Deeds, not words: Egypt’s subtle message to Turkey
The term “exploratory talks” was used to describe the initial discussions between Turkey and Greece focusing on a range of issues, including their maritime dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. The dialogue needed to be “exploratory” because neither side knew if anything concrete would come out of it. In fact, the 61st round of the talks recently concluded and they are still being called “exploratory.”
One can only hope that new talks between Turkey and Egypt will move quickly beyond the exploratory stage to the substance.
The joint communique released last Wednesday following the second round of talks held in Ankara reads like a proforma statement, so we have to look behind every word to understand what might have been debated behind closed doors.
According to the statement, the two delegations “addressed bilateral issues as well as a number of regional topics.”
The salient subject in the bilateral relations is the activities of Muslim Brotherhood members in Turkey. When Turkey belatedly decided that it was time to resume relations with Egypt, the first issue on the agenda was the Brotherhood’s operations in Turkey. Three TV channels operated by the Brotherhood in Istanbul, Al-Sharq, Al-Watan and Mekameleen, received a warning from Turkish authorities to stop programs critical of the Egyptian regime.
Another important issue was raising diplomatic relations to the ambassadorial level. This question was brought up by the Turkish side during the first round of the exploratory talks, but according to Egyptian media at the time, Cairo thought that more evidence was needed before the process went ahead. Since no news on this subject has been leaked during the recent meeting, we may presume that Egypt is maintaining its hesitancy.
The joint statement also underlines that the delegations addressed regional topics such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and the eastern Mediterranean.
On Libya, there is a standstill. The new caretaker government, formed under the auspices of the UN, invited all foreign nations to withdraw their forces from the country. Turkey ignored the invitation by claiming that its forces are in Libya on the invitation of the legitimate UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Egypt may have raised this question in the meeting, but Turkey is likely to have used the presence of other military units — for instance, the Wagner Group forces linked to Russia — as an excuse for its decision to remain.
Syria is the elephant in the room. Egypt, in its capacity as the major Arab country, must have raised the issue of Turkey’s military presence there, but we may presume that Turkey remained unmoved.
The salient subject in the bilateral relations is the activities of Muslim Brotherhood members in Turkey.
In Iraq, a meeting held late last month under the title of “Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership” provided Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a golden opportunity to attend and confer with leaders of the Middle Eastern countries. But it was a chance the Turkish leader missed.
Palestine is one of the issues on which Turkey and Egypt hold divergent views. Despite both countries’ support for the Palestinian cause, the question of Hamas puts them on opposing sides. Egypt is unhappy with the support extended by Turkey to Hamas. The exchange of views on this subject may have remained inconclusive.
The eastern Mediterranean is another issue on which Turkey and Egypt have different positions. Egypt says that it has waited decades for Turkey and Greece to demarcate their maritime jurisdiction areas. The Greek Cypriots did it with Egypt in 2003, with Lebanon in 2007 and with Israel in 2010. Turkey did it belatedly with Libya, bringing a reaction from Greece and Egypt.
The corridor that Turkey and Libya demarcated to link their maritime jurisdiction area cuts off the Egyptian maritime jurisdiction area from that of Greece. The Turkish-Libyan accord was signed by the Government of National Accord operating in Tripoli. This agreement has yet to be approved by the Tobruk-based parliament operating in cooperation with the renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Therefore, its fate is still uncertain.
An important detail in the text of the joint statement is the reference to “further steps.” It says that “the two sides agreed to continue these consultations confirming their desire to make progress in areas under discussion and the need for further steps to facilitate normalization of their relations.”
This long and convoluted sentence suggests that Egypt is not entirely satisfied with the steps taken so far by Turkey. Egypt has repeatedly said that it will decide not according to what Turkey says, but according to what it does.
A resolution critical of Turkey recently adopted in the Arab League, where Egypt is one of the main players, is another sign of Cairo’s lack of satisfaction at steps taken by Turkey.
Apparently the ball is still in Turkey’s court.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar