Both regional powerhouses are reconciling for wider cooperation across the Middle East from the eastern Mediterranean to tightening economic ties.
After eight years of tense relations, a Turkish foreign ministry delegation is in Cairo to find common ground with its Egyptian counterpart to address political differences and normalise relations.
Turkey and Egypt have been at loggerheads since the country’s first democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi and his government were overthrown by a 2013 military coup led by Abdel Fattah el Sisi, who later became the country’s president.
But several political developments ranging from possible favourable sharing of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean to the recent Gulf normalisation seems to have persuaded both sides to set aside their differences for mutual benefit.
In the Egyptian capital, Turkish delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and the Egyptian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad Loza appeared to get closer to that aim step by step.
"These exploratory discussions will focus on the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalisation of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context," according to a statement released by the Egyptian foreign ministry on Tuesday.
The exploratory talks may have been spurred on by the recent Gulf normalisation, which was mainly pushed by Washington. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a full blockade over Qatar, a Turkish ally, but it did not achieve much as Doha didn't end up shifting its policies. In the end, under US pressure and with no tangible benefits for the quartet, Gulf allies and Egypt lifted the Qatar blockade, normalising relations.
“When we look at the fact that Egypt and Qatar have reconciled and signed an agreement in Al Ula [in Saudi Arabia], it makes sense that Turkey believed there is a possibility for a reconciliation [with Egypt],” says Sami Hamdi, an Arab political analyst and head of the International Interest, a political risk analysis group.
Hamdi believes that the most difficult aspect for both countries would be how to explain the possible normalisation between Ankara and Cairo to their own publics after years of antagonism.
“I welcome any step toward reconciliation between Arabs in general and Turkey as well as between Arabs and Iran. I need to see the whole nation united in principle. I don’t like to see my Muslim nation divided,” says Hamza Zawba, the former spokesman of the Freedom and Union Party, which was banned by the Sisi government after the coup. Zawba lives in exile in Istanbul.
“But the steps should be calculated carefully,” Zawba tells TRT World.
If Turkey and Egypt develop a common regional political understanding, which helps address the Libyan conflict, it could also help ease Turkish-UAE-Saudi tensions. Ankara’s relations with both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi got worse with the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi Istanbul consulate in 2018.
Turkey and Egypt, backed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have been on different sides in the Libya conflict. But a new interim Libyan government sworn in in mid-March appeared to be favoured by both Egypt and Turkey, signalling that a political resolution to the conflict is in sight.
“I do think there were extensive discussions between Turkey and Egypt over what the [Libyan] government should look like and who should be supported in the government and how various interests could be respected,” Hamdi tells TRT World. With the coming of the Biden administration, Turkey-Egypt connections on the Libyan conflict have become a little bit more complicated, he adds.
But he also thinks that “the Turkish-Egypt cooperation on Libya led to the climate that allows a possible reconciliation” between the two countries.
If the conflict ends peacefully, it could also help establish political connections between Ankara and its Gulf counterparts.
"Everyone will benefit from defusing the acute tensions in the region, including disengagement from hotspots, chiefly Libya," said Abdul Khaleq Abdallah, a UAE-based political science professor, who is an influential voice on the Gulf kingdom’s foreign policy.
Abdallah also said that the Turkey-Egypt reconciliation process has been done in coordination with the UAE, one of the main sponsors of the Sisi government, and Saudi Arabia. Hamdi thinks that Egypt-Turkey rapprochement could essentially lead to Ankara’s normalisation with both the UAE and the Saudi kingdom.
Addressing the Libyan conflict is also important for the designation of maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean for both Egypt and Turkey. In 2019, Ankara and Tripoli have signed a maritime agreement to designate their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the region, angering Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration and some European powers like France.
Egypt has been allied with those anti-Turkish forces for a while. But Ankara offers a better deal to Egypt in terms of maritime rights in eastern Mediterranean than Greece and its Greek-Cypriot ally do.
"What has become apparent to Egypt... is that it's difficult for any regional power to win through a knockout punch, but rather through points," said Abdallah, the Emirates professor.
“Egypt is struggling with regards to [Ethiopia’s Grand] Renaissance Dam and the lack of action on the side of the Biden administration, dealing with the dam and putting pressure on Ethiopia. Egypt has also remained concerned with developments taking place in Libya. Egypt also deals with economic difficulties,” says Hamdi.
“While Egypt is included to some extent in the discussion over eastern Mediterranean, it’s not necessarily being treated as an equal partner such as Cyprus, Greece and Israel when they discuss exploration rights and resources,” Hamdi adds.
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 Greece-Egypt understanding of sharing their respective EEZs in the region.
Hamdi also adds that European “antagonism” towards Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean has also played a role to push Turkey towards a rapprochement with Egypt.
Despite political differences, both countries began the reconciliation process behind-the-scenes last year. Current diplomatic talks in Cairo are the fruits of that effort. If both countries agree to normalise relations in Cairo, the next step could be the reinstatement of their ambassadors to each other respectively.
Analysts also see that signing of a maritime agreement concerning eastern Mediterranean’s EEZs between the two countries might be a second step as a result of the normalisation process.
As talks go on, the Turkish and Egyptian parliaments have decided to establish an Interparliamentary Friendship Group, which will also be instrumental in fixing political problems between the two countries, helping relations normalise.