Turkey and Egypt restoring diplomatic ties restored
Turkey and Egypt have taken significant steps towards restoring their strained relations at the highest diplomatic level. In a joint statement issued by the Turkish foreign ministry, it was announced that Salih Mutlu Sen has been nominated as Turkey’s ambassador to Cairo, while Amr Elhamamy has been appointed as Egypt’s envoy to Ankara. The statement emphasized that this move aims to normalize relations between the two nations and signifies their mutual determination to enhance bilateral ties in the best interests of both Turkish and Egyptian people.
The rupture in relations between Cairo and Ankara occurred in 2013 following a coup led by the then-military commander and current Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamist group with a presence in multiple countries. Morsi, who was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, enjoyed support from Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which maintained close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Mensur Akgun, an international relations professor at Istanbul’s Kultur University, the relationship between these two influential regional players has been exceptionally strained, particularly since the 2013 coup, due to Ankara’s unwavering stance against the el-Sisi government. Akgun highlighted that political dialogue between the two sides remained dormant until recent years, and the reestablishment of ambassadorial-level relations indicates their readiness to engage in political discussions once again.
Akgun further noted, “I believe both countries have come to the realization that it is unrealistic to expect a complete transformation from the other side. Instead, they must find common ground to protect their respective interests in the region.”
Since 2013, Turkey and Egypt, as regional rivals, have been engaged in confrontations on multiple fronts, with their leaders publicly exchanging verbal attacks. However, in the 2020s, a process of reconciliation began to unfold. Starting in 2021, senior officials from both foreign ministries initiated talks, and the rapprochement efforts gained momentum after el-Sisi and Erdogan shook hands during the World Cup held in Qatar in late 2022. Throughout 2023, ministerial-level talks, friendly messages, and open negotiations between the two sides have taken place, paving the way for the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations.
Incentives for Turkey
Turkey has been pursuing a foreign policy of regional peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and with its neighbors. This has been observed as the best option to enhance Turkey’s role as a regional power and more importantly to ensure stability in Turkey, attracting more investors and thus stimulating the economy.
Ankara’s recent foreign policy initiative includes engaging in talks with Cairo as part of its efforts to repair relations with other key regional powers, namely the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Before embarking on this regional reconciliation process, Ankara and Cairo had significant disagreements on various issues, such as the sharing of hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, the conflict in Libya, the war in Syria, and a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region.
In June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, Turkey stood by Qatar’s side. This event resulted in the formation of clear rival regional alliances. The four Arab countries, supported by others, imposed a blockade on Qatar, including restrictions on sea, land, and air transportation, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism—an allegation that Qatar has consistently denied.
The resolution of the Gulf crisis in 2021 played a crucial role in Ankara’s decision to mend its ties with regional powers. According to Akgun, Qatar and Turkey are significant geopolitical partners, and Ankara would not have been able to develop its relations with the blockading countries to the current extent if the Gulf crisis had not been resolved. Akgun also emphasized that resolving the Gulf crisis was always a prerequisite for normalizing relations with the four blockading Gulf states, and abandoning Qatar was never an option for Ankara.
In January 2021, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain signed agreements with Qatar, ending the blockade and normalizing relations after more than three years of tensions.
Egypt is an important military and regional player that has a large market and potential for cooperation in various areas, including energy and common economic incentives.
Egypt’s best option
Egypt has been struggling with its own major economic issues, as it struggles with its currency and with funding its mammoth infrastructure projects.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has exacerbated Egypt’s economic challenges, revealing the country’s heavy reliance on expensive fuel and food imports. Additionally, the rising costs of short-term foreign financing have further strained the economy. As a result, Egypt’s currency has devalued, leading to a spike in inflation that is particularly impacting the middle and working classes.
While Egypt has faced economic difficulties in the past, the current situation is distinct, prompting both the government and its creditors to respond differently. Rather than providing an unconditional bailout, Egypt’s Gulf partners are collaborating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has already provided a $3 billion loan to the government, to push for structural reforms. These reforms include slowing down government-run infrastructure projects and reducing the holdings of military-owned companies. While these measures are crucial for the country’s long-term economic well-being, they will cause significant hardship for many supporters of President Abdelfattah al-Sisi. If the burden becomes too great and widespread, it could lead to potential political instability.
Recognizing the concerns, the authorities have initiated a national dialogue with civil society and opposition forces, aiming to broaden their support base as the economic situation worsens. However, activists are apprehensive that the government may reconsider this initiative.
Given this context, bilateral partners and multilateral institutions play a critical role in pressuring Egypt to implement overdue economic and political reforms while considering the social impact of structural adjustments. It is essential to calibrate these demands to prevent exacerbating instability in Egypt, a strategically significant state. Nonetheless, Egypt now requires financing from Gulf countries to address its external deficit. The IMF expects that its $3 billion loan will be supplemented with an additional $14 billion from various international and regional partners. Notably, the success of the IMF program depends on Gulf countries contributing $10 billion over the next five years, in addition to rolling over $28 billion in deposits with Egypt’s central bank. According to a regional bank official, the IMF agreement will only provide lasting relief if accompanied by support from Gulf nations.
Turkey’s recent efforts to repair and strengthen its relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE serve as an additional incentive for Egypt to follow suit and align with its Gulf partners in securing financial support. Moreover, amid economic fragility and the uncertain global situation exemplified by the Ukraine-Russia war, Egypt seeks regional stability, particularly with geopolitically significant neighbors like Turkey, which can contribute to stimulating Egypt’s private sector.