Normalisation between Egypt and Turkey hindered by issues of mercenaries, Brotherhood

Recent developments have contradicted reports which circulated last week that reconciliation between the two sides was imminent.

Saturday 10/04/2021
A pro-Brotherhood demonstrator holds a key chain with a picture of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2019. (REUTERS)
A pro-Brotherhood demonstrator holds a key chain with a picture of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2019. (REUTERS)

CAIRO – Egyptian security sources told The Arab Weekly Friday that talks to normalise relations between Cairo and Ankara have slowed down, with Cairo having doubts about Turkey’s serious intent to withdraw its mercenaries from Libya and the extradition of Muslim Brotherhood leaders wanted by the Egyptian judiciary.

There have  even been reports from the Egyptian side of the suspension of talks.

Recent developments have contradicted accounts which circulated last week that reconciliation between the two sides was imminent.

Prominent Turkish Justice and Development Party member, Ismail Karayel, confirmed in statements to the local newspaper “Yeni Safak” that “An agreement between the two sides is imminent, and the European rivals will be left out in the cold. Finalising the agreement between Egypt and Turkey will leave no room for the European Union to reach the eastern Mediterranean”.

“As soon as the agreement between Egypt and Turkey is signed, the European Union will find itself outside the equation. Egypt is close to signing … and God willing, the agreement will come to light soon,” Karayel added.

While Cairo was waiting for Turkey to withdraw its Syrian mercenaries from western Libya, the Turkish government recently sent a new batch of 380 fighters, according to a report  by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Sources in Egypt said that the withdrawal of the mercenaries from Libya was seen as an essential part of the process of normalisation with Ankara and this provision could not be delayed or waived.

But Turkey has not proved to be serious about fulfilling this condition so far and  instead appears instead to be playing for time. Such an attitude is rejected by Egypt which considers the issues of the Brotherhood and the mercenaries as essential parts of any understanding.

Sources indicated that Turkey’s reluctance to pull out its fighters is not directed at Egypt alone, but is also intended as a message to European countries that are exerting political pressure on Ankara on other regional issues.

Ankara’s message is that it will not yield without major concessions in exchange and will not agree to withdraw its forces and dismantle its military infrastructure in Libya without economic guarantees.

The Arab Weekly learned from diplomatic sources that Ankara links the withdrawal of mercenaries to the protection of its economic influence in Libya as well as Libyan investments and funds in Turkey.

It realises that the new Government of National Unity , including both the presidency and the government, wants to win the confidence of the international community by distancing itself to a certain degree from Turkey.

The Libyan interim government also sees the mercenaries’ exit as a way to gain the confidence of the population before the elections.

At the same time, Cairo seems sceptical of Turkey’s intent to hand over the leading Brotherhood members who are wanted by Egyptian courts or to shutter the group’s affiliated TV channels, instead of merely exerting control on them.

.These considerations have compelled the Egyptian government  to adopt an extremely cautious attitude towards rapprochement  with Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also said to be unsure of Cairo’s willingness to meet his own demands in exchange for ending his support for the Brotherhood, such as siding with Turkey against both Greece and Cyprus.

Tariq Abu Al-Saad, an expert on Islamist movements, said Erdogan has not yet relinquished the Brotherhood card and considers his relationship with the group as similar to Iran’s ties to Hezbollah.

His relationship with the Brotherhood has in fact proven to be the most important tool for carrying out his foreign policy and making inroads in Libya and northern Syria.

Abu AlSaad further told The Arab Weekly that these ties allow Erdogan to pressure regimes in the region, including that of Egypt. It is also his best bet to carry out his designs when it comes to expanding Turkey’s influence, destabilising rivals and controlling the region’s riches.

He continued, “If it abandons the Brotherhood as Egypt demands, then this means the end of Turkey’s ability to influence developments in the region to promote its interests. This approach was inspired by Iran’s achievement of gains through support to ideological sectarian groups, and made Washington negotiate with Tehran.”

Abu AlSaad added that Erdogan wanted, by announcing his sudden rapprochement with Cairo, to put a brake on the pressures from his domestic opposition which used his feud with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the issue of Ankara’s support to the Brotherhood as grounds to attack him.

He pointed out that Erdogan fixed his relationship with Egypt and reduced his support for the Brotherhood, to deprive the opposition of any justification for attacking him and curbing his popularity.

But now, “he will not go any further than what he has already done with the Brotherhood members residing in Turkey, that is, to control their media discourse only, and will not initiate the withdrawal of mercenaries from Libya as envisioned by Egypt.”​

The Turkish authorities issued directives to stop political programmes on the Brotherhood satellite channels that broadcast from Istanbul, namely “Watan”, “Al Sharq” and “Mkameleen”, a step that was welcomed by the Egyptian Minister of Information, Osama Haykal, while observers considered it a symbolic step that paves the way for a type of half-reconciliation with Egypt.