As the Egyptian and Turkish heads of state fly to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, media reports suggest a Saudi brokered reconciliation between the two clashing countries.
Appearing on television the night before his meeting with the Saudi King, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that his and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presence at the same time in Saudi Arabia is a mere coincidence. Al-Sisi demanded that Erdoğan stop intervening in Egypt’s internal affairs.
Saudi Arabia had previously attempted to harmonise Egypt’s relations with Qatar, another country in conflict with Egypt. The Gulf nations, with the exception of Qatar, have been supportive of Egypt’s government since the overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Egyptian-Qatari relations witnessed a slight improvement by the end of the year, followed by improvement of relations between Egypt and Turkey.
It appeared that Turkey is “retreating”, as reported by Egypt’s state-run newspaper Al-Ahram. The recent change in Qatar’s foreign policy towards Egypt was a direct factor for Turkey, Chairman of the International Relations Bureau of the Turkish Workers’ Party Yunus Soner told Daily News Egypt. The Turkish government is taking slow but certain steps to strengthen relations with Egypt, he said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry had declared its support for the normalisation of relations between Turkey and Egypt under certain conditions, which occurred under economic and US pressure to do so. This comes following Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç’s calls for establishing relations with Egypt on intact grounds, yet still referring to the current regime as a “military coup”.
Ministry Spokesman Tanju Bilgiç declared turning to normal relations was possible if in Egypt the people’s will would again be reflected in the political and social life, and if the country returns to full democracy.
In the ensuing crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters following President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power, Turkey has emerged as a sympathiser to the now outlawed group. The two countries have been exchanging accusations since former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013. “Gulf countries have attacked Turkey for its policy towards Egypt,” said İsmail Hakkı Pekin, former Intelligence Department of the General Staff head. Pekin, who had been imprisoned for an attempted coup against Erdogan’s regime, added: “All Arab countries are rooted in what Egypt does.”
However, Pekin said that even if Qatar had not changed its policy toward Egypt, Turkey would still have changed its own policy. Qatar, like Turkey, was against Morsi’s ouster, and Egyptian-Qatari ties have been strained since then, resulting in the withdrawal of ambassadors in both countries.
“Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood was an incorrect Turkish policy. Turkey must accept Al-Sisi as president,” Pekin said. “Egypt, Turkey and Syria all have terrorism problems. They need to get together to make peace.”
Egyptian media mirrors Turkey as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now banned in Egypt, and has been listed as a “terrorist organisation” since December 2013.
Looking at the bigger picture, Soner said: “Turkey is under big pressure from the US. With the current US dollar exchange rate and its economic conditions, it is now forced to have better relations with its neighbouring country.”
One of Egypt’s latest measures against Turkey was the tightening of travel permits to the country, which led to tourism companies cancelling their trips.
Erdogan has made comments on Egypt’s internal situation on different occasions, and said in February that Turkey would not recognise the Egyptian interim authorities. He said it was “a regime that has undertaken a military coup”, calling then-minister of defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, a “coup maker”.
Egypt, in turn, replied to Turkey’s statements by accusing Erdogan of spreading lies and “flagrant intervention” in Egypt’s internal affairs. In November, both countries expelled each others’ ambassadors, officially downgrading diplomatic ties between the nations.
“Turkey needs Egypt; otherwise there will be problems with Eastern-Mediterranean countries. Without Egypt, all the Middle East countries cannot solve their problems,” said Pekin.
Pekin expects the Turkish-Egyptian relations to improve in all fields, specifically terrorism and respecting the decisions of Egyptian people.