It will be easier to improve Turkey’s ties with Israel than with Egypt
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, does not beat around the bush. “On Syria, Turkey needs to cut and run. Built a wall on its border and turn away,” he said when we talked last month in Istanbul.
That’s easier said than done. What he later said was more intriguing: “It will be much easier to improve relations with Israel than Egypt,” he said.
At first sight, it sounded a bit bizarre. Israel has killed Turkish citizens; the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) should feel much closer to the Muslim administrations of Egypt than the Jewish governments of Israel.
Yet looking from where we stand, Cagaptay is right. After all, Turkey is in a disagreement with the Israeli government on a number of issues; whereas in the case of Egypt, it is against the very existence of the administration in Cairo.
The problems with Israel are not insurmountable. A lot of progress has been made to leave the deadly Marmara incident behind. The two sides need to agree on the amount of compensation, and an easing of the embargo to Gaza would certainly help.
Now let’s look at what it will take to improve ties with Egypt.
Turkey’s bilateral ties with Egypt could “normalize if the country goes back to democracy properly and if the Egyptian people’s free will is reflected in politics and social life,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said yesterday.
Only the Egyptian authority’s endorsement of an inclusive and equalitarian policy will pave the way to examining Turkish-Egyptian ties according to Bilgiç, who was speaking at a press conference.
The spokesperson stressed that Turkey’s policy was due to its principled stance, as “democracy in Egypt has deviated from its path after a democratically-elected government was toppled by a military coup.”
A more reasonable approach came from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç prior to Bilgiç’s statement.
Turkey should mend fences with Egypt, as the rest of the world sees Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government as “normal,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We need to swiftly carry our relations with Egypt to a healthier ground,” Arınç, who had several statements contradicted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he was prime minister, had said.
So it seems he was a bit careful this time: “Egypt may be the one who will need to take the first step for this, but we should encourage it,” he said.
So, in summary, Egypt needs to become a functioning democracy and it needs to take the first step in order to improve ties with Turkey.
Indeed, as of today it looks like it would be much easier to mend fences with Israel than with Egypt.
One final note:
The international community looks to be moving closer to the critical line Turkey has adopted towards Israel. Several parliaments in Europe have voted to recognize Palestine. This recent turn of policy is very important and not to be underestimated. Yet these are small and initial steps and there is a long way to go for Europe to take a seriously critical stance on Israel. So it would be a mistaken assumption to conclude that as Europe nears Turkey’s “principled” stance on Israel, it would also do the same on Egypt.