Egypt signs deals with Greece amid talk of rapprochement with Turkey

Egypt is reportedly hoping to play the role of mediator between Turkey on the one hand and Greece and Cyprus on the other.
Wednesday 23/11/2022
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hold a joint news conference in Cairo, October 9, 2022. (AP)
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hold a joint news conference in Cairo, October 9, 2022. (AP)

CAIRO -

Egypt and Greece signed two bilateral deals on Tuesday, including a pact to improve cooperation in migrant search and rescue missions across the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.

The deals, signed in Cairo, marked the second meeting between the Greek and Egyptian foreign ministers after their countries' shared rival Turkey signed a controversial agreement with one of Libya’s two rival administrations.

The Egyptian presidency said in a statement on Monday that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook hands in Qatar and described it as a new start in bilateral relations, after years of tension.

Ankara’s ties with Cairo have been frosty since the 2013 ousting of the President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been strongly supported by Erdogan.

Egypt, which has so far responded cautiously to the Turkish overtures, was angered by Ankara’s decision to offer a haven for Egyptian opposition figures, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical elements accused of terrorism.

Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has supported Arab parties and politicians linked to the Brotherhood, putting him at odds not just with Egypt but also with Gulf Arab powers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Cairo is reportedly hoping to play the role of mediator between Turkey on the one hand and Greece and Cyprus on the other, to find a way to align its vital interests with the three countries and avoid damaging its relations with both Athens and Nicosia.

A statement from the Greek foreign ministry said on Tuesday the Egyptian and Greek ministers first signed the deal on the rescue missions.

Later, the deputy foreign ministers signed an agricultural deal allowing up to 5,000 seasonal farm labourers from Egypt to remain in Greece for up to nine months, the statement said.

“Our goal is to create a framework to help save precious human lives,” Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told reporters after the migrant agreement signing.

Tens of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to make their way into the European Union each year, often risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to reach Greece or Italy.

Egypt and Greece have looked to strengthen ties since Turkey signed a preliminary maritime and gas deal with Libya’s Tripoli-based government in October.

That agreement includes joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in Libya’s offshore waters, with both Egypt and Greece accusing Ankara of using it to expand its influence in the Mediterranean.

Tensions have increased between Athens and Ankara since 2019, when Erdogan’s government signed an earlier deal with the government in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, granting it access to a contested economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean.

The deal ignored the existence of several Greek islands, including Crete.

Libya is split between two rival administrations, based in the country’s west and east.