The Turkish government has asked Egyptian opposition TV channels based in Turkey to moderate their editorial stance and tone down their criticism of the ruling Sisi regime. This suggests that ties between Turkey and Egypt will rapidly return to their pre-2013 status.
Such moves are the early stages of a rapprochement between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. Turkey has paid a heavy price for its tensions with the Gulf states, as it has suffered an economic crisis within the past three years.
Ankara believes it will overcome its growing domestic issues with petrodollars that would come from the Gulf in the aftermath of a normalization process. But the Gulf states hold normalization with Egypt as a prerequisite for a prospective settlement with Turkey.
In fact, Turkey and Egypt are not exactly eager to get close to each other, if it weren’t for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars. Aside from economic ties and the eastern Mediterranean issue, Ankara and Cairo do not have high expectations from each other.
Such a settlement matters more for Turkey than it does for Egypt, as Ankara has recently isolated itself by making many enemies. Aside from Tripoli government, which was promised military assistance, not a single country supports Turkey’s position in the eastern Mediterranean. Even Libya could change its mind after presidential and parliamentary elections. Besides, beyond the eastern Mediterranean, no one stands on Turkey’s side on neither sides of the Atlantic.
The most significant issue between Turkey and Egypt are the Egyptian opposition TV channels that currently operate from Istanbul. The situation of the media is largely the same in both countries. The media is under pressure from the government, though Egypt is in a slightly worse position than Turkey.
Sisi’s regime has also instructed channels close to the government to be careful not to attack Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). It is an open secret that all TV channels in Egypt are under the control of their national intelligence.
According to certain press reports, this matter of reciprocity is not only about the media, but also about the repatriation of key opposition figures. Egypt is not keen to extradite members of the Gülenist movement back to Turkey and nor is Turkey keen to extradite leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood back to Egypt. Both countries will probably ask dissidents on their territory to move to a third country.
The priority of both countries is to gain advantages on other selected issues, especially with regards to the eastern Mediterranean, rather than the extradition of members of opposition. Of course, requests by intelligence authorities to obtain information in certain sensitive cases or people who have fled the country while being involved in very important cases can make an exception. Egypt’s priority is to ensure that those demonstrations, which erupted in 2019 and 2020 with the influence of opposition media abroad, will not be repeated. This means monitoring and controlling dissident media channels which are reported to have high ratings. They can be watched via satellite in Egypt.
Another reason could be that Egypt, which like Turkey already has a bad record on human rights violations, can foresee that extradition of dissidents would cause one more headache in its already troubled relationship with international human rights organizations. Sisi’s regime is aware that it can continue its operation to bring dissidents in line with remote punishment methods such as stripping them of their citizenship, confiscating their property within the country, or bringing dissidents into the country through threats, depriving families of certain rights such as social insurance and so on. This is why Egypt does not insist much on the repatriation of the dissidents.
Firas Abu Hilal, who wrote an article on the Arabi 21 website on Egyptian-Turkish relations, ended his article with a joke saying that Turkey could not shut down Egyptian opposition TV channels because it was against Turkish law. Oddly enough, there is no one in Turkey who recognizes the constitution, let alone the law. The most basic principles of law such as the separation of powers and the rule of law, as well as the state of human rights in Turkey are deplorable.
Still, I believe relations between Turkey and Egypt will improve rapidly. However, just as the relations between the two countries are based on the decisions taken by one-man administrations rather than by administrations, the decision to improve relations can also be withdrawn with the same impulsiveness and speed.
Let me end with an excerpt from French writer and playwright Honoré de Balzac: “Turks (we can also read this as Middle Easterners) have a good habit; just as easily as they would cut off your head, they would let go of the rope that is holding you. They are indifferent to just about everything.” It is not known whether this is due to their apathy or the indiscretions that come with an authoritarian order, but in that is the situation, dear readers.