This analysis was originally published in Arabic by SETA Foundation

Abstract: Egyptian-Turkish relations have been dominated by regional tension and competition over the past years. These tense relations have been critical for the entire region given the considerable regional weight of both countries. Hence, the tension in their bilateral relations has affected overall regional stability, especially in cases that affect both countries’ interests, starting with the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, and even overall joint Islamic action on pivotal issues such as the Palestinian cause. However, there are currently serious steps that indicate that a positive shift in the relationship is taking shape. This essay analyzes these developments from Egypt’s point of view, and explains Egyptian-Turkish relations in the context of Egyptian foreign policy since Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2014. The essay presents an overview of Egypt’s policy towards Turkey, analyzing the reasons for the years of tense relations, the current indicators of relative calm and this rapprochement’s ultimate limits. 

Egyptian-Turkish relations have been dominated by regional tension and competition over the past years. These tense relations have been critical for the entire region given the considerable regional weight of both countries. Hence, the tension in their bilateral relations has affected overall regional stability, especially in cases that affect both countries’ interests, starting with the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, and even overall joint Islamic action on pivotal issues such as the Palestinian cause. However, there are currently serious steps that indicate that a positive shift in the relationship is taking shape. This essay analyzes these developments from Egypt’s point of view and explains Egyptian-Turkish relations in the context of Egyptian foreign policy since Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2014. Since then, its foreign policy priorities have been to confront political Islam, maintain the status quo against the Arab uprisings, and restore Egypt’s regional leadership. The essay presents an overview of Egypt’s policy towards Turkey, analyzing the reasons for the years of tense relations, the current indicators of relative calm and this rapprochement’s ultimate limits.  

This essay argues that Egypt’s foreign policy priorities directly clash with the rising Turkish role in the region, which makes geopolitical competition between Cairo and Ankara inevitable. It argues that Egypt, even in the unlikely chance it intends to, will not be able to abandon its obligations towards its anti-Turkish allies. This is due primarily to the assessment among Egypt and its allies that Turkish regional policies threaten their internal stability even more than their regional interests. In other words, concerns for the regime’s internal stability appear to be the fundamental determinant in how the Sisi regime perceives its relations with Turkey, exceeding in importance even the two countries’ geopolitical competition. Hence, Egypt will most likely seek to build a pragmatic working relationship with Turkey that serves tactical interests, rather than a deeper strategic partnership. Therefore, the process of building deeper Turkish-Egyptian understanding over their regional influence remains unlikely in the near term.