Are there understandings between Turkey and Egypt regarding the Libyan file? This was the question posed by fellow journalist Taha Al-Essawi to Dr Yasin Aktay, chief adviser to Turkish President and leader of the Turkish Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cautiously and in a manner that does not deviate from the Libyan file. Erdogan's adviser revealed warm relations with Egypt that go beyond the Libyan file, although he was more open regarding the people, but more reserved when it came to the government in Egypt.
It is worth noting that during his interview with Arabi21, Aktay made a distinction between the position of President Erdogan and that of the Turkish state and its institutions. The truth is that this conversation is not new, as according to information, this rapprochement has been on the table since late 2014 in the corridors of the party and among the opposition. The party's position is based on a strategy Turkey adopted at the time (the zero problems with neighbours philosophy), while the opposition used the position as a means to entrap Erdogan and portray him as not being concerned with Turkey's economic interests, as the two countries have interests that can be developed, which will benefit the people.
Nevertheless, Yasin Aktay's statements were widely promoted by the Western media, and they recalled past statements by the Turkish president about discussions between the intelligence services in his country and those in Egypt, as a means to confirm the Turkish administration's position. The goal behind this of course is to calm the region at this time in order for the current normalisation process to pass smoothly, on one hand, and to calm down what France wants to ignite in the Middle East, which Libya is at the heart of, before escalating on the Greek front again. There also seems to be an opportunity to defuse the crisis in the NATO house in Brussels, even with the manoeuvres that Turkey or Greece are conducting with France. On the one hand, Erdogan appears to be retreating, although the latter is insignificant, as politics is the art of manoeuvring and the flexibility of moving between the squares on the chessboard.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, commented on Aktay's interview and whether the Egyptian government has conditions for turning a new leaf with Turkey. We notice the attempts to promote the statements made by President Erdogan's adviser and put Turkey in the position of retreating or trying to please. Shoukry said that the government he represents monitors actions, not conversations and statements, and that if statements are not in accordance with policies, then they do not matter. Thus, and rightly so, Egyptian diplomacy was able to score a goal against the Turkish media statements that require more deliberation.
Despite this, one can read the words of the adviser to the head of the ruling party in Turkey as an attempt to draw the Egyptian regime to the square of relative rapprochement and distance it relatively from the Emirati-French axis, at least in the Libyan file, and then over time in the Eastern Mediterranean file.
The pressures facing the two countries are too great and too complex for them to engage in a confrontation in which both sides will be the loser in a long battle of attrition that will cause the whole world to suffer from a crushing economic crisis. At the domestic level, both countries need to move away from what may weaken their positions, in terms of crises that await them in light of the new wave of the coronavirus and the accompanying recession.
For Turkey, a confrontation far away geographically means greater attrition, and it is better for it to save its energy for political and military manoeuvres with its historical enemies. Even with this stance, Turkey is trying to cautiously create calm in order not to lose its Western allies. Turkey's decision to withdraw its energy exploration ship in the Eastern Mediterranean is a sign of reducing tension with Greece, which means that Turkey does not want to fall into a trap set by France and America and from which the UAE and Israel benefit.
The question remains: Can Turkey's rapprochement with the Egyptian government lead to full reconciliation and normalisation?
There is no unequivocal answer in this regard, but Turkey's victory over the failed coup attempt in 2016, and the talk about the involvement of both the UAE and the Egyptian governments in it, in one form or another, and Turkey's dark history with coups, makes its legitimation of the Egyptian government, that seized power in the 2013 coup, something difficult to believe. This is especially true given the stereotype that the Justice and Development Party has tried to paint in the imagination of the Arab and Muslim people, which includes championing the truth and providing relief to the vulnerable.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 15 September 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.