Another turn from Erdoğan: A handshake with El-Sisi

Erdoğan returned to the table with El-Sisi, whom he has called a “coup plotter” and a “murderer” for a decade. Is Assad next? (Photo: Presidency)

Something happened to President Tayyip Erdoğan after he won the election. First, interest rates started to rise, which he said would not happen “as long as he is in charge”. Then he backtracked on his invention of the FX protected deposit scheme (KKM).

His hopes of meeting US President Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in India and returning home with the good news that the F-16 issue had been solved and would be solved were overshadowed by the news of his bilateral meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Erdoğan met with Biden “eventhough it was a short talk” as he put it. Let’s clarify this definition of “short talk”. Visualize the round table around which all leaders sit at summit meetings. The diplomats arrange it, the leaders get up from their seats, take a few steps back from the table and talk for a few minutes, on their feet. We understand from the statements that he shared with the press that Erdoğan said, “What happened with the F-16s? You promised at the NATO Summit?” and Biden asked, “What about Sweden’s NATO membership? You promised it at the NATO Summit”.

Erdoğan is implying that NATO approval for the Sweden will not pass through the Parliament unless Sweden takes steps against the PKK, and that the AKP, of which he is the leader, will not allow this.

However, I am not so sure about that. Let’s see what the days will show.

The example of Sisi

I am not so sure, because we have already witnessed Erdoğan’s several u-turns from some of his “red lines” that he defended “with his life”.

The first one that comes to mind is the release from prison of Pastor Andrew Brunson. He wanted to exchange Brunson with US-based self-acclaimed cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding 2016 coup attempt. After The US president of the time Donald Trump, penned an arrogant message addressing Erdoğan, saying “don’t be stupid,” or “I will ruin your economy,”  Brunson was released and returned to his country.

The last, but I think not the least, example is his meeting with Egyptian President Sisi, not just on the sidelines, but between delegations including Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and National Intelligence Head İbrahim Kalın.

President Erdoğan had already reconciled and shook hands with Sisi in November 2022 after the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Temim II, “begged” him to do so. The antagonism had been so hateful before that Erdoğan protested during a UN General Assembly dinner because Sisi was at Trump’s table of honor with him. During the campaign for the March 2019 local elections, he lumped him in with CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu and said “We will either say Sisi or Binali”, but Istanbulites did not elect Binali Yıldırım.

Does anyone make a request now?

Before Erdoğan’s meeting with Sisi at the G20 Summit, he had a meeting with the President of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zaid.

Until recently, in the eyes of Erdoğan and the AKP, Bin Zeyid was the leader of the country that “provided financial support to FETÖ” during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Now he is the leader who has pledged to invest $51 billion in Türkiye to help the country out of its economic crisis.

The UAE is not a member of the G20 but was there at India’s special invitation. The two countries are working on a giant project that will connect the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent under the Indian Ocean by rail and pipelines and will cost 500 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU could also be partners in the project, which also aims to keep energy and transportation lines away from the influence of Russia, Iran and China.

The UAE has huge investments in Egypt. It is increasing its stake to 20 percent in the Narcissus natural gas field in the Mediterranean, where US oil giant Chevron recently announced new reserves. The UAE is building Africa’s largest wind farm in Egypt; the deal is worth 10 billion dollars.

Why did he fall out with Sisi?

The UAE had provided political, financial and military support to Egypt, which backed the rebel Haftar forces in the Libyan civil war. In fact, it was the UAE that supported the coup in 2013, ten years ago, when Sisi, the Chief of General Staff, overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and replaced him.

This is what enraged Erdoğan.

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan Muslimin), was the first elected president in Egypt’s history.

On July 3, 2013, Sisi staged a coup d’état backed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia and indirectly supported by the US. At the time, Türkiye was in the heat of the Gezi protests in June 2013. Erdoğan connected the dots with his own ideological and political assessment. The hawkish turn in Türkiye’s Syria policy also began then and continued until February 2020, when Russian-backed Syrian jets killed 34 Turkish soldiers on Syrian soil.

I don’t think Erdoğan will call Sisi a “coup plotter” or a “murderer” anymore; maybe not “my friend”, that’s all.

Is “Assad the murderer” next?

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is at the top of Erdoğan’s “friend” list, is pushing hard for reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Damascus says “not as long as there are Turkish troops on our soil”.

The CHP’s new foreign policy advisor, Istanbul Deputy Namık Tan, repeated his claim that a foreign policy “mired in the revisionist swamp of ideological blindness” leads to “eventually facing humiliating choices” on the example of Sisi.

Let’s be clear. Fidan initiated these foreign policy turns, which you could call “normalization” from another perspective, during his term as the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). I believe İbrahim Kalın will continue the same line.  And the actor in the “normalization” of economy is Mehmet Şimşek, the Minister of Treasury and Finance.

I suggest you look at the question of the possibility of reconciliation with the Syrian President, who was “Assad my friend” and became “Assad the murderer” from this perspective.

Murat Yetkin


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