Egypt and Turkey begin talks to normalise relations

Cairo and Ankara holding 'exploratory discussions' this week

President Abdel Fatah El Sisi at Ismailia of Egypt has been strongly criticised by Turkey in the past but relations seem to be thawing. 
Powered by automated translation

Egypt and Turkey opened talks in Cairo on Wednesday, seeking to normalise relations after eight years of sharp differences over a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.

The landmark, two-day talks, the first between the two Muslim nations since 2013, are being held at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in central Cairo. Images released by the ministry showed delegates seated around a rectangular conference table in a wood-panelled room.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the talks will be led by Egypt’s deputy foreign minister, Hamdy Sanad, and Turkey's Sadat Onal.

“The exploratory discussions will focus on the necessary steps that could lead to the normalisation of relations on both the bilateral level and in a regional context,” the ministry said.

The talks are a dramatic twist in relations that have been fraught with tension since the 2013 removal by the Egyptian military of Turkish-backed president Mohammed Morsi of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose year in office was divisive.

The talks follow mid-level intelligence and diplomatic contacts and overtures by Turkey towards Egypt.

Top officials in Ankara have been speaking of the cultural and historic ties binding the two nations on opposite ends of the Mediterranean.

Turkey has also highlighted the strength the two nations could attain if they resolved their differences, improved relations and concluded a maritime demarcation deal that could herald economic cooperation.

Cairo has made it clear that it is looking for actions, not words, from Ankara if relations were to improve.

Egypt has suggested that the road to normalised relations would be long and arduous, given the complexity of issues involved.

Egypt accused Turkey of supporting extremist Islamist groups across the region

Egyptian officials said the discussions were likely to focus on what Turkey must do to be part of plans to turn the East Mediterranean into a major energy centre, after the discovery of huge natural gas reserves there.

The two must also find common ground on Libya, allowing it to end its decade-old civil war, reunite and remove Turkish troops and allied mercenaries stationed there.

There is also the question of whether Turkey was prepared to extradite senior Muslim Brotherhood officials who are wanted in Egypt on terrorism charges.

Turkey is the preferred home in exile for leaders and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist organisation by Egypt and other countries including the UAE.

Egypt accused Turkey of supporting extremist groups across the region, fuelling instability, a charge Turkey denies.

Turkey is a harsh critic of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s government and is home to TV networks that broadcast nightly criticism of his policies.

The two countries have also been at loggerheads over what Cairo regards as Ankara's attempts to intrude on the natural gas project in the East Mediterranean, in which Turkey's rivals Greece and Cyprus are key partners with Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

Last summer, Mr El Sisi said he was prepared to send troops to Libya, where Turkey was backing the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, if its allied militias took the town of Sirte from the Libyan National Army and moved towards Egypt's borders.

But things have changed since then in Libya, with a ceasefire and new unity government is in place.

Meanwhile, Egypt is to reopen its embassy in Tripoli and is looking for reconstruction contracts in the energy-rich nation.