CAIRO — Egyptian and Turkish officials met Wednesday for talks aiming to reset ties between the two regional powers after years of enmity.
The two-day “political consultations” in Cairo are chaired by Hamdi Loza, Egypt’s deputy foreign minister, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, which announced the meetings in a statement late Tuesday, described the talks as “exploratory discussions” that would focus on “the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalization of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context.”
The English-language version of Egypt’s state-run Ahram daily quoted an unnamed Egyptian official as saying the talks came after a year of direct and indirect communications to avert a confrontation between the two U.S. allies in Libya, where they back opposing side in the conflict.
Egypt and Turkey have been at loggerheads since the Egyptian military’s 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood group, supported by Turkey. Egypt has designated the group a terrorist organization.
Recently, top Turkish officials signaled a warming of ties with Egypt, a shift from their previous, sharply critical approach to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on March 12 that the two countries have had “intelligence, diplomatic and economic” contacts, adding that he hoped for “strong” ties between the two nations.
Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus said earlier this week that Ankara also wants to boost economic and trade ties with Cairo, which remains Turkey’s biggest African trade partner, with a $4.86-billion-vlue in trade last year.
A week after Erdogan’s remarks, his government asked three Istanbul-based Egyptian TV channels linked to the Brotherhood to soften their critical political coverage of the Egyptian government, according to editors at the stations. The TV channels promptly stopped broadcasting some political programs.
Egypt welcomed the move, calling it a “good initiative from the Turkish side that establishes a favorable atmosphere to discuss issues of dispute between the two nations.”
Egyptian officials say Turkey must take substantial steps toward “genuine” talks to mend ties, including withdrawing hundreds of Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries brought to Libya by Turkey, and also hand over Islamists wanted by Egypt on terror-related charges.
Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said a possible Egypt-Turkey rapprochement would help stabilize Libya, which has recently become a theater of rivalry between regional and world powers.
“There is not doubt that if these two regional rivals find a way to work together, improve bilateral ties and commercial ties and de-escalate what was a very confrontational relation over the past years, this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya,” she said.
The two nations back opposing sides in Libya. Egypt, Greece and some other European countries were angered by a 2019 Turkish deal with Libyan officials that aimed to boost Turkish maritime rights and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt and Greece responded by signing a separate deal to delineate their maritime boundaries, a deal which Ankara rejected.