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New heat in Ankara and Cairo

New heat in Ankara and Cairo
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP photos)

Turkey sent the strongest message this month, indicating its willingness to improve relations with many Arab countries, especially Egypt.

It started with a burst of statements from senior Ankara officials, who expressed hope that a new era was likely to dawn in Turkish-Egyptian relations. Similar statements were also made in August and September last year by Yasin Aktay, the presidential adviser who was previously the Justice and Development Party’s vice chairman in charge of international relations. Due to his title, it was assumed at the time that something needed to be prepared on this matter. In addition, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made a similar statement. However, this attempt slowly died out.

The latest round of encouraging statements was launched by Cavusoglu, who said negotiations between Turkey and Egypt are likely to begin without conditions. This good news was further explored by other people in important positions, such as Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, President Ibrahim Kalin’s spokesman and, finally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After many senior officials made statements with almost the same content, more concrete hope began to spread in the Turkish media.

Erdogan further clarified this topic by saying: There are high level contacts with Egypt, not at the highest level, but just below the highest level. Some media in Turkey interpreted this statement as a reference to contacts between intelligence agents.

After so much clarification, the pro-government Turkish media greeted this important initiative with glee, and prime-time television commentators competed to explain why it was high time for such an initiative. The same commentators had, in the recent past, issued harsh criticisms of the Egyptian government. They stressed that Turkey has no problem with the Egyptian people and that the problem is with the government. Interestingly, the Egyptian media used the same rhetoric against Turkey.

If the Turkey-Egypt normalization negotiations finally start, there will be two concrete areas of cooperation

Yasar Yakis

Cavusoglu specifically pointed out in his statement that the high-level talks will begin without conditions. This assurance was important because skeptics in Turkey were unsure whether Egypts ‘response would match Ankaras’ expectations. An Egyptian intelligence source made a non-binding statement, saying Turkey had offered a meeting to discuss cooperation. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukrys’ response contained more substance, but it was also without commitment. He said: There is no communication outside the normal diplomatic framework. If Turkey’s actual actions show alignment with Egyptian principles and goals, then the foundation will be laid for relations to return to normal.

The pro-government Egyptian daily Al-Watan was more specific. He published a list of 10 Egyptian conditions for normalization of relations last week. They cover a wide range of topics, from the demarcation of areas of maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean to the withdrawal of Turkey’s military presence in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Such a catalog of conditions would likely be a non-starter for Turkey.

However, if the Turkey-Egypt normalization negotiations finally start, there will be two concrete areas of cooperation. One of them is Libya. Turkey has a well-established military presence there, acquired through international agreements. In light of this reality, it would be a success if Turkey and Egypt could craft a win-win initiative in Libya, instead of trying their hand at a zero-sum game. If such a breakthrough could be achieved, they could cooperate in the UN-sponsored Libyan democratic process.

The second area of ​​cooperation concerns the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey. Cairo wants to silence all the Brotherhood’s dissemination activities directed against Egypt and the Gulf States. A more important question regarding the group is its ultimate fate. Al-Watan claimed that Ankara had volunteered to extradite its members to Egypt, but Cairo preferred to send them back to Interpol. Egypt would also prefer Ankara not to interfere with what Interpol would then do with them. If Turkey decides to expel them, few countries will welcome them, with the Muslim Brotherhood being designated as a terrorist organization in many countries. Turkey turning away from them would be seen by its members as Ankara selling them. Ultimately, as long as the last member of the Brotherhood remains in Turkey, this issue will continue to cast a shadow over Turkish-Egyptian relations.

Yasar Yakis is a former Turkish Foreign Minister and a founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the editors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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