Turkey’s normalization with Egypt not so easy

Turkey’s normalization with Egypt not so easy

Since he came to power in late May, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has been quite vocal about mending ties with all countries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions, including Israel, Russia, Egypt and Iraq.   

“From now on we will improve our friendships with all countries surrounding the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. We will keep our disagreements at a minimum,” said Yıldırım in an address to his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “Politics Academy” on July 11, citing the “many reasons” that oblige Turkey to normalize its ties with neighboring countries. 

The process has begun with Israel, as years-long negotiations finally yielded an agreement for the two countries to break the ice on June 28. They continued with Russia on the same day, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin to express Turkey’s deep sorrow over the shooting down of a Russian warplane last year.

This normalization campaign is now expected to continue with Egypt as well, after Prime Minister Yıldırım implied that minister-level talks could be carried out for trade and economic cooperation. This would be a way to avoid leader-to-leader dialogue between Turkish President Erdoğan and Egyptian President Abdelfettah al-Sisi. 

A senior AKP official has even suggested that a delegation composed of a number of ministers would be dispatched to Egypt, but this claim was later denied by the government’s spokesperson. 

Erdoğan spoke about the issue last week. “We have no problems with the Egyptian people. The problem with Egypt is an issue with its administration, particularly with its ruler,” he said. 

His words were later echoed by many government members who reiterated Turkey’s position regarding opposition to the military coup staged by Sisi in 2013, which toppled the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has gone even further, calling on Egypt to take steps on the issue of political prisoners, including Morsi. 

All this makes it seem that normalization between Ankara and Cairo would be very difficult, if not impossible. Recent statements from Turkey have surely been interpreted by Cairo as the latest Turkish intervention into the internal affairs of Egypt, and they will not help Yıldırım’s government reconcile with the Cairo government. In fact, there does not seem to be a very great appetite on the Egyptian side to normalize ties with Ankara anyway - unless the latter recognizes the legitimacy of the Sisi administration. 

What’s more, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s historic visit to Israel also reflects Cairo’s continued intention to be in control of Palestine-related issues as the main leader of the Arab world. 

There is yet another reason why Turkey is unlikely to normalize ties with Sisi’s Egypt. The strong opposition of Erdoğan and the AKP to the military coup in Egypt has also a domestic policy dimension. The coup that ousted Morsi came at a moment when Erdoğan and his government were facing massive protests in weeks-long rallies in mid-2013, known as the Gezi protests. For Erdoğan, there was no difference between the two processes, apart from the fact that “foreign powers” succeeded in their coup attempts in Egypt but failed in Turkey. 

Looking from this perspective, it should be stressed that any sort of normalization of ties with Egypt would also mean a complete u-turn from Erdoğan, against his very principles.