Turkey holds second summit with Egypt as Erdoğan courts regional rivals

Turkey’s government is hosting a senior delegation from Egypt on Tuesday as it steps up efforts to repair broken ties with key regional powers.

The talks between the two countries’ deputy foreign ministers in Ankara follow a summit in Cairo in May, the first such meeting since 2013, and a phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UAE leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed last week.

Turkey fell out with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, when it sought to strengthen its role in the region by supporting groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood and calling on Arab regimes to reform. Relations took a further nose dive in 2019 when Turkey backed the U.N. recognised government in Libya against opposition forces backed by the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The resolution of a crisis between Qatar, Turkey’s close regional ally, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain earlier this year has now removed one major obstruction to repairing the fractured ties.

The two days of talks will tackle bilateral relations and discuss a number of regional issues, the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministries said in separate statements at the end of August.

Middle Eastern powers are seeking to reduce tensions after the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden in January put an end to transactional and often divisive American policies in the region under his predecessor Donald Trump. Egypt has traditionally relied on U.S. money to help bolster its economy and fund its military.

Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, has found that its increasing diplomatic isolation in the Middle East undermined efforts to boost its regional clout. The prospect of détente with Arab powers has now prompted Erdoğan to abandon his unwavering support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has proven a bone of contention with Egypt in particular.

The talks between Turkey and Egypt will probably focus on the Libyan issue and the "language of incitement" employed by Istanbul-based pro-Muslim Brotherhood media against Egypt, a point of contention that has already seen some improvement, said Amr El-Shobaki, an expert at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, according to Egyptian news outlet Ahram Online.

El-Shobaki said the chances of success in the talks would be limited by the ideological view of Erdoğan's ruling party towards the political situation in Egypt, where it strongly backed the Muslim Brotherhood government deposed by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.

But Erdoğan, like other regional leaders, has found his domestic political strength undermined by the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, he made a speech about the economy, saying inward foreign investment would help underpin his government’s ambitious goals for economic growth.

In May, Erdoğan also spoke on the phone with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Relations between the two countries have been marred by the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. Erdoğan accused de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle of direct involvement in the murder.