Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made a historic visit to Cairo on Saturday in a bid to restore full diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt, despite Ankara’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. During a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Cavusoglu revealed that Turkey was using its influence to extend a Black Sea grain deal, allowing the export of grain from Ukraine, in its role as mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.
Why is the meeting significant?
The fact that Shoukry and Cavusoglu held a joint news conference indicates a significant shift between the two countries after almost ten years of strained relations that followed the ouster from power of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Both diplomats hinted that full diplomatic relations will be restored soon amid a general thaw of hostilities throughout the Middle East following the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic ties severed in 2016.
“We largely agree on most issues. We have to improve bilateral relations in every field from transportation to trade,” Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference in Cairo with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
Cavusoglu emphasized the dangerous ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the need to avoid a more serious — potentially nuclear — conflict. He said Ankara had pushed to gain Russia’s agreement on renewing a Black Sea grain deal that allows Ukraine to export grain to various Middle Eastern and Third World countries, including Egypt.
Egyptian Member of Parliament Mustafa Bakri told Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV that restoring normal relations with Turkey is important for several strategic reasons, including “using Turkey’s good relations with Ethiopia to ease tensions over the Renaissance Dam,” which has caused consternation in Egypt due to its potential to disrupt the flow of water on the Nile.
Latent tensions between Cairo and Ankara over who controls parts of Libya and undersea natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean have also made relations between the two countries acrimonious, and improved relations between the two countries could avoid potential conflict in those areas. Egypt’s foreign minister said talks with Turkey on the possibility of restoring ties to the ambassadorial level would happen at “the appropriate time” during the first visit to Cairo by Turkey’s top diplomat since relations ruptured a decade ago.
At the joint news conference, Shoukry and Cavusoglu said Turkey would upgrade its diplomatic relations with Egypt to ambassador level “as soon as possible”. Ties between Turkey and Egypt were severely strained after Egypt’s then-army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the removal of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, an ally of Ankara, in 2013. El-Sisi was elected president the following year. The two countries have also been at odds in recent years over Libya, where they backed opposing factions in an unresolved conflict, and also over maritime borders in the gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean.
The recent warming of relations between Turkey and Egypt coincides with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to improve strained ties with the Arab world in anticipation of May’s elections. The two countries’ relationship has been troubled for years, largely due to Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has classified as a terrorist organization. This was exacerbated by the military removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in 2013. Additionally, Egypt and Turkey have had disagreements over other regional conflicts, as well as rivalling claims to energy resources in the East Mediterranean.
Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s el-Sisi would meet “after the Turkish elections,” including the presidential vote slated for May 14, to mark the end of a decade of estrangement between the two countries.
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