo for talks and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went to Riyadh to meet his Saudi counterpart.

“Our desire is to use these opportunities for cooperation at the maximum level and improve our ties on a win-win basis … The same situation is valid for all Gulf countries too,” Erdogan told state broadcaster TRT Haber.

“We have serious potential for cooperation with Egypt in a wide spectrum of areas from the eastern Mediterranean to Libya,” he said, adding he “loved” the Egyptian people.

“Therefore, we are determined to restart this process.”

As part of this effort, a Turkish delegation held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo last month in the first direct contact between the regional rivals in years, after they fell out following the Egyptian army’s toppling of a democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood president close to Erdogan in 2013.

Separately, Ankara has toned down its criticism of the Khashoggi killing amid an informal Saudi boycott of Turkish exports. Cavusoglu said after talks in May with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan that the two countries would maintain dialogue.

Turkey’s push for cooperation comes as Ankara seeks to end its growing regional and international isolation.

However, Erdogan on Tuesday warned that the United States risked “losing a precious friend” if it tries to corner his country, speaking two weeks before his first meeting with US counterpart Joe Biden.

Already tense, relations between the two NATO states have further deteriorated since Biden replaced Erdogan’s ally Donald Trump in January, with the new president making a point of highlighting Turkey’s dire human rights record.

When asked about Ankara-Washington relations, Erdogan said in an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT on Tuesday that “those who corner the Republic of Turkey will lose a precious friend”.

Erdogan’s combative stance comes ahead of the first meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.

Turkey also is facing pressure in Europe, with tensions brewing between Ankara and Paris. Turkey has repeatedly traded barbs with France over policies in Syria, Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as over the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in France. Paris has led a push for EU sanctions on Turkey.

On several occasions, French President Emmanuel Macron has described Turkey’s intervention in Syria as an aggression against its NATO partners and accused Ankara of dealing with Islamic State (ISIS) agents.

Macron’s criticism increased after Turkey invaded northern Syria, where prisons and camps were built for ISIS fighters.

The French president considered Turkey’s move at the time likely to risk allowing ISIS militants to escape their detention there and infiltrate Europe.

Last month, the EU prepared punitive measures over Turkey’s dispute with members Greece and Cyprus over rights to offshore resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, but decided to postpone them despite an earlier push by France to sanction Ankara.

After months of tensions,  Erdogan and Macron discussed their differences in a phone call in September, agreeing to improve ties. But the two presidents later traded accusations over a host of issues as tensions flared again.