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Developments in Turkish-Egyptian relations 

March 13, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Turkey’s hydrocarbon research ship is seen offshores of the Mediterranean Sea, 17 September 2020 [Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

A new debate erupted when Egypt supposedly respected the borders of the economic zone in the Mediterranean announced by Turkey, while setting the border of plot No. 18 in the search for oil and natural gas. This news, if true, constitutes an important opportunity for normalising relations between Ankara and Cairo. Positive messages have already been issued from Turkey regarding this step at the level of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin, although there has been no confirmation from the Egyptian side. Statements from Cavusoglu and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar indicate that Egypt respected Turkey’s position regarding the disputed borders of maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean.

These developments reveal that discussions have taken place quietly between Turkey and Egypt, while statements by officials in Ankara indicate the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding to demarcate the borders of maritime jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries. Greece, which signed an agreement with the Egyptian side last summer, showed great concern and resentment against the backdrop of the news received from Ankara. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis rushed to contact Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, while his Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Cairo to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Athens is currently doing everything in its power to prevent the signing of a possible memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Egypt, because such a memorandum would be a great failure for Athens, which is striving to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean. It is very important in this regard that the Egyptian position is clarified in the coming days. On the one hand, this matter concerns contested sensitive areas, such as the continental shelf and the Eastern Mediterranean’s exclusive economic zone. On the other hand, it constitutes a breakthrough in Turkish-Egyptian relations. The signing of a memorandum of understanding would contribute to facilitating the normalisation of relations between the two sides.

READ: Turkey, Egypt restart diplomatic talks

Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt were cut off due to the military coup that took place in Egypt in 2013, where Ankara, as part of its moral and principled position on this issue, showed a harsh attitude towards the overthrow by a military coup of the president elected by the people, Mohamed Morsi. Ankara knew very well, by virtue of previous experiences, that military coups in this region are driven by external forces and cause great damage to political, economic and social structures in countries. Patriots understand the extent of deterioration caused by coups in the countries in which they take place, and therefore stand against them. Turkey’s firm position was also evident when it opposed the recent military coup attempt in Armenia.

Turkey will inevitably continue its relations with Egypt as part of the realpolitik requirements. However, at the same time, it will maintain its principled and moral position and express its opinion when necessary. We must not forget that the presence of powerful Arab states in the Middle East, which world powers have turned into a battlefield, is important to Turkey. Everyone who has feelings of love towards Egypt wishes that it will be in a prominent position, better than it was in the thirties and forties of the last century, especially since the military regimes have led to its deterioration to shallow levels.

The fame of Egypt, whose influence has reached the entire Middle East, should not be limited to stories and tales. Egypt and Turkey are two large countries that enjoy moral values ​​at the cultural level, given their shared past and historical ties. Mamluks, who ruled Egypt before the Ottomans, were also Turks, and they were the first to use the term “Turkish state” in history. The colloquial Egyptian dialect includes a large number of words taken from the Turkish language. In addition, Mamluk and Ottoman artistic and architectural monuments can be seen in many Egyptian cities. The names of many political figures important to both societies are still alive in the names of streets, neighbourhoods, alleys and metro stations in Egypt. These points alone show the depth of the roots that bind the two countries. Therefore, preserving good relations between them reflects positively on the entire region.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 10 March 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.