Sisi-Erdogan handshake signals start of normalisation process but does not usher in reconciliation

Analysts described the meeting, which did not seem to have been prepared in advance, as a step towards de-escalation of tensions but not the consecration of full-fledged political reconciliationas many litigious issues seem to be pending.
Tuesday 22/11/2022
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as they are welcomed by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (2ndR) on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar, November 20, 2022, 2022. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as they are welcomed by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (2ndR) on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qat

CAIRO/ DOHA-

After years of tension, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook hands then held talks in the Qatari capital, Sunday, as they attended the kick-off of the World Cup soccer tournament. But analysts dismissed any speculation about a breakthrough in relations.

The state-run “Cairo News” TV channel said that a tripartite Doha summit subsequently brought together Sisi, Erdogan and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, the emir of Qatar.

The fact that the meeting was not limited to the Egyptian and Turkish leaders meant, according to diplomatic experts, that Ankara and Cairo did not achieve a major breakthrough leading to a rapid normalisation of relations.

Analysts described the meeting, which did not seem to have been prepared in advance, as a step towards de-escalation of tensions but not the consecration of full-fledged political reconciliation as  many litigious issues seem to be pending.

Egyptian and Turkish statements after the meeting did not include any indication of concessions, pledges for review of positions on contentious issues nor an agreement on high level dialogue.

The Turkish and Egyptian formulations in the public statements were vague and confined to generalities. There was no confirmation by either side of an intent to start a substantial diplomatic nor intelligence exchange, as both Cairo and Ankara were seen to be more preoccupied at this stage with domestic concerns that are essentially economic in nature.

Egyptian presidential spokesman, Ambassador Bassam Rady, said in a brief statement on Monday that there was agreement that the meeting between Sisi and Erdogan would be "a start towards development of bilateral relations between the two sides."

Erdogan confirmed the meeting was the beginning of a process of normalisation of relations, saying he hoped to see Turkish and Egyptian ministers pick up where Sisi and himself started “through high-level talks”. He added, “We said earlier that a path can be started and this was a step that was taken in order to engage this path.”

He emphasised that his country's sole demand from the Egyptian side was to tell those who espouse hostile positions towards Turkey in the Mediterranean region, "We want to establish peace in the region."

Erdogan seemed to signal a desire to see Cairo intercede with countries that oppose Turkey’s expansion in the Mediterranean, that is, Cyprus and Greece, ignoring the fact that Egypt itself, is opposed to his maritime demarcation agreements with the Abdulhamid Dbeibah government in Libya.

The Turkish leader did not signal a desire to make concessions on some of highly-charged issues which have marred relations with Egypt, especially Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its military, political and economic encroachment in Libya.

Analysts say Turkey is increasingly tempted to consider the current Libyan status quo, including Turkey’s role in the oil-rich North African country, as a fait accompli.

Sisi’s motive for his visit to Doha and participation in the opening of the World Cup tournament seems essentially intended to show his support for the Qatari emir, while seeking to ensure Doha’s economic assistance to his country whether in direct financial grants, central bank deposits or investments in Egyptian projects.  According to regional experts, the economically-exhausted Cairo has lost the desire to continue the pursuit of bilateral quarrels that prevailed during the past few years.

Erdogan, who faces new elections next year, is eager, on the other hand, to contain the repercussions of his imprudent financial policies on the Turkish banking system and the country’s economy as a while. His attention is also focused on keeping his country’s foreign military interventions on track.

He has hence to manage the fallout from his drive to impose a buffer zone in Syria, which has apparently triggered a recent terrorist bombing in Istanbul and further involvement by Turkey in armed conflict against the Kurds, while bearing the burden of millions of refugees at home. All these considerations have prompted him to search for reconciliation in the Gulf and to seek a lull in the diplomatic showdown with Egypt.

Source in Cairo say the Doha handshake brought Egyptian-Turkish consultations into the open after a series of security-focused meetings held in Cairo, Ankara and other venues.

Consultations took place during a number of regional and international meetings on the Libyan crisis, where the two countries are said to have worked to prevent direct friction between Ankara and Cairo on the Libyan scene.