November 06, 2022
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry last week announced that Cairo had unilaterally suspended the normalization process that had been initiated with Turkiye. Every word counts in this statement: It was suspended by Egypt and unilaterally.
Everything started with Turkiye’s mishandling of its Muslim Brotherhood file. It overreacted to the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Every country blamed the military coup, as was common practice, but as time went by and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi established law and order in the country, the members of the international community started to recognize his government and establish relations with it. Turkiye remained the only exception.
This has had a cost because Turkiye and Egypt are two major countries in the region and have strong relations that go back several centuries. They also have strong economic ties. There is an industrial zone in Borg Al-Arab on the outskirts of Alexandria where scores of Turkish companies are active.
The declared reason for Cairo’s unwillingness to continue dialogue is that Turkiye did not send any signal that it would change its Libya policy. In fact, the two countries disagree on several points. They support opposing governments in Libya: Turkiye supports the UN-backed government operating in Tripoli, while Egypt supports the Tobruk-based government of the House of Representatives. Egypt also believes that Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has completed his term and that the Tripoli-based government has no constitutional authority to make any binding commitments.
Egypt now insists that all foreign troops — including those from Turkiye — should withdraw from Libya, while Ankara says its troops are there upon the invitation of the country’s legitimate government. This contention is likely to last for some time to come.
We may presume that there are also other reasons for the suspension of the dialogue. Controversy over the Muslim Brotherhood is one of them. This is a deep-rooted movement in Egypt. It will probably continue to exist in rural areas and in the suburbs of the metropolitan agglomerations. El-Sisi has legitimate worries about Muslim Brotherhood activities, while Turkiye has not entirely given up its support. The two countries were trying to find a solution that would meet each other’s minimum expectations, but neither was fully satisfied.
Muslim Brotherhood ideology has weakened considerably in the Gulf countries. Egypt wanted to capitalize on this and came up against Turkiye from a position of strength. Ankara does not seem to be aware of the weakening of the movement and may have bargained on the assumption that Egypt would step back from its original position.
This has caused damage to Turkiye’s interests in several countries in the region, beginning with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
After the second round of the Turkish-Egyptian dialogue, held in Ankara on Sept. 8, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal used language signaling that additional steps needed to be taken in order to maintain the process. This was perhaps a warning of the approaching collapse of the dialogue.
Turkish daily Aydinlik on Oct. 31 claimed that one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders, Hossam Al-Ghamry, was arrested at his home in Turkiye, while his son who lives in Egypt was also arrested. An Egyptian journalist, Khaled Ismail, who also lives in Turkiye, wrote on social media: “Egyptian intelligence wrote to their Turkish counterparts that Hossam has to be followed.” Another Brotherhood activist wrote that 40 members had been invited to attend police stations and that public prosecutions may be initiated for them.
This may have been a goodwill gesture by Turkiye because the group had issued a statement inviting its adherents to organize a Nov. 11 demonstration during the UN climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. Ankara has not yet issued any official statement on the subject. The activists were accused of creating chaos and inciting violence in Egypt.
This news has two meanings. One is that Turkiye did not remain indifferent to Egyptian sensitivity regarding the suspension of the normalization process. The other is that Turkiye is reluctant to go all the way and make a public statement that it has arrested a few Muslim Brotherhood activists and does not know what to do with them.
Ankara seems to have finally understood that it has made a mistake by betting too strongly on the Muslim Brotherhood. This has caused damage to Turkiye’s interests in several countries in the region, beginning with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At one stage, Turkiye may have thought that the initiative was in its hands, whereas time has demonstrated that it is Egypt that has the initiative. Turkiye is right in many of its claims, but being right may not be sufficient.
By depriving itself of the support and friendship of several countries, Turkiye has pushed itself into isolation. It is now trying to disengage itself from this situation. We will see to what extent it will be able to break this isolation.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.
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