A day after the great victory achieved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the presidential elections, its repercussions are already beginning to appear on the regional situation. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi quickly called Erdogan to congratulate him on the victory, and together they decided to immediately lift diplomatic representation and re-exchange ambassadors. The path of Turkish-Egyptian reconciliation had already made great strides after the launch of exploratory talks about two years ago, followed by mutual visits at the level of foreign ministers in recent months, and communication between the leaders of the two countries.
Recently, it seemed clear that Cairo was delaying the move of exchanging ambassadors until after the Turkish elections. We do not fully know whether Egypt bet on a political shift in the elections, or if it preferred to wait so that the exchange of ambassadors before the elections would not be counted as siding with Erdogan in his electoral battle. However, the situation after Erdogan won a third presidential term pushes the path of reconciliation between the two countries to be crowned with the step of exchanging ambassadors.
As it is known, since the start of its regional turn 3 years ago, Turkey has succeeded in settling its differences with most of the regional powers with which it entered into confrontation during the past decade, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although the path of Turkish-Egyptian reconciliation appeared even before the shift in Ankara’s relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, some major contentious issues between the two countries, such as the situation in Libya, remained an obstacle to accelerating this path.
The recent agreement between Erdogan and Sisi on an immediate increase in the level of diplomatic exchange does not mean that the dispute over Libya has ended, but it gives an indication that the two countries have decided – at least – not to remain an obstacle to restoring normal relations. In light of the positive new environment in bilateral relations, it will be easy for both sides to focus on ways to find common ground to manage bilateral interests in Libya.
Turkey’s continued positive engagement in regional issues will not only guarantee Turkey’s interests in the region, but also constitute an interest for Arab partners who will be able to rely more on Turkey to achieve regional balance.
The main common point on which Egypt and Turkey meet in Libya is the establishment of peace in this country and the reunification of its institutions, a point that seems attractive to think about the advantages of cooperation more than the advantages of continuing differences over the situation in Libya.
Egypt is an influential regional power on many issues that concern Turkey, such as the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya, and the Middle East in general. The shift in relations from adversity to cooperation will reflect positively on the regional situation and on the interests of the two countries in these issues. Turkey cannot create a new integrated situation in its regional policy without addressing all its differences with Egypt. An essential aspect of the Turkish interest in reconciliation with Egypt lies in Ankara’s efforts to strengthen its position in the geopolitical conflict with Greece and southern Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
It also seeks to be an essential part of regional cooperation projects in the field of energy. The completion of the reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt will have major implications for regional geopolitics given the importance of these two powers. Certainly, these effects will be positive and push towards strengthening regional stability and transferring relations between the active powers in the Middle East to a more productive level, in terms of collective action to settle chronic regional issues such as Libya and Syria.
Nevertheless, the Syrian problem is still one of the major obstacles in Turkey’s path to zeroing in on its problems with its southern regional neighbourhood. It is unlikely that we will witness an immediate development in the course of the Turkish-Syrian negotiations in the foreseeable future. The logical belief is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who seemed in a hurry to achieve a breach in the dialogue with the Syrian regime before the elections in order to use it in his electoral struggle with the opposition, will lose his momentum because he got rid of electoral pressure. And the Syrian regime will have to deal with the hard fact that Erdogan no longer has to compromise out of need for Turkey’s core interests in Syria.
However, the motives that dictated Turkey to this turn in its relationship with the Syrian regime actually go beyond the internal electoral calculations that prevailed before the Turkish elections. Ankara’s desire to reach understandings with the regime that meet its security interests and its endeavors to return Syrian refugees and achieve progress in the Syrian political settlement will remain, but it will manage its new Syrian policy from a standpoint of strength.
In terms of Turkish relations with the Gulf, there is no reason to believe that the new relationship that Erdogan established with former Gulf opponents 3 years ago, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will decline. As the Middle East takes shape, Turkey’s good relations with the countries of the region, especially the Gulf and Egypt, will push towards achieving regional stability and finding ways to settle chronic regional conflicts and build a new balanced regional order.
Turkey’s continued positive engagement in regional issues, which will continue under the new mandate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will not only guarantee Turkey’s interests in the region, but also constitute an interest for Arab partners who will be able to rely more on Turkey to achieve regional balance and benefit from its strong presence in the region. The region and its impact on the policies of the major powers, especially Russia and the West, in the Middle East.