Ankara is currently discussing why and how an olive branch could be extended to Egypt. Strong signals that maritime jurisdiction negotiations could resume reinforces hope that the problems in the Eastern Mediterranean can be resolved with a win-win approach.
In fact, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu signaled in the last days of 2020 that Turkey would be open to a diplomatic rapprochement with Egypt based on the countries common and national interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The two countries' foreign ministers and intelligence officials have maintained diplomacy and communication through backdoor channels, despite the irreparable strain on political relations.
In this respect, it did not come as a surprise when last week Çavuşoğlu announced that negotiations on a maritime authorization agreement with Egypt would be initiated. During his interview with Sabah this week, the minister elaborated on the prospective talks. “There is contact between us and Egypt at the level of both intelligence and foreign ministries. I have met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Samih Shukri many times. For example, during the U.N. meetings, we had long discussions about how to fix relations. According to the course of relations, a maritime jurisdiction negotiation can be started. We want to talk to everyone because we are in favor of fair sharing,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Çavuşoğlu also said that negotiations could begin depending on the course of relations. Soon after, similar statements by Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın also confirmed the talks.
In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Kalın described Egypt as the brain and heart of the Arab world and expressed that Turkey could turn a new page with Cairo and the Gulf countries. “Having dialogue may develop our bilateral and regional relations. This also applies to the other four Gulf countries. We don’t have insolvable problems with any Arab country. We could turn a new page with Egypt and Gulf countries for regional peace and stability,” he said.
So, what does Turkey's opening of a new chapter with Egypt and the Gulf have to do with the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Turkey has long argued that disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean can be overcome if resources are equally shared through mutual respect of the rights of countries with rights and borders in this geography. For this reason, he argues at every opportunity that an international conference should be convened.
Turkey argues that fair sharing of natural resources to be extracted from the region will be an important tool for peace in the region. Ankara also believes that this approach depends on the sharing of all countries in the region and the use of resources in accordance with the principles of legitimacy and fairness on the basis of international law.
These views are also being tirelessly conveyed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the European Union, especially in the recent increase in telephone traffic with European leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. On the other hand, although attempts to sabotage the agreements between Turkey and Egypt have been observed, Ankara’s consultations with Greece continue decisively.
First, Egypt announced its bid for hydrocarbon exploration in Eastern Mediterranean where the tender area was determined by taking into account the continental shelf boundaries that Turkey had reported to the U.N. under its agreement with Libya. It was certain that Ankara would react positively to this decision, which it did according to the latest statements through the highest officials in Turkey, including Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Last weekend he also called Egypt’s decision to respect Turkey’s continental shelf while carrying out seismic exploration in the Mediterranean Sea an important development.
In Ankara, experts say that despite Turkey and Egypt's political differences, their economic cooperation, especially in the region, has great advantages for both sides. Egypt's acceptance of the continental shelf and EEZ agreements, which Turkey has also guaranteed under international law and the U.N., is now considered the first and most important step for this cooperation to actualize.
So, what will follow these steps from Ankara's point of view? Ankara has shown at the highest level that it can sit at the table and negotiate maritime authorization agreements with Cairo. Now it is Cairo's turn to give a clear and swift response to this proposal.
Turkey expects Cairo to respect the process and not commit diplomatic or legal violations against Ankara, just as it has so far.
In fact, in the agreement it signed with Greece, Egypt drew the border of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), leaving the region east of the 28th meridian open-ended, which extends to the middle line between it and Turkey in the Mediterranean. This was clearly a declaration that Egypt did not fully accept the Greek theses against Turkey, even though it had made a deal with Athens.
Ankara also expects Egypt not to allow the process to be undermined by pressure or guidance from countries such as Greece. The fact that Greece is able to come between two countries that share a wide common ground and heritage, having had relations for centuries, is very surprising in this sense.
On this issue, Erdogan said in August last year: “The view of the Turkish people against the Egyptian people is different. In other words, it is impossible for the Egyptian people and the Turkish people to look at each other and their solidarity with each other to be in line with the Greek people. Therefore, this understanding, which is revealed by our civilization values from history, should be noticed by its rulers rather than by the Egyptian people.”
Now, senior Egyptian and Turkish diplomats are keeping the channels of dialogue open, and the two countries are taking a diplomatic stance in accordance with the principle of non-confrontation on international platforms.
The two countries have had intelligence contacts in place for a long time who they would especially confer to on issues like the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Syria. If the goal of normalization is achieved, the two countries will start working on a more concrete road map that will encompass the economy, diplomacy and politics not just to encourage bilateral relations but to cooperate in solving regional conflicts.
Moreover, Ankara believes that turning a new page with Cairo will usher in a new era in its relations with Gulf countries. Turkey has proved that it is the party that tries to maintain calm, diplomatic relations even when confronted with the opposite, particularly during U.S. President Donald Trump's administration when Turkey's relations with Gulf countries were strained.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt were maintained at the charge d'affaires level since 2013, when the military coup took place giving rise to the current Egyptian administration. Currently, 3,500 Turkish citizens reside in Egypt, which is Turkey's largest trading partner on the African continent. Frequent meetings and mutual visits are held between Turkish and Egyptian entrepreneurs despite the restrained political relations.
Given the cold nature of Egypt and Turkey's relationship over the last seven years and the two nations being estranged from one another, the current state of the relationship can be considered a triumph. Now Ankara awaits the statements and steps to come from Cairo.
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