Egypt and Turkey 1: A difficult Relationship

Relations between Turkey and Egypt have been decidedly poor over the past decade. Ideological and geostrategic disputes determined the behaviour of the two regional powers, and there had been no signs of rapprochement for a long time. Now, however, the political environment has changed and the similarity of their interests outweighs their differences.

The relationship became problematic with the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2010/11. Starting in Tunisia, several waves of protest rolled through the Arab world, bringing down a number of governments and provoking ever new uprisings to this day, most recently in Algeria and Sudan. Even though the initiative initially came mainly from young, urban people in the big metropolises, the Islamists soon became a significant force as well. In contrast to the mostly unorganised protesters of the first hour, they had the great advantage that they had already been able to build up structures for decades and had the necessary experience to convert their numerical strength into political influence. In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood under Mohammed Mursi initially came to power, until the military finally staged a coup in 2013 and banned the Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian political life. For Erdogan, who ideologically and power-politically works closely with the Muslim Brothers, this was a serious setback. The relationship between the two countries was now dominated by hostility.

These ideological differences were joined by geostrategic conflicts. For example, Ankara has been trying for some time to expand its influence in war-torn Libya by providing military and financial support to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. There are also major differences of opinion on how to deal with the Emirate of Qatar. Egypt’s allies, for example, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, imposed a blockade on the country in 2017. Turkey, for its part, continued to support the state, which, especially through the al-Jazeera television channel, also propagates for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the Mediterranean, too, different interests made it difficult to make concessions; this concerned in particular the exploitation of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is actively trying to expand its position. This is increasingly being done through the use of military means, but an escalation has been avoided so far. However, the other littoral states have begun to form alliances and look for ways to undermine Turkish claims. This concerns Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and in the meantime Egypt has also been a candidate for joint cooperation. On this point, the balance of power is likely to shift in the future.

So why is this understanding between the two countries happening now?

The Middle East is currently in a phase of multiple understandings. Israel and a number of Arab states have normalised their relations to a certain extent through the Abraham Agreement, Turkey is seeking an understanding with several Arab states, Iran and Saudi Arabia are suddenly talking to each other again, and the blockade of Qatar has also been broken off. Under these circumstances, the Egyptian-Turkish understanding is only one aspect of this development, at the end of which a new overall geostrategic situation will probably prevail in the Middle East.

What chances do the two states expect from this development?

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