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Turco-Egyptian bilateral relations: an growing tension?

Public international law gives the right to each country, enjoying international sovereignty, to establish international and diplomatic relations with other countries so that this State is not isolated on the international scene. This was the case of Egypt and Turkey, which established bilateral diplomatic relations since the 20th century, taking into account that Egypt was part of the former Ottoman Empire until 1922. Crises and disturbances were always witnessed in these relations, and these crises persist until today. To what extent have Turkish-Egyptian relations evolved since their establishment?


To begin with, Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire as early as 1517, after the Ottoman invasion and expulsion of the Mamluks and execution of the last Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Tuman Bay. Egypt then became an Ottoman colony, where the empire, whose capital was Istanbul at that time, sent prefects like sultans to exercise power in its name, depriving Egypt of its international sovereignty. After the 1st World War in 1918, the empire lost most of its territories especially as it was part of the triple alliance which lost the war and also after the signature of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1922, which proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Atatürk and the independence of Egypt after 3 centuries of Ottoman occupation of its territory. Also, Egypt gained its independence from the British Mandate which imposed itself there after 1914, so after the 1st World War and under pressure from the 1919 revolution, Great Britain withdrew superficially from Egypt by controlling its foreign policy.


Since then, Turkish-Egyptian relations deteriorated until 1925, when diplomatic relations between these 2 countries were set up, with the exchange of diplomats between them. After the revolution of 23rd of July 1952 led by the Free Officers against King Farouk the 1st, the Egyptian regime was transformed from a royal regime to a republican regime with the deportation of the last king out of Egypt. The first diplomatic crisis took place in 1954, during the presidency of Gamal Abdel-Nasser; who is one of the free officers. Turkey and the ruling political elite were opposed to changing the political regime in Egypt, and the uprooting of the remaining Turkish Ottoman elite in the country. In addition, the dominant political regime in Egypt was "Arab nationalism" which is communist and Nasser had officially become an ally of the USSR during this period against the capitalist camp of the United States.


This consequently enraged Turkey, which joined NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), of which the United States is a member. It was a period of Cold War, where the world was bipolar and divided between the capitalist and Soviet camps. This opposition maintained by Turkey against the position of Egypt, pushed the latter to expel the Turkish ambassador, who was at that time "Fouad Toughay", because he had denounced the 1952 revolution and he was opposed to Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The situation worsened after the neutral and indifferent position on the part of Turkey, in the face of the Suez crisis that Egypt experienced in 1956. This crisis was when Israel, France and England allied and announced war on Egypt following the nationalization of the Suez Canal. In response to Turkey, Egypt allied with Greece against the Turkish invasion in the Cypriot island.


In addition, in 1958, Turkey and the United States declared themselves strongly opposed to the Egyptian-Syrian union. The Baghdad Pact, which was based in Ankara, Turkey, and of which the United States had been a part since 1958, was intended to halt and block the advancement, spread and domination of communist ideology in the Middle East. This certainly provoked Egypt and in particular Gamal Abdel-Nasser, since the Turkish and American opposition was specifically directed against Nasser's person and his position. The Egyptian-Syrian union lasted however for only 3 years, due to a coup d’état operated in Damascus in 1961. The Turkish reaction thus favorable to the separation between Egypt and Syria, pushed Nasser to hunt for the second time during the period of his presidency the Turkish Ambassador to Egypt.


The 1960s therefore saw deterioration in relations between the two countries. On the other hand, the 1970s and 1980s, during the presidency of Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, nevertheless saw a development of Turkish-Egyptian relations, especially on the economic and commercial level, with the conclusion of the free trade treaty in 1976.Under the presidency of Hosny Mubarak, from the 90s until the 2000s, Turkish-Egyptian diplomatic relations have progressed strongly. In fact, in 1996, Turkish Prime Minister Nigm-El-Din Arbkana visited Egypt, and the result of that visit was the creation of the D-8. It is a kind of organization, bringing together developing Islamic countries, such as Egypt and Turkey, to strengthen their global economic relations. Moreover, Egypt has intervened to resolve the long-running conflict between Turkey and Syria through the management of Kurdish-related issues and the maritime borders with Syria.


Secondly, Turkish-Egyptian relations experienced significant progress after 2011, the year of the Egyptian revolution that ended with the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. To clarify, Turkey has been very supportive and strongly supportive of the demands proclaimed in the protests. It promoted and supported the establishment of democracy in Egypt. In fact, Turkey was seeking at that time to restore and have an influence in the whole region of the Middle East from the economic and cultural point of view, especially in the countries which were under the Ottoman yoke before. To achieve this, Turkey was targeting Egypt as a reach and gateway to the Middle East region and the African region, due to Egypt's strategic geographical position and its possession of one of the strongest armies in the world.


These aims and ambitions were made more achievable when Mohamed Morsy was elected as the president in Egypt in 2012. It was a perfect opportunity for Turkey to build good relations with Egypt, since the dominant party in Turkey where Reccep Teyyeb Erdogan came from: "Development and Justice" is a party of the Muslim Brotherhood, like the dominant party and political regime in Egypt in 2012. So there was a similarity and convergence in ideology and by sequence of goals. Their reciprocal intentions to strengthen their relations were manifested by the visit made by Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Teyyeb Erdogan to Egypt on November 18, 2012, with 14 of his ministers and 200 businessmen, in order to show and affirm the unprecedented importance that owns Egypt for Turkey in the Middle East.


This historic visit was concluded with the signature of an agreement, in which Turkey was keen to grant one billion dollars for Egypt, as well as the establishment of cooperation aimed at attracting and multiplying by 5 Turkish investments and trade with Egypt. Moreover, several other bilateral agreements have been signed in the areas of trade, economy, health and transport, and therefore a relationship that spans several levels and is in the process of being extended. In 2012, in the post-revolution period, this rapprochement with Turkey was favored due to the difficult economic situation of Egypt. In fact, this ambition to consolidate diplomatic relations between the 2 countries was accompanied by the promotion of relations economic and trade with each other. To explain, cooperation on the levels of energy and electricity was aimed.


In 2013, after the June 30 revolution, Turkish-Egyptian relations experienced a major turning point. Diplomatic relations between these two countries have experienced a negative development, and a serious and profound disruption that lasts until today. Turkey denounced the impeachment and overthrow of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy by the Egyptian Armed Forces. This position of Turkey strongly provoked Egypt, which ended up expelling the Turkish ambassador from its territory and repatriating him, which suspended and called into question diplomatic relations. Turkey has considered, because of the June 30 revolution, that it has lost an exemplary ally in the Middle East due to the ideological similarity between their parties and that its interests will certainly be threatened.


To explain, Turkey feared the achievement of the same result at home; provoked and encouraged by that of the revolution of June 30, because of the demonstrations which took place there and which also demanded the resignation of Erdogan. Egypt, in fact, supported the coup that happened in Turkey later, which aggravated their conflict. Moreover, Turkey has lost an opportunity to strengthen its role and its regional presence, thus its rapprochement with the party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would have allowed it access to parties of Islamic movement in other countries, in case these parties come to power there. So, there was a diplomatic crisis between the 2 countries since the revolution of June 30, 2013, and which worsened later on.


To tell the truth, relations were reduced to economic and trade relations, and there were even doubts that there would be no more diplomatic relations between them, in the face of growing tensions and Erdogan's opposition to the Egyptian political regime. Erdogan did not stop denouncing and criticizing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissy, supporting the main opponents of the political regime in Egypt who are the Muslim Brotherhood and promoting the proliferation and spread of terrorism in the Middle East region.


Thirdly, Egypt is currently threatened and provoked by Turkey from several sides of which the Libyan crisis and the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean are the main causes. The Libyan crisis marked the peak of the Turkish-Egyptian conflict and had positive impacts on the international relations maintained by Egypt with other countries. Libya was shared between 2 main forces which are on the one hand the Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli and which receives the support of Turkey, and on the other hand the Libyan National Army governed by Marshal Khalifa Haftar which receives the support of Egypt as well as Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The Libyan territory is certainly a type rich in natural resources such as oil, which partly explains the conflict that takes place there; to control these resources. In June 2020, the military troops of the Turkish-backed GAN advanced and almost reached the territory of Marshal Haftar, which in fact constitutes the western borders of Egypt.


This counts as a possible attempted aggression by Turkey and a clear threat to Egypt's national security and international sovereignty. This action on the part of Turkey is explained by its expansionist ambitions acquired by its Ottoman heritage, and a reactivation of the nationalist spirit which wants to impose and spread its culture to all the countries of the region. Therefore, to respond to it, Egypt drew a “red line” which are Sirte and Al-Juffra, and proposed a ceasefire or a military intervention on the part of Egypt will be put in place. This threat was not respected by the GNA, which continued its provocations with the support of Turkey. This provocation on the part of Turkey has complicated diplomatic relations with Egypt, already in danger. Thus, for Turkey, the conquest of Libyan territory and the defeat of the forces of the Libyan National Army, would allow it on the one hand to control the oil resources and abuse them for its benefit, given the terrible economic situation of the country.


On the other hand, it could extend its power, later seize other regions and gain access to the eastern Mediterranean where it could continue its conflict with Egypt and Greece over maritime borders and natural resources held by Egypt, Greece and the island of Cyprus. This crisis ended with the gradual withdrawal of GNA military troops from the eastern part of Libya and the resignation of Fayez-El-Sarraj, the GNA Prime Minister. However, in the eastern Mediterranean in the exclusive economic zone, Turkey continues to send its ships for research and exploration of hydrocarbons, even after the delimitation of the maritime borders between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus. These procedures have been denounced on several occasions by the 3 countries as being illegal, prohibited, a violation of international maritime law and a threat to their sovereignty. In addition, they continued to warn Turkey and threaten to impose sanctions. However, Turkey considers that it has a right to search for these resources and to exploit them. Egypt is therefore threatened by Turkey from its land territory and its maritime territory.


 


To conclude, diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkey have experienced a significant deterioration throughout history. In several periods there was an ideological conflict, such as the period of Abdel Nasser and Abdel Fattah El-Sissy, unlike that of Mohamed Morsy. The diplomatic crisis since 2013 has been intensified by the Libyan crisis and that of the Eastern Mediterranean which have posed serious threats to Egypt's national security and sovereignty and demonstrated a lack of respect for its sovereign rights at the level of the maritime areas belonging to it and its territorial borders. In reality, there is no hope, now at least, of improving diplomatic relations due to the measures taken by Turkey and its support of terrorism.


 


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