The downturn of Egypt-Turkey relations
Egypt and Turkey’s relations have been spiralling down since the Arab Spring, and the bad relationship between Egypt’s Abdelrahman El Sisi and Turkey’s Rece Tayyip Erdogan has underlined the relations in this period. In August 2013, Turkey asked the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Sisi. And the struggle through the UN has not stopped. For the 2015 UN elections, Egypt openly lobbied against Turkish candidacy to obtain a seat at the UN Security Council. Neither Turkey nor Egypt took a step back the following year in 2014. In July, it went from bad to worse when Israel brutally attacked Palestine’s Gaza Strip. Egypt has played a role in the talks between Israel and Palestine. Erdogan called Sisi an “illegitimate tyrant” who cannot be trusted in negotiations. There was a positive sign a year later, as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu met in New York in September 2014 during the UN summit, however, this was short-lived as leaders of both countries were assigned to sit at the same table during the UN General Assembly in New York in September. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to attend the luncheon, calling Sisi “illegitimate” during his speech in New York. In the next years, there have no improvements in relations or any significant attempts to do so. Both nations have been embroiled in their own issues, and geopolitical aims, however, relations could now get even worse, as Turkey is becoming increasingly involved in Libya, where Egypt has deep geopolitical interests.
The fight for Libya increases tensions
In the last year, the Libyan civil war has brought several nations into taking sides and aiming to gain geopolitical interests in the African country. Both sides fighting the Libyan civil war have received weaponry and aid from Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Russia and many more countries. Almost eight years since a revolution backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that led to the ousting and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Al Gadhafi in October 2011, Libya has become an arena for regional and international rivalries. Egypt has been one of the main backers of the rebels in Libya, and Turkey’s recent intervention on behalf of the internationally recognized government will spark a new level of tensions between the two regional powers. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has warned that a deal signed between Turkey and Libya aimed at delineating marine zones between their two countries would deepen upheaval and obstruct efforts to restore stability to the strife-torn country. In a telephone call with United Nations envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, Shoukry underlined the need to safeguard the political process, adding that GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj does not have the mandate to sign such an agreement. Turkey’s and Egypt’s row over Libya is also about control of natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, analysts said. In what seems to be a response to Turkish increased involvement, Egyptian resources have shown on Wednesday, that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has accepted the installation of Russian-made tanks to Libya to encourage the forces faithful to Khalifa Haftar contrary to the ramifications of this globally recognised Government of National Accord.
Turkey disrupting Egypt-Israeli monopoly on East Mediterranean
Egypt and Israel have been the prominent gas producers in the Mediterranean in the past years, and have discovered sizeable natural gas fields that allowed them to gain a monopoly on gas supply in the region. It now appears, however, that Turkey is looking to establish themselves in the Mediterranean natural gas scene. Turkey has made these intentions clear, with World Bank data showing a rising trend in Turkey’s energy imports, accounting for 75% of its energy needs in 2015, Ankara sees securing its share in a growing contest over the Mediterranean as vital. “Turkey wants to stop the bleeding on energy and develop oil and gas sources,” Bashir Abdel Fattah, a researcher at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told DW. “It only has 12 nautical miles as a maritime border, in accordance with the 1982 convention, and that does not have any oil or gas wells.” Two memoranda of understanding (MoU), signed last month between Turkey and Libya, have changed the landscape in the region: One for military cooperation, the other, importantly, on the delineation of the maritime boundaries. Previous agreements signed between Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and Greece had already partitioned the Eastern Mediterranean among themselves without taking Ankara into consideration. What was left to Turkey was confined to the northern half of the narrow strip of sea between its Mediterranean shorelines and Cyprus. Cyprus has signed a $9.3 billion contract with a group of oil and gas companies Noble, Shell and Delek, from the US, the Netherlands and Israel respectively. These nations will seek ways to force Turkey and Libya to step back from this initiative. Turkey says, if necessary, it will use military force to defend its rights. If this happens, it will be the worst-case scenario, because it will have to face several stakeholders at the same time. Turkey’s assertive move towards gas in the Meditteranean is hence a risky and dangerous one, that has expectedly already drawn strong opposition from Egypt.