Diplomacy in Times of Disaster and the Future of Turkish-Egyptian Normalization

On February 6, 2023, Turkey experienced one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in its history. Syria has also deeply suffered from the earthquake. In the aftermath of the tragic events, huge efforts, supported by domestic and international rescuers, continued to save those trapped under the rubble. One of the interesting aspects of the early days of the earthquake was the increasing diplomatic traffic centred around Turkey.

Within a few days following the earthquake disaster, the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was the first head of state to visit Turkey. At the same time, due to the earthquake, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Turkey and earthquake-stricken areas, and held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Within this framework, diplomatic activities carried out during disaster period witnessed another significant development on February 27. Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry visited Turkey, marking the highest-level visit between the two countries in almost a decade. Shoukry’s visit signalled a concrete step in the long-awaited normalization in Turkey-Egypt relations.

In the statement made after the meeting of the two foreign ministers, Çavuşoğlu emphasized the importance of Egypt’s visit at a time when Turkey is experiencing difficult moments, a fact underlining that Egypt and Turkey mutually need each other.

A will to reconcile?
At the same time, he drew attention to the will of the two countries to take their relations to higher levels as shared by the presidents of Turkey and Egypt. Çavuşoğlu stated that the visit of the Egyptian foreign minister might also lead to a meeting of the two presidents in the near future.

The reactions of Turkey and Egypt towards regional politics after the Arab popular movements caused the two countries to experience tense political relations. It was a period in which the power struggle in the Eastern Mediterranean, the course of the war in Libya, and policies towards the Muslim Brotherhood formed the main points of tension in the relations between the two countries.

However, the Gulf region-oriented normalization that started in the Middle East in late 2020, rapidly spilled over across the region and, to a certain extent, brought about the normalization of Turkey-Egypt relations. There are three, if not more, dynamics that pushed Ankara and Cairo to speed up the normalization.

The first is that both countries seem to have the political will to restore bilateral relations. Both Turkey and Egypt are aware of the importance of the other in terms of regional security, economic opportunities, and sociocultural issues. Turkey and Egypt, with a total population of almost 200 million, are among the regional powers of the Middle East and would be able to form one of the largest partnerships in the region with their vast resources and potential.

This is one of the greatest reasons why both countries maintain commercial and economic relations to a certain extent even during periods when political relations were tense.

“Share” in regional normalization
The second point is that both countries want to ensure their “share” in regional normalization and have the desire to keep diplomacy alive in times of disaster. Along with the climate of normalization in the region, Turkey, which has normalized relations with countries with which it has long-term problematic relations such as Greece, Armenia, France, and Israel, has tried to resolve the tension areas with Egypt through diplomacy and continuous dialogue.

Following Egypt’s economic crisis and the situation after the food and energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, the country has adopted a strategy of re-establishing strong partnerships with its partners in the region.

The third point is that both countries have a huge market and potential for the other. In this sense, in case of enhanced normalization, Turkish companies in Egypt are going to be able to increase their business, and this process will have a positive impact on the Egyptian economy. Also, as Çavuşoğlu stated, it may be possible for Egyptian and Turkish companies to share their experiences and render the benefits of these relations more permanent. Therefore, at this stage, a normalization carried forward could herald extremely positive developments for both Turkish and Egyptian people.

This article was published on Politics Today on  March 2, 2023, with the title  “Diplomacy in Times of Disaster and the Future of Turkish-Egyptian Normalization."