Egypt's detention of 29 people accused of spying for Turkey has strained ties between the countries once more. Here’s a look at their changing relations since the Arab Uprising.

Supporters of Egypt's deposed President Mohamed Morsi wave Turkish and Egyptian flags.
Supporters of Egypt's deposed President Mohamed Morsi wave Turkish and Egyptian flags. (Reuters)

Turkish-Egyptian relations strained once again on Wednesday, when Egypt arrested 29 people accused of spying for Turkey. 

Here are the ups and downs in their relationship since the Arab Spring, which changed the political landscape across the Middle East in 2010.

2011-2013: Arab uprising deposes Hosni Mubarak

An air of anti-government uprisings that swept the Middle East—including Egypt, Libya and Yemen—saw the deposing of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, after 29 years in power. After the uprising, then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of the first leaders who visited the country to meet the new presidential candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became the nation’s first elected president in the summer of 2012. Shortly after, the newly founded Egyptian government welcomed Turkey’s Erdogan again in Cairo to restore the once-strained relations between two countries. 

"The purpose of the visit is to show our support to the Egyptian people in their struggle to establish a democratic socio-political order based on justice, freedom, transparency and rule of law," Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan's then-foreign policy adviser told CNN.

In need of a boost for its economy after months of political turmoil, Egypt signed a $2 billion loan agreement with Turkey.

Erdogan gave a speech at Cairo University during his visit in 2012, where he said, “With the revolution in Egypt, you showed all the world that tyranny won’t be there for ever… that autocratic and closed regimes are over.”

But the close ties with the new Egyptian government lasted only until a military coup toppled Morsi. 

2013-2016: Egypt changes its foreign policy under Sisi

On July 3, 2013, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party was ousted from office in a coup d’etat, a year after Egypt’s first elections seen in decades. A month later, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian armed forces, took over power, and the army raided a Muslim Brotherhood-organised sit-in, killing more than 1,000 people in what is known as the Rabaa Massacre on August 14. 

Erdogan openly condemned the coup and the crackdown against the opposition saying, "No matter where they are... coups are bad. Coups are clearly enemies of democracy. Those who rely on the guns in their hands, those who rely on the power of the media cannot build democracy.... Democracy can only be built in a ballot box.”

In August 2013, Turkey asked the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Sisi. And the struggle through the UN has not stopped. For the 2015 UN elections, Egypt openly lobbied against Turkish candidacy to obtain a seat at the UN Security Council.

Right after the coup, the members of the Brotherhood who were able to escape, fled to Turkey, Qatar and Britain.

After Erdogan called the August 14 killings a "massacre of peaceful protesters" and called Egyptian prosecutors to put Sisi on trial, Cairo cancelled a joint naval exercise with the Turkish navy that was planned for that October. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry accused Turkey of intervening in the domestic politics of Egypt. Ankara then pulled its ambassador back from Egypt. Cairo, in retaliation, recalled its ambassador in Ankara for consultations at the end of August, but that was only temporary, and lasted until November. 

Three weeks later, Turkish Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali returned to Cairo. In November, when Erdogan again called for the immediate release of former President Morsi, Egypt decided to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Turkey and expelled Botsali, declaring him persona non grata. Turkey responded in kind to the Egyptian ambassador in Ankara, who had already left Turkey.

Neither Turkey nor Egypt took a step back the following year in 2014. In July, it went from bad to worse when Israel brutally attacked Palestine’s Gaza Strip. Egypt has played a role in the talks between Israel and Palestine. Erdogan called Sisi an "illegitimate tyrant" who cannot be trusted in negotiations. 

In August, Erdogan called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Egypt, saying that relations would not return to normal until Morsi is released, all capital punishment sentences are annulled, all political prisoners are released and the ban on religious political parties is lifted.

A positive step did come a year later.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu planned to meet in New York in September 2014 during the UN summit to talk about Turkey’s conditions in order to normalise relations.

But the relations strained again when leaders of both countries were assigned to sit at the same table during the UN General Assembly in New York in September. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to attend the luncheon, calling Sisi “illegitimate” during his speech in New York. Erdogan strongly criticised the UN and democratic countries saying, “they’ve done nothing but watch events such as overthrowing of the elected president in Egypt and the killings of thousands of innocent people who wanted to defend their choice.”

Egypt fired back as it cancelled the first planned bilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries since the coup.

A brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood—which Sisi’s Egypt labelled a “terrorist organisation”—and on others who opposed the coup, followed the Rabaa massacre in December that year.

2016-2017: positive steps aren't enough for reconciliation

In April 2016, trying to mediate reconciliation between Egypt and Turkey, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz came to Turkey directly after a visit to Cairo.

Then, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry attended the 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul on behalf of Egypt’s Sisi as a result of Saudi efforts. 

That was the first time an Egyptian minister had visited Turkey after the coup.

In a speech on July 11 that year, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hinted at Turkey’s willingness to restore ties, saying that there is no reason why Egypt and Turkey “should quarrel.”

"It is possible for our investors to travel to Egypt and develop their investments. This might lead in the future to a thawing of the climate [that in turn might lead] to a normalisation of relations, and even of relations at the ministerial level,” he said

However, Egypt was less responsive. Issuing an official statement on the same day, it expressed that the precondition for Ankara to cultivate economic and cultural relations with Cairo was to “recognise the legitimacy of the June 30 Revolution.”

Despite the fact that Turkey did not take a step back from its rhetoric against the Sisi regime, the countries signalled normalisation of economic relations. Officials from the respective ministries paid visits to their counterparts. But that didn’t last long; relations fell apart in June 2017 as a result of the Qatar diplomatic crisis. Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and blockaded it, accusing Doha of “terrorism”. Ankara became one of the countries that stood by Doha.

Their vacillating relations strained even more when Egypt declared International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) to be a “terror organisation” in a joint declaration with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and released a statement saying, "It is with deep sorrow that we followed the listing of International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) as a 'terror organization' based on groundless claims through the joint declaration of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt."

This came in the same week that Egypt detained 29 people on suspicion of spying for Turkey.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies