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Turkey, in Talks With Egypt, Tries to Improve Geopolitical Reputation, Analysts Say
Turkish and Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials meet in Cairo on May 5, 2021, two months after Ankara established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013. (Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)

Turkey, in Talks With Egypt, Tries to Improve Geopolitical Reputation, Analysts Say

Ankara now in retreat from its aggressive foreign policy as it faces increasing isolation

Turkey’s talks this week with its regional rival Egypt is an attempt to decrease its geopolitical isolation and make Ankara look more like a reliable ally to the United States, analysts told The Media Line.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry tweeted on Wednesday that ministry officials began meeting in Cairo for two days of “political consultations,” after years of fraught relations sparked by the 2013 ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was a member of the Turkish-supported Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt is one of several countries in the region with which Ankara has found itself in dispute and, analysts say, the isolation is forcing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reset ties, especially as he faces a more hostile United States led by President Joe Biden.

“Biden has a really cold shoulder against Turkey,” said Imdat Oner, a former Turkish diplomat.

“Turkey [has] tried to get the interest of the Biden administration because Turkey wants to be an attractive partner in the region,” he said.

Oner told The Media Line that Turkey had unofficial contacts with Egypt in the past two years but wasn’t able to achieve the desired results so it is now turning to official, diplomatic meetings.

He added that one of Ankara’s priorities will be to increase trade with Egypt as Turkey’s financial situation continues to deteriorate.

The country’s economy was already struggling when US sanctions levied in 2018 led to a free fall of Turkey’s currency, the lira, from which it never fully recovered.

Amid increasing inflation and unemployment during the pandemic, Erdoğan’s poll numbers have declined.

The Turkish president has already seen what poor economic performance can do to his political fortunes, highlighted by his party’s loss in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral race which was partly blamed on the country’s poor financial state.

Oner, who is currently a doctoral student in international relations at Florida International University in Miami, believes Turkey will seek an agreement over the situation in Libya, where Cairo and Ankara supported opposing sides when a United Nations-backed government in Tripoli faced an insurgency by a military commander who served under former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The countries are also at odds over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Egypt has formed an alliance with other countries in the region, including Israel and Greece, to cooperate on exporting gas across the sea to Europe.

In response, Turkey has claimed maritime rights across much of the sea, citing an agreement with the government in Tripoli as well as the Turkish-Cypriot government, which is only recognized by Ankara, that controls a section of the island of Cyprus.

Turkey feels it has to realign with countries like Egypt to be able to at least get a piece of the pie, especially the energy pie, in the eastern Mediterranean and not to be completely shut off from regional negotiations

Tensions reached their height last year when Turkey sent warships into the sea after already sending a ship to explore for gas reserves, angering fellow NATO member and long-time rival Greece.

Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, says that Ankara feels it has run out of options in the eastern Mediterranean to allow it to continue with its aggressive policy, especially amid threats of sanctions from the European Union.

“Turkey feels it has to realign with countries like Egypt to be able to at least get a piece of the pie, especially the energy pie, in the eastern Mediterranean and not to be completely shut off from regional negotiations,” Brakel told The Media Line.

Another change Turkey has to deal with is the new US administration, which has taken a much tougher position against Ankara than the previous administration.

Biden waited three months after he took office to call Erdoğan, while many analysts believe the Turkish president eagerly wanted to speak to him.

When the phone call came, it was a day before the US government recognized the Ottoman Empire’s mass killings of Armenians in modern-day Turkey as “genocide,” which Turkey strongly rejects.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Stratfor, told The Media Line that Turkey’s change in stance is an attempt to look more reliable both to foreign investors and to Washington.

“Erdoğan is in a different position than he was five years ago,” Bohl said.

After Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party lost the Istanbul mayoral race, Turkey launched an incursion into Syria to fight US-backed Kurdish forces.

While the move was popular at home, especially among his nationalist base, it angered the US, which had soldiers in the region.

Months after the offensive, the Turkish president faced another major blow when high-level members of his party left to form splinter groups.

“Erdoğan [feels] the need to be more conciliatory,” Bohl said. “He sees the path to weakness coming through risks, like being so assertive and aggressive abroad.”

 

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