CAIRO — Despite the ongoing political differences between Egypt and Turkey, especially in Libya, as evidenced by the second Berlin conference on Libya held June 23, Cairo remains Ankara’s largest trading partner on the African continent.
At a June 25 press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic described these relations as crucial for the stability and prosperity of the region. He added that Egypt is Turkey’s largest trading partner in Africa.
“We attach great importance to the joint historical and cultural relations and contacts between our two peoples, as most recently exemplified by the establishment of a friendship group between the two countries in the Turkish parliament,” he added.
Bilgic said, “Turkey is seeking to increase the points of agreement on bilateral and regional issues and to develop a common understanding with Egypt.”
The trade exchange between the two countries reached $4.675 billion last year, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics says.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency on April 7, the head of the Turkish-Egyptian Businessmen Association, Attila Atasfin, expressed Turkey's readiness to increase by fourfold the volume of trade between the two countries, which he put at around $5 billion.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in televised statements June 25 that the exploratory talks between his country and Turkey are now suspended, and that a date is yet to be set for a delegation from Cairo to visit Ankara in order to resume the dialogue.
He added, “We expect the Egyptian-Turkish relationship to be based on principles that govern stable international relations, including noninterference in internal affairs and good neighborliness away from any activity that aims at destabilizing any other country.”
Shoukry said there is a reciprocal diplomatic representation at the charge d'affaires level between the two countries through which a “natural political dialogue” is taking place.
In March, Turkey announced the resumption of its diplomatic contacts with Egypt. Turkish authorities also requested that Egyptian opposition media outlets operating in Turkish territory, including those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, soften their tone toward the Egyptian regime.
On May 5 and 6, a Turkish delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal held exploratory talks in Cairo with Egyptian officials led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza, in the first visit of its kind since 2013, the year Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown. Morsi was an ally of the Turkish leadership.
Hassan Haridy, a former assistant foreign minister, told Al-Monitor over the phone that trade between Egypt and Turkey has not been affected by political differences in recent years, and that it is natural for Cairo to serve as Ankara’s largest trading partner in Africa given the ease of communication and movement between the two countries.
Haridy added that Turkey is seeking a wider role in Africa, and it is in its interest to increase trade exchange with Egypt — a pivotal country in both Africa and the Middle East.
Asked about the political dispute between the two countries over Libya, Haridy said the presence of Turkish forces in Tripoli poses a threat to Egyptian and Arab national security, which was expressed by the participants in the Berlin conference. He added that there is an international consensus on the need for all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya in implementation of Security Council Resolution 2510.
Bashir Abdel-Fattah, a researcher focusing on Turkish affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that the economic relations between Egypt and Turkey are proceeding reasonably despite the political differences between the two countries. These differences, he added, are preventing any development or increase in trade exchange amid Ankara’s lack of response to Egyptian demands to improve and restore relations.
Abdel-Fattah said he believes that Egypt and Turkey have broadening trade prospects but that political differences are preventing this from materializing. He said that despite the statements of Turkish officials about rapprochement with Egypt, the Turks did nothing to improve relations. He said he believes that closing the Muslim Brotherhood’s media platforms in Istanbul is not enough.
“I do not expect a breakthrough in the political relations between Egypt and Turkey so long as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in office, but we might witness rapprochement after his departure regarding various files, including Libya, Syria and Iraq,” he said.
Abdel Moneim Saeed, a member of the Egyptian Senate, ruled out a political consensus between Egypt and Turkey in the near term.
However, he told Al-Monitor that this does not impede an ongoing dialogue between officials in the two countries, which Turkey embarked on in May by sending a high-ranking delegation to Cairo in an attempt to bring the countries closer.
Saeed said economic relations between the two countries are going well and have not been majorily affected by the political tension, and this could be deemed as a strong foundation for improving relations between the two countries to develop greater trade and enhance future economic cooperation.
He said there are some Turkish efforts to show goodwill as Ankara has mounted pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood media platforms based in Turkey.
Adel Amer, an economic expert and head of the Egyptian Center for Political and Social Studies, stressed that the Turkish and Egyptian economies are among the largest economies in the Middle East, and cooperation between the two countries is of paramount importance for the stability of the region.
“It is quite natural for Cairo to be Ankara’s largest trading partner in the African continent, as it is a pivotal gateway to Africa, especially considering that the trade exchange between the two countries has not been hindered by the political tension plaguing their relations due to their commitment to long-term bilateral agreements,” he explained.
Amer indicated that there are Turkish efforts to improve political relations with Cairo in order to achieve a major economic breakthrough between the two countries.