Turkey to normalise Egypt relations 'step by step', says foreign minister during visit

Mevlut Cavusoglu says Presidents Erdogan and El Sisi will meet soon

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, meets Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo on March 18. EPA
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Egypt and Turkey will move forward “step by step” to end a decade-long rift, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on a milestone visit to Cairo, said after talks with his Egyptian counterpart.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said relations would be normalised “at the appropriate time.” He was speaking at a joint news conference after talks with Mr Cavusoglu, the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Egypt in 10 years.

The pair were upbeat about the future of relations between the two regional powers, but did not say how much, if any, progress they made on issues such as Turkey's military presence in Libya, an issue of particular concern to Cairo, and Ankara's involvement in Syria and Iraq.

“I'm very glad that we are taking steps for normalising relations with Egypt. We will do our best not to rupture our ties again in future,” Mr Cavusoglu said.

“We will, over a short period of time, develop our diplomatic relations step by step. There is a genuine and sincere political will to develop these relations.

“We will co-ordinate a meeting soon (between President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan). That meeting can take place before or after the elections,” Mr Cavusoglu said, alluding to Turkey's presidential elections scheduled for May 14.

Mr Shoukry's comments were more cautious.

“We will come to talks (on restoring ambassadors) at the appropriate time, depending on the positive results it brings,” he said.

After a decade fraught with tension, the normalisation of ties is expected to take time given the complexity and number of differences between the two nations.

These include the 2013 removal by Egypt’s military, then led by Mr El Sisi, of Turkish-backed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi amid street protests against his divisive rule, according to Egyptian officials.

Egypt and Turkey held two rounds of exploratory talks in 2021 to normalise relations.

Those made little headway, but a November meeting between the Egyptian and Turkish leaders in Qatar appears to have given the process a major boost.

Bringing the two countries closer was Mr El Sisi calling the Turkish president last month to offer his condolences on the death of tens of thousands in the February 6 earthquake and later a visit to earthquake-stricken areas in Turkey by Mr Shoukry.

A Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement could be part of a rapidly changing Middle East diplomatic landscape, with the region’s leading Arab and non-Arab powers stepping back from confrontations to try to settle their differences.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. Reuters

Ankara has also been seeking to repair ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Also, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced last week they are restoring diplomatic ties severed since 2016.

Cairo, according to the Egyptian officials, has stepped up behind-the-scenes contacts with Tehran in recent months with a view to normalise relations that have been fraught since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Mr Shoukry told reporters that he and his Turkish counterpart discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Syria, Libya and Iraq, as well as the impact on the region of last week's agreement by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“We discussed how we can jointly deal with common challenges like terrorism and achieving stability in general,” he said.

Bolstering economic ties and encouraging investments were also discussed, said Mr Shoukry, who put the volume of annual bilateral trade at $9 billion and Turkish investments in Egypt at another $2.5 billion.

Cairo and Ankara support rival sides in Libya, a North African and energy-rich nation that has been wracked by violence and political instability since a popular uprising in 2011 toppled and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Egypt, which shares a desert border with Libya, is demanding that Turkey withdraws military advisers it has sent to Libya to support the Tripoli-based government during fighting against eastern forces led by a Cairo ally, Field-Marshall Khalifa Haftar.

Egypt also opposes a maritime demarcation deal reached between Ankara and Tripoli last year that Egypt and its regional allies have said is illegal. In response, Egypt last year unilaterally set its maritime border with Libya in the Mediterranean.

A handout photograph taken and relased by the Turkish Defence Ministery on July 9,2019 shows a Turkish Navy warship patroling next to Turkey's drilling ship "Fatih" dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. - Turkey will "increase" its activities off Cyprus after the EU approved measures to punish Ankara for drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish foreign minister said on July 16, 2019. (Photo by DEFENCE MINISTERY PRESS SERVICE / TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Egypt is also seeking Turkey’s backing for, or at least neutrality on, international diplomatic efforts to end the North African nation’s decade-long schism between its eastern and western regions.

Turkey and Egypt will also have to defuse tensions in the east Mediterranean, where Egypt, Cyprus and Israel have found significant natural gas reserves in recent years and, together with other regional partners, are turning the area into a major regional energy centre.

Turkey has repeatedly sought to muscle in on the enterprise with illegal drilling, only to be reprimanded by the EU and US.

Cyprus and Greece, two close Egyptian allies, are at sharp odds with Turkey, which has occupied the northern part of Cyprus since 1974. Greece and Turkey have long-standing differences over maritime rights in the Aegean Sea.

Egypt is also opposed to what it sees as Turkey's interference in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

Updated: March 18, 2023, 2:17 PM