Turkey-Egypt ties: End to ‘my way or the highway policy?’

Erdoğan makes the Rabia, a gesture used by the Muslim Brotherhood against Sisi and adopted by him as an official sign of his Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). (Photo: The AKP)

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu gave the first signal that Turkey-Egypt dialogue resumed, a major policy change, when he said March 3 that talks began on the Mediterranean maritime jurisdiction zones. Two days earlier, Egypt had granted licenses for oil and natural gas search companies in line with the maritime jurisdiction map that Turkey presented to the U.N. Then came a March 6 statement by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who said “there might be different developments with Egypt.”

Even the leader of the İYİ Party (Good Party), Meral Akşener, called out to President Tayyip Erdoğan at a weekly speech to her fellow lawmakers on March 10. “You cannot get away with it by saying that I am opening a new page. First, you will apologize to the nation.”

No, Erdoğan did not condemn Egyptian President Abul Fattah Sisi once again, who he calls “putschist leader” and say that relations with Egypt will not recover unless Sisi leaves his seat. Not this time. He rather remained silent.

Finally, on March 12, Erdoğan said that “the process of rapprochement with Egypt continues.”

Was it continuing? But when did it start at all?

“The Egyptian people would not contradict us. These steps actually seem to me as a manifestation of a temporary mistake,” Erdoğan said on March 16.
It was like he was trying to be nice to the Egyptian people.
What had changed?

If you would come to this point …

Had Sisi, who came to power by overthrowing the elected President Mohamed Morsi, resigned in regret and announced that free elections would be held? Had he pardoned Muslim Brotherhood members, who are sought over “terrorism” charges in Egypt but allowed to run radio and television broadcasts in Turkey? Or were he murderers of Morsi supporters, who were Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Nasr City in August 2013, caught and brought to justice?

Wasn’t it Erdoğan who made the Rabia sign used by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters during protests against the coup in Egypt the official sign of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)?
Wasn’t it Erdoğan who protested the dinners hosted by the U.S. president on the sidelines of the U.N. general assemblies because Sisi was also among the invitees?

Wasn’t it Erdoğan, the prime minister of the era, who called back the Turkish ambassador to Cairo at a time when then-President Abdullah Gül sent a message to Sisi emphasizing the Turkish-Egyptian friendship, and encouraged him to return to democracy as soon as possible, he attracted the Turkish Ambassador in Cairo?

Akşener’s accusations were heavy:

“The state cannot be governed like this. You cannot make people of this country pay the price of your personal relationships and whims. If you would finally come to this point, why did you make Turkey make these losses? Who will account for this in terms of diplomacy, the military and trade? “

Turning point not limited to Egypt

“We will completely change the aggressive policy in foreign relations and the Muslim Brotherhood policy,” said main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a March 16 speech, while listing things that will change if they come to power.

The policy that Turkey has carried out since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 was built on being the spokesperson of the Brotherhood. One of the reasons why Erdoğan included Turkey in the Syrian civil war was his appreciation for the Brotherhood. This is why Ankara took the side of Brotherhood-supporter Hamas among the parties in Palestine despite the fact that Hamas has now distanced itself from the Brotherhood. One of the reasons why Turkey’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became hostile is the Brotherhood. Before ties deteriorated, Turkey has declared three-day mourning after Saudi King Abdullah’s death in 2015.

Now, Minister Çavuşoğlu says this:

“There is no reason for our relations with Saudi Arabia not to recover. If it takes a positive step, we will take it too. The same is true for the UAE. “
And this statement comes at a time when Saudi Arabia attempts a military exercise with Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Actually, there is a reason for relations not to recover and that reason is primarily the Brotherhood.

Current situation in Syria

Erdoğan announced his latest stance on Syria during an interview with U.S. economy channel Bloomberg. Since the millions of people who voted for the AKP do not follow the articles on the Bloomberg website, his real addressee was obvious. Here are his words in an opinion piece titled “The West should help Turkey end Syria’s Civil War” and published on the website of Bloomberg:

“I believe that restoring peace and stability in the region depends on genuine and strong Western support for Turkey.”

So? In other words, Erdoğan sees the way out in Syria in the support of the West rather than the Russia-Iran cooperation. It is also possible to interpret his words like this: Even if the U.S. does not give up its support to the YPG, Turkey’s position will not change until the Geneva talks yield results as long as Washington does not touch Turkey’s presence in northern Syria. The quotation above is an indirect acceptance of it and the purpose of whoever penned Erdoğan’s article is to make the West perceive Turkey’s position in this manner.

The Syria, YPG, U.S. and Russia issues will be the subject of yet another article in the coming days.

Did dialogue with Egypt start in Libya?

Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh took over the Libyan prime ministry from Fayiz al-Sarraj on March 16. Had Turkey not support Sarraj, the Khalifa Haftar forces backed by Russia, the UAE and Egypt would already have taken Tripoli and become dominant in Libya. This was an important gain for Turkey. On the other hand, the Dbeibeh government became possible thanks to the consensus of Turkey and Egypt.

It is highly possible that the dialogue between the Turkish and Egyptian intelligence services began in Libya, this would be revealed soon. Both Ankara and Cairo spread the claim that the consensus in Libya under Dbeibeh prime ministry is a result of their efforts and the other side is backstepped. However, in Western diplomatic circles, it is “appreciated” that this consensus became possible thanks to compromises by both Ankara and Cairo.

Economic situation pushes the gov’t to compromise

Therefore, the Egyptian turning point is not limited to Egypt. It indicates an end to Erdoğan’s “My way or the highway” policy that he has followed since 2011. Turkey gained advantages in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria, the Black Sea and the Caucasus mainly due to military diplomacy it carried out starting from the 2016 coup attempt. Turkey has proved that games in the region cannot be set up without it and this is true but the political and economic price of this”alienation” was high.

Although not willingly, Erdoğan has to change his foreign policy and move on to a new setting. The main reason for this is economic. It is clear that the economy cannot be put back on a sound track through the method of constant conflicts with the EU and the Joe Biden administration in the U.S. And this is pushing Erdoğan to give up rhetoric that reads “You will accept me as I want you to,” even though reluctantly.

Now is the time to make a turn. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Israel policy comes next.


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