Egypt, Greece, Greek Cypriots

Egypt, Greece, Greek Cypriots

The leaders of Greece and the Greek Cypriots came together on Nov. 8 in Cairo with Egypt’s strong man Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for a tripartite summit, to discuss ways of deepening trilateral cooperation in making the best use of the Mediterranean’s natural wealth.

Apart from the lofty rhetoric of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades pledging to al-Sisi that their EU member countries would act as an “ambassador” for Egypt within the European club of democracies, at the very center of the trilateral summit were the Mediterranean hydrocarbon riches and Turkey’s refusal to recognize the sovereignty of Cyprus as the sole legitimate government on the island.

There were claims before the summit that although it is not in the best interests of Egypt, al-Sisi might sign an agreement with Samaras on nautical boundary between Greece and Egypt, in a revanchist response to constant Turkish criticism of the coup administration in Cairo. Such an agreement would lock Turkey into a narrow region along its cost and convert the Mediterranean into a mostly Greek lake.

Furthermore, since the median line that Egypt and Turkey have in the Mediterranean is far more to the benefit of Cairo, signing an agreement with Greece before undertaking a similar move would amount to surrendering a sizeable area to Greece in a region believed to have rich hydrocarbon potential. Still, very much like Turkey nodding to U.S. about the return of Greece to NATO membership in exchange for some empty promises, all sorts of oddities are possible in coup administrations.

For Turkey, what would be important would be losing a huge area in the Mediterranean, but more than that it would become even more difficult for Turkey to dispute the Greek claim that the tiny island of Kastellorizo (Meis) – just a stone’s throw from the Turkish coastal town of Kaş – has territorial shelf and exclusive economic zone rights in that area, while the huge Anatolian peninsula does not.

Obviously, these issues would not have meant much 100 years ago. In today’s world, however, not only is offshore technology so developed that such resources are recoverable, but every bit of oil and gas has become precious. Thus, potential resources off Meis, as well as prospective huge gas reserves off Cyprus or the much speculated oil reserves in the area between Cyprus and Egypt, offer a huge potential for both cooperation and confrontation. The area off Meis is one of those contentious issues, as well as Cyprus’ offshore hydrocarbon riches and the unilateral Greek Cypriot claim over them, as the Turkish Cypriots are partners under the 1960 constitutional system.

Therefore, these issues must be resolved through discussions involving all related parties if crises and confrontations are to be avoided. If the Greek Cypriots send exploration or drilling capabilities to the disputed areas, will it not be normal for Turkish Cypriots to undertake similar moves through capabilities offered by Turkey? It is simply not serious to claim it was odd for Turkish Cypriots to react or for Turkey to dispatch exploration ships, because when revenues start to come in from the offshore capabilities - and if the Cyprus problem is resolved - then the Turkish Cypriots will be offered their share.

If Turkey, Libya or any other country on the shores of the Mediterranean basin are to be affected by a Greek-Egypt bilateral or Greek-Cyprus-Egypt trilateral agreement on nautical boundaries or the limits of exclusive economic zones, is it abnormal to expect such deals to be made at conferences participated in by all relevant countries?

Greece and the Greek Cypriots can of course play the role of ambassador for Egypt and its coup leader al-Sisi in the European club of democracies. After all, when economy, trade and profits are the matter, everything becomes possible, plausible, and appreciable.

At a time when Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” rhetoric has been replaced by the reality of “no friends in the region” thanks to great obsessions, perhaps one will ask: Weren’t Israel and Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu missing at the “friends of Turkey” gathering in Cairo?