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Egypt puts burden on Turkey to open talks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down his rhetoric on Egypt in light of the tensions between the two countries, against the backdrop of the recent development in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Sameh Shoukry,  Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, listens during a UN Security Council meeting concerning nuclear non-proliferation, during the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 21, 2017 in New York City. The most pressing issues facing the assembly this year include North KoreaÕs nuclear ambitions, violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and the debate over climate change. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

CAIRO — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently toned down his rhethoric on Egypt. In a press statement on Sept. 18, carried by Al-Arabiya website, he was quoted saying, “We have no objection to holding meetings with the Egyptian authorities.”

He continued, “Holding intelligence meetings with Egypt is a different matter, and it is possible, but the agreement they made with Greece saddened us.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias had signed Aug. 6 an agreement in Cairo designating the exclusive economic zone between Egypt and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. This zone contains promising oil and gas reserves. 

Meanwhile, in a statement on the same day, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs vehemently denounced the agreement  as “null and void” for violating the Libyan maritime borders. The statement said the area delimited by the Greek-Egyptian agreement infringes on Turkey's continental shelf.

This comes as the eastern Mediterranean region experiences rising tension. Turkey insists on exploring for gas near the borders of Greece and Cyprus (riparian countries with Egypt), both of which reject such exploration. In another vein, Turkish forces and armed militias are present on Libyan soil (bordering Egypt from the west) in support of the Libyan Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Erdogan's openness to dialogue came after Sarraj announced Sept. 16 his intention to resign from his post. He claimed his government has not been operating in a normal environment since its formation, and "has faced internal and external plots.”

Egypt has yet to issue any official comment on the Turkish president's statements of Ankara's desire for dialogue with Egypt.

In this context, Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “A dialogue between Egypt and Turkey requires Ankara to examine all outstanding issues between the two countries as one package. This includes Turkey’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkish media platforms hostile to Egypt and the Turkish authorities’ interventions in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. But Turkey wants to deal with all these issues separately.”

He added, “Bilateral relations will only be improved if all pending issues are discussed. Otherwise, Egypt will not accept entering into a dialogue. Therefore, Turkey should stop its interference in the region and build more trustworthy relations at the regional level and with Egypt.”

Hours after Erdogan’s statements, Egypt responded to statements made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu regarding the Egyptian political developments since the June 30 Revolution. Spokesman of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Ahmed Hafez labeled Cavusoglu’s statements as “negative.” He pointed out that Turkey’s insistence on speaking about Egypt in this negative tone reveals contradiction and “lack of credibility” regarding its claims to create an appropriate climate for relations based on respect and abidance by international legitimacy.

Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor that opening an Egyptian-Turkish dialogue requires Ankara to stop its interference in Egyptian internal affairs. “Turkey should stop harboring fugitives sentenced for terrorist crimes in Egypt, and Turkish media platforms should refrain from posting hostile and defamatory content about Egypt,” he said.

Hassan said that actions speak louder than words, adding, “Turkey always expresses its desire to open a dialogue to ease the tensions ratcheting up in the eastern Mediterranean region. But this is not enough. There are other thorny issues between the two countries.”

He noted, however, that the ball now is in Turkey’s court. “If Turkey is serious about opening a comprehensive dialogue, then Egypt will have no objection to this,” he said.

On Sept. 9, Shoukry told the Arab Ministerial Committee on Turkish Interventions in Arab Countries headed by Egypt that blatant Turkish practices and interventions in multiple Arab countries are the most significant emerging threats to Arab national security. The committee met within the framework of the 154th ordinary session of the Arab League Council. Shoukry underscored the need for a firm unified Arab policy to ward off Turkey’s interference.

Earlier on June 20, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his country has a legitimate right to intervene in neighboring Libya. His statements were made after inspecting military units at an air base near the border with Libya. “Any direct intervention from the Egyptian state has now acquired international legitimacy,” Sisi said. 

On July 17, Erdogan had denounced Egypt’s support to strongman Khalifa Hifter leading the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army. “Egypt's steps [in Libya] — especially their standing next to putschist Hifter — shows that they are in an illegal process,” Erdogan said, according to Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper. 

In a press statement to Al-Masry Al-Youm Sept. 19, former Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Orabi said Erdogan's recent statements aim to ease regional and international pressure on him. He argued that the Turkish president has recently crossed some red lines when he imagined that he could alone draw state borders and occupy countries. Orabi added that Erdogan and his policies cannot be trusted and precaution is required when dealing with him.

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