Istanbul, Turkey- Turkish and Egyptian officials will gather at a table on Tuesday as relations between Turkey and its Arab neighbors are thawing after nearly a decade of mutual mistrust and blatant hostility.
The Deputy Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Ankara is the second round of talks between Turkey and Egypt after the Cairo summit in May. This is the first direct high-level talks between the two countries since 2013.
This contact is the latest between Turkey and the Arab countries that have been in dispute after the Arab Spring in 2011. The incident witnessed the anti-government movement in the Middle East and North Africa overthrowing some long-standing rulers and threatening others.
Turkey, which supports groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood, saw an opportunity to dominate the region and forced the Arab regime to reform in the face of popular protests.
On the contrary, many of the people it supported suffered setbacks, and Ankara found itself alone and helpless.
In Egypt, in 2013, the military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi deposed the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish ally President Mohamed Morsi. Disagreements were created between countries.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also become strong rivals to Turkey because both sides view the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to its ruling dynasty.
After the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, the differences with the Saudis became prominent. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attributed the blame to the inner circle of the de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS).
Turkey was also involved in the civil war in Libya in 2019, supporting the government of Tripoli, recognized by the United Nations, while Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia supported the other side.
Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have imposed blockades on Turkey’s ally Qatar since 2017, which has also increased tensions with Ankara. The resolution of the Gulf crisis earlier this year removed the main obstacle to reconciling differences.
Last week, Erdogan had a phone conversation with the UAE leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, two weeks after receiving the UAE National Security Advisor.
Although Erdogan and the Saudi crown prince have not yet talked directly, the Turkish president discussed improving relations with King Salman bin Abdulaziz in May.
The “radical” post-Arab Spring approach
Analysts said that changes in the dynamics of the region have created an atmosphere of reconciliation between Ankara and its former opponents.
“After the Arab Spring uprising, the mood was completely different,” said Gonul Tol, director of the Turkish Studies Center at the Middle East Institute. “The threat perception of the Arab regime has reached its peak, the popular uprising is overthrowing the autocratic regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood is rising.”
She added that this has led to an “active, security-oriented approach” that sees Turkey as the main threat.
The signs of a US retreat from the region, especially the hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, have also shattered confidence in the role of Washington in the region.
Coupled with the realization that aggressive foreign policy risks after the Arab Spring did not work, this led the Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians to adopt a more diplomatic approach.
“Now they think,’Well, we live in an area where the United States will not participate, and the safety-oriented approach did not produce the results we wanted,'” Thor said.
Change of mindset
Compared with the early 2010s, the Arab trio is also less worried about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, Thor continued, adding that “the overall mentality in the region has changed.”
Eyup Ersoy, a faculty member at the Department of International Relations at Ahi Evran University, stated that Turkey “has given up its firm support for the Muslim Brotherhood and has become less outspoken on this issue”.
Ersoy added that the cancellation of the “quite challenging” hostile alliance would give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region, recognize its “regional influence” and eliminate the prospect of “endless proxy conflict”.
He said that better relations with Cairo and Abu Dhabi will also further isolate Turkey’s traditional rival Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Experts said that economic factors also put heavy pressure on the economies hit by the coronavirus in the region, and it is expected that better relations will lead to improved trade and higher levels of investment.
“Considering the domestic economic stagnation and long-term current account deficit, increasing investment, especially from the Gulf region, is of great significance to Turkey,” Ersoy said.
Although regional cooperation among the four countries may increase, a certain degree of competition and mistrust will still exist.
Galip Dalay, a researcher at the German Institute of Security and Policy Affairs, said that especially the personal hatred accumulated over the years will make it difficult to return to normal and may be limited to easing their competition.
“This is most obvious in Libya, where no one has really changed their position, but it is not actively escalating,” he said.
Speaking of Erdogan’s demonization of Sisi after the overthrow of Morsi, Dalai added, “Shaking hands with Sisi or even taking pictures with Sisi is very difficult psychologically and politically for Erdogan. .”
At the same time, Thor emphasized the opposition between Erdogan and the Saudi prince.
“MBS will not forget what Turkey did to Khashoggi,” she said. “The era that began with the Arab uprising was so painful and challenging for these regimes, and Turkey’s behavior during that time left a mark that will not pass easily.”