An Egyptian map shows that Cairo identifies its Exclusive Economic Zone in the region in accordance with the Turkish offer.
With the prospect of warmer relations between Turkey and Egypt on the horizon, the rich gas fields of the eastern Mediterranean have appeared to encourage both powers to reevaluate their differences and find a common ground in order to mutually benefit from exploration efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has indicated that Ankara and Cairo might come to a point where they could sign a maritime agreement, “depending on the trajectory of the relations”.
A recent Egyptian map concerning the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the eastern Mediterranean also seems to be more in line with the Turkish proposition to Cairo than the previous Greek-Egypt understanding of sharing their respective EEZs in the region.
Turkey’s offer has been reportedly more favourable to Egypt than the Greek proposition, but due to political disagreements between Ankara and Cairo on several issues, the Sisi regime tended to sacrifice its EEZ rights in a bid to go against the Turkish state.
Relations between Cairo and Ankara came to an abrupt freeze when Egypt’s general-turned-President Abdel Fattah al Sisi waged a military coup against the country’s first-democratically elected government in August 2013.
“It [Egypt] made a mistake by refusing the Turkish proposition. But I think internal pressure coming from power circles around Sisi has convinced him that for the sake of Egypt and its better future, Cairo should have some sort of partnership not only with Greece and other neighbours but also with Turkey,” says Hamza Zawba, an Istanbul-based Egyptian political analyst.
Experts have initially argued that offshore findings of rich gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, or the Levant Basin, could help ease political deadlocks among the coastal states, but powers like Greece have mounted fierce political opposition to Turkey, compounding the problems across the region.
The Levant Basin has at least 122.4 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable gas, according to the US Geological Survey. In order to explore gas peacefully and legally, the coastal states need to find a common ground amongst themselves to designate their own respective EEZs.
After the historic Turkey-Libya maritime deal, recent political signs indicate that Ankara and Cairo are now inching towards another diplomatic milestone in the eastern Mediterranean, which may open many opportunities for the two estranged nations.
“Egypt and Turkey have historical and traditional ties, which make both countries closer to each other,” Zawba adds, explaining why both nations need a possible rapprochement despite their strong political differences.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also previously reminded the Egyptian leadership that political differences between the two countries should not lead Cairo to sign an agreement with Athens at the expense of the interests of the Egyptian people..
“The maritime agreement between Egypt and Greece made us sad because our relations with Egypt is much more different than Egypt’s relations with Greece. That should be discussed,” Erdogan said. The Turkish president also confirmed ongoing intelligence discussions between Ankara and Cairo.
Zawba thinks that the Egyptian intelligence apparatus has “advised” Sisi to develop a rapprochement policy with Turkey. According to him, there are two main reasons for that advice.
“First, it’s not good for the Egyptian state structure to have a long-standing dispute with Turkey, a regional power,” the Egyptian analyst says.
“Second, for the long-term planning, Egypt can not rely upon Israel and Greece to ensure its regional security concerns. Turkey could be a far better partner for Egypt,” Zawba views.
“For Turkey, it’s the same. Turkey should not lose Egypt because people like Sisi will die while countries will continue,” he adds.
Turkey has already shown its political goodwill towards Egypt.
“If Egypt exercises the will to act with a positive agenda concerning regional issues, Turkey would not stay unresponsive [to that attitude],” said Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, in October.
Sisi’s rift with the Saudi-UAE bloc
One of the possible motivations behind Egypt’s rapprochement with Turkey is related to changing political dynamics in the Gulf, as well as Sisi’s fears regarding the new Biden administration’s critical stances toward autocrats, according to Zawba.
During the former Trump administration, tensions had escalated between the Turkey-Qatar alliance and the UAE-Saudi-Egypt bloc, even leading to a blockade against Doha. But in the last days of Trump, the Gulf tensions eased, and relations between Qatar and UAE-Saudi bloc were normalised.
Riyadh has also been under intense political pressure from Washington. On Monday, the Biden administration released an intelligence assessment that found Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had given the order to capture or kill Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
The UAE and Saudi kingdom are also dealing with an Iranian threat across the Middle East.
“Under these conditions, I don’t think Saudi-UAE bloc could be a big problem for Turkey,” Zawba says, suggesting that a possible reconciliation between Turkey and the bloc might also be on the way.
As a result, the bloc could not continue its hold over the Sisi regime, allowing Cairo to reformulate its foreign policy and “to act on its own interests not on behalf of the UAE” or Saudi Arabia, says Zawba. This is possibly one of the main reasons why Cairo has come to terms with Ankara, he says.
“Yesterday the Saudi kingdom asked Sisi to condemn Washington’s Khashoggi report. Sisi did not do that. It will make the Saudi crown prince furious and angry,” he adds.
“Due to decreasing pressure from the UAE and Saudis, the [Sisi] regime will act based on Egyptian interests not on other interests.”