Egypt and Turkey agree to end a decade of tension with return of ambassadors

Sameh Shoukry and Mevlut Cavusoglu also discussed El Sisi and Erdogan summit in Ankara talks

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Cairo in March. EPA
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Turkey and Egypt have reached an agreement on the reappointment of ambassadors, their foreign ministers said in Ankara, as the two regional powers took another significant step towards normalising relations after a decade of tension and distrust.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, were working together to arrange a possible meeting between President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces presidential elections next month.

"We have agreed on a specific timeline that is being finalised regarding raising the level of diplomatic representation. This will be announced at the appropriate time," Mr Shoukry said on Thursday.

"The announcement will be in the framework of preparations for a summit between the two countries' presidents that will crown the process we started years ago," he said.

Turkey's foreign minister was equally upbeat on the future of his country's relations with Egypt.

“You [reporters] often ask me ‘when will you appoint ambassadors again?’” he said. “We have discussed this issue today and we are taking concrete steps to raise the level of representation to the level of ambassador.”

Mr Cavusoglu added that Turkey and Egypt would announce the reappointment of ambassadors in a joint statement “in the upcoming period”. He did not elaborate.

Relations between the two nations became tense in 2013 when Egypt’s military, at the time led by Mr El Sisi, removed the country's president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The move by the military took place during protests against Mr Morsi’s divisive one-year rule.

The two countries withdrew their ambassadors soon after, with accusations from Cairo that Turkey was supporting militant Islamic groups in the region and meddling in the domestic affairs of Arab nations.

Ties have also been tense over Libya, where Egypt and Turkey have supported rival factions in the energy-rich North African nation that has been riven by turmoil and violence since a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.

Mr Shoukry and Mr Cavusoglu met in Cairo last month and in Turkey in February, when the Egyptian foreign minister visited to show solidarity after the death of 50,000 people in an earthquake.

“The planned meeting between Mr El Sisi and Mr Erdogan would be their second since November, when they met on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar. It was the first meeting since Mr El Sisi took office in 2014.

Egyptian officials said Mr Shoukry was expected to press the Turkish side on Cairo’s demand that Egyptian militants convicted in absentia on terrorism charges and living in exile in Turkey be extradited to face justice.

These number about 50, officials said, and are mostly members of Hasm, an armed offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood blamed by Egyptian authorities for a string of deadly attacks against army and police officers after the removal of Morsi. Neither minister mentioned this in their joint news conference.

Mr Shoukry was also expected to repeat Cairo’s demand that mercenaries taken to Libya by Turkey to prop up the government in Tripoli be withdrawn, the officials said.

The Tripoli-based administration is one of two rival governments in Libya, with the second one in the east of the country.

But on Thursday, Mr Cavusoglu said the two countries would “work more closely” on Libya. Mr Shoukry said: “We are in agreement on the creation of a government [in Libya] that would reflect the will of the people and protect its territorial integrity.”

Equally important for Egypt is the need for Turkey to stop trying to muscle in on plans by Cairo and its allies, especially Ankara’s rivals Cyprus and Greece, to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a regional energy hub following the discovery of vast natural gas reserves in the area.

"We wish to fill that new page we opened with Egypt ... with joint projects and success stories," said the Turkish foreign minister, who said the tense relations between the two nations never affected the volume of bilateral trade. It is currently at $10 billion a year and likely to grow soon to $15 billion, he said.

Updated: April 14, 2023, 6:13 AM