Egypt signals desire for détente in relations with Turkey, former minister says

An op-ed by the managing editor of Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram is a sign that the government in Cairo is seeking rapprochement with Turkey after seven years of taut relations, a former Turkish foreign minister said.

Al Ahram editor Mohamed Sabreen’s “Proposals for Normalisation in Turkish-Egypt Relations,” published by the analysis site United World International on May 13, blamed Western countries for the poor relations between Turkey and Egypt and listed ways they could mend ties.

Sabreen quoted Turkish officials as expressing a desire to cooperate with Egypt, and set out eight steps the countries could take to cool their war of words and begin working together on economic, political and security issues.

The first step would be for the two countries to refrain from incendiary statements, which have been commonplace since the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fettah al-Sisi, deposed his predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a coup d’etat in 2013, according to Sabreen.

Morsi rose from the ranks of Egypt’s political Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey has supported Islamists linked to the Brotherhood around the Middle East and North Africa while Sisi’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sought to suppress them.

But after years of brewing tensions, Sabreen’s op-ed signals that Cairo is seeking a détente with Turkey since the Al Ahram editor “would not venture to write such an article without sensing what the key decision-makers in Egypt were thinking," said Yaşar Yakış, a former Turkish foreign minister, in a column for Arab News.

“Similar hopes have been voiced for several months by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s adviser Yasin Aktay, so something must be brewing on both sides,” Yakış said.

Turkey’s Aydınlık newspaper, an influential left-wing nationalist daily that is critical of NATO and the West, also featured Sabreen’s article prominently along with analysis from experts and politicians.

Aydınlık columnist Onur Sinan Güzaltan called the article an important piece that was viewed positively in Turkey by experts and the public alike. He said Turkey and Egypt would have to come to terms with security issues and their stances on the eastern Mediterranean.

The Egyptian side would demand that Turkey cuts its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but could offer support to Turkey in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 35-year armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey, said Yakış.

The two countries could also cooperate to end the crisis in Libya, where the Turkish-backed, United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli has fought back Egypt’s allies the eastern-based Libyan National Army, he said.

A Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement may also see the countries agreeing on a new maritime delineation in the eastern Mediterranean that is more favourable to Turkey, the former foreign minister said.

Egypt and other regional countries had agreed on a Cypriot exclusive economic zone that overlaps with areas that Turkey says lies on its continental shelf.