Erdogan in Cairo: A new dawn for Egypt-Turkey ties?

It is the Turkish president's first visit to Egypt after a decade of tensions between the countries. The leaders will discuss areas of cooperation in a rapidly evolving regional landscape.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) receiving his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the presidential hall at Cairo International Airport on February 14, 2024.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) receiving his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the presidential hall at Cairo International Airport on February 14, 2024.

Erdogan in Cairo: A new dawn for Egypt-Turkey ties?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Egypt today— his first visit in over a decade marred by tensions. After year-long mediation efforts to reconcile the two countries, he is set to meet his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in Cairo.

The two countries first locked horns in 2013 when the Egyptian army, led by el-Sisi, carried out a coup against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party is ideologically linked with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

A lot has changed since then, and the two countries have agreed to turn a new page while continuing to hash out differences.

The Egyptian army's toppling of Morsi did not sit well with Turkey — a country averse to military coups after its own experiences with them.

A month prior to the coup, el-Sisi — who was the then-defence minister —visited Istanbul to meet his counterparts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Egypt today — his first visit in over a decade marred by tensions.

According to an excerpt from Egypt's then-ambassador to Turkey, Abderahman Salaheldin's book, I Was An Ambassador To The Sultan's Country, after el-Sisi landed in Istanbul, he kept looking out the window of his car the whole ride to his hotel, mesmerised by how immaculate and clean the city was.

When he met Erdogan — who was then Turkey's prime minister — el-Sisi expressed admiration for his charisma and popularity in Arab and Islamic states and expressed hope that Egypt could benefit from his stature to advance Cairo's relations with Europe.

On his part, Erdogan praised the Egyptian army for siding with demonstrators opposed to late President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, allowing for elections that led to Morsi becoming president a year later.

El-Sisi's admiration for Erdogan was probably why the Egyptian leader never publically criticised Erdogan, despite the Turkish leader lashing out at el-Sisi in public forums on numerous occasions.

A decade of tension

What started off as a political and ideological conflict between Egypt and Turkey nearly led to a military showdown between the two countries when Erdogan sent Turkish-backed troops to eastern Libya in June 2020, violating a red line set by el-Sisi.

Egyptian troops were deployed in western Egypt, only kilometres away from the Libyan border, to swiftly support the Libyan National Army, which controlled most of eastern Libya in the face of Turkey-backed troops and mercenaries in the western part of the neighbouring North African state.

Ankara also ruffled Cairo's feathers when it leased the Red Sea island of Suaken off Sudan's coast, only a few kilometres away from Egypt's Suez Canal.

El-Sisi and Erdogan met three times in the past year, including, for the first time, on the margins of the opening of the World Cup in Qatar in November 2022.

The two leaders also met during the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, in September last year and during a summit of Arab and Islamic leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in November of the same year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shaking hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (L) in New Delhi, India, 10 September 2023, on the closing day of the G20 Summit.

Read more: Is there a new opening for Egypt-Turkey reconciliation?

Shared interests

Israel's war on Gaza has also drawn Egypt and Turkey closer, with Ankara set to play a key role in the delivery of humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza after the end of the war.

Another point of contention between Egypt and Turkey had been a dispute over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean as adjacent countries quarrelled over their share of its newly discovered hydrocarbon wealth.

Egypt signed a maritime boundary demarcation deal with Greece in 2020, likely in response to Turkey's maritime boundary delineation deal with the western Libya government in 2019.

Over the years, Turkey tried to entice Egypt to reach a maritime deal by promising it a larger portion of the continental shelf than the one it had through its deals with Greece (in 2020) and Cyprus (in 2003).

Speaking to Al Majalla, former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed al-Shazly says that an understanding between Egypt and Turkey on maritime boundaries would bode well for regional stability.

While it works to repair relations with Turkey, Egypt has to be careful not to agitate its allies Greece and Cyprus, who are locked in their own maritime disputes with Ankara.

This could be why Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis flew to Cairo in mid-January for meetings with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and el-Sisi.

Egypt and Turkey nearly had a military showdown after Erdogan sent Turkish-backed troops to eastern Libya in June 2020, violating a red line set by el-Sisi.

However, the growing clout of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum — an OPEC-like grouping of gas producers and consumers in the Mediterranean — raises the spectre of greater cooperation between Mediterranean states, including Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

When Egypt announced the forum's founding in early 2019, it said all Mediterranean countries were welcome to join, seemingly extending an invitation to Turkey, although the two countries weren't on good terms.

Turkish-backed troops in Libya and Anakra's support for the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to be thorny issues in relations with Egypt.

On its part, Turkey has taken measures in the past few months to address Egypt's concerns over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, including closing down media outlets affiliated with the movement and asking some of its senior figures to leave Egypt.

If the two countries could strike a balance in Libya, this could pave the way for a more comprehensive settlement there and hopefully forge greater national unity that could help pave the way for elections and the consolidation of rival state institutions.

Benefits to cooperation

The path to overcoming all points of contention between Egypt and Turkey will be long and arduous, but cooperation will benefit both countries — especially on the security and military fronts, which will be at the centre of talks today between the two leaders.

Ahead of Erdogan's visit, Turkey agreed to provide Egypt with unmanned aerial vehicles as a gesture of goodwill. Egypt paraded the Turkish-made drones in EDEX, its most important defence exhibition, in December last year.

Military cooperation between the two sides is also expected to open the door for Egypt to obtain advanced Turkish military technologies.

Improved relations between the two countries will also benefit them economically, with both working hard to move ahead with reforms and increase their exports.

Despite political tensions, trade relations between Egypt and Turkey were not affected. In 2023, trade exchange between the two countries rose to $7.7bn from $6.7bn in 2022.

Economic relations between the two countries, observers in Cairo say, can be a boon for their political reconciliation.

"The two countries will work to increase their economic cooperation in the coming period, including by increasing joint investments," Rashad Abdo, the head of the think tank Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies, told Al Majalla.

"This cooperation will help them overcome their political differences and find common ground," he added.

font change

Related Articles