Turkish presidential spokesman signals that if Egypt shows a positive attitude toward Turkey, Ankara will respond kindly to it.
With the military coup of Abdel Fattah el Sisi against Egypt's first democratically-elected government of president Mohamed Morsi, Ankara and Cairo entered into a hostile diplomatic space, ending their political relations.
But the two regional powers appear to be ready to send positive messages towards each other in light of the fast changing realities in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has been at loggerheads with Greece and its Greek Cypriot allies over the borders of continental shelf and territorial waters.
While Turkey, a leading regional democracy, strongly disagrees with the way Sisi’s repressive policies have changed the country’s political direction following the coup, mutual connections have continued to hold on economic and partly diplomatic fronts.
“Egypt is one of the important countries in the region. But we can not ignore the facts like how Sisi came to power, the military coup, people who were killed, what happened in the Rabaa Square, political arrests [following the coup] and [the suspicious circumstances of Mohammed] Morsi’s death,” said Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, during an interview with a Turkish media outlet.
“However, if Egypt exercises the will to act with a positive agenda concerning regional issues, Turkey would not stay unresponsive [to that attitude],” Kalin maintained.
“If a political ground emerges to act together on Libya, Palestine, the eastern Mediterranean and other matters, Turkey will just approach it in a positive manner and will contribute to that,” Kalin added.
Despite substantial differences between the countries, Turkey and Egypt have strong historical connections and common cultural themes, going back centuries.
In the wake of ongoing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where newly-discovered rich gas reserves have triggered regional powers to compete for influence, some experts have indicated that the two countries might develop some degree of political understanding regarding their differences in order to diffuse tensions in the region.
Eastern Mediterranean: a common ground?
Turkey and Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) have signed a maritime agreement to determine their respective continental shelf and territorial waters, which would be crucial to explore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
Experts and some senior Turkish officials have signalled that Ankara and Cairo could also develop a political understanding in the region, similar to the Turkey-Libya agreement.
“There are too many different developments [across the region]. For example, our intelligence discussions with Egyptians are completely different. We do that and there is no obstacle to do that,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, last month in a response to a question regarding whether a common political understanding over the eastern Mediterranean is possible.
But Erdogan expressed his disappointment with Egypt’s policy, which has been aligned with Greece and its allies until now, disfavouring Cairo’s political interests in the region.
“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 further addressed the question, referring to Turkey's historic and economic ties with Egypt.
Hamza Zawba, a political opponent of the Sisi government and a prominent host for Egypt’s dissident Mekameleen television channel, confirms that Turkey and Cairo were engaging in the process of backchannel talks to narrow down their differences.
“I said in my show that I welcome the normalisation between the two countries. They are two great powers in the region,” Zawba told TRT World. But he also finds the UAE, which has had an outsize influence over the Sisi regime since the coup, as a definite obstacle to any normalisation between Turkey and Egypt.
“We know that the Emirates have penetrated into every authority in Egypt,” says Zawba, describing the Sisi regime as being “kidnapped” by the UAE.
But he also points out that Egyptian imports, valued at around $3 billion from Turkey, and Turkish imports worth around $1.8 billion from Egypt, have continued despite political tensions.
Both Egyptian and Turkish people want the two countries to have good relations, he says. But Turkey, under Erdogan, would not tolerate the Sisi regime's oppressive policies, he adds.
A Turkish source, who wants to be anonymous, also pointed out Turkey's Russia connection as a possible model for its possible new Egyptian policy.
In Syria, despite being on opposing sides, Turkey has developed a political understanding with Russia while it has continued to protect Syrian opposition forces from the massacre of the Assad regime.
“If we can find a political ground with Russians in Syria, then, we could also find a political ground with Egyptians, with whom we have more common features than Russians,” the source opined.
“We can develop a policy, where we can continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the Muslim Brotherhood movement while we also protect our state interests in Egypt,” the source added.