Erdogan and El Sisi shake hands for first time as region's leaders gather for World Cup

Turkey and Egypt have had strained relations for almost a decade

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi met and shook hands in Doha on Sunday in a rare sign of thawing ties as the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar offered regional leaders an opportunity to engage in informal diplomacy.

Mr Erdogan and Mr El Sisi met at a reception hosted by Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar, who is seen beaming in the background in a photo of the moment that has gone viral since Sunday night.

A spokesman for Egypt's Presidency said in a statement on Monday that Mr El Sisi hoped the meeting would be the start of a fruitful bilateral relationship.

The leaders' handshake “attests to the depth of both countries’ historic ties”, he said.

Mr Erdogan said the handshake was the first step towards further normalisation of ties between the two countries after years of animosity, adding that more steps would follow.

Many leaders from the Middle East travelled to Qatar for the football tournament's opening ceremony, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Lebanon's acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and India's Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar were also in Qatar for the tournament while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Doha on Monday

In a readout of his comments made on a flight back from Qatar cited by Haberturk television channel, Mr Erdogan said Ankara's only demand from Egypt was a change in its attitude towards Turkey's position in the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt and Turkey have had a tumultuous relationship in recent years, with Mr Erdogan insisting in 2019 that he would never meet his Egyptian counterpart, after opposing the 2013 fall of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president, Mohamed Morsi.

Turkey has signed an oil and gas deal with Libya that drew warnings from Greece and Egypt that they would oppose any activity in disputed areas of the Eastern Mediterranean.

It has also carried out exploratory drilling in disputed waters around Cyprus.

Relations have been thawing between Turkey and several Middle East and Gulf states, including the UAE. The Emirates has a close relationship with Egypt.

Earlier this year, Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati travelled to Egypt for an Islamic Development Bank meeting. It was the first Turkish ministerial visit to the country in nine years.

Mr Erdogan's chief adviser Ilnur Cevik told The National during a trip to Abu Dhabi this month that there was to be "no turning back" from developing ties with the Gulf.

Updated: June 15, 2023, 11:51 AM