Turkey and Egypt hold initial meetings in tentative rapprochement

Turkey and Egypt are holding two days of exploratory meetings as part of cautious attempts to mend ties strained by conflicting positions on the Muslim Brotherhood and the war in Libya.

The two countries’ deputy foreign ministers are leading the talks in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

"These exploratory discussions will focus on the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalisation of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context," the foreign ministries of both countries said on Tuesday.

The two regional rivals have clashed over the Muslim Brotherhood - Turkey hosts many of its senior leaders - and support opposing sides in the war in Libya. Relations took a nose-dive in 2013, when Egypt’s army, led by former military commander and current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, toppled the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government and executed and imprisoned many of its representatives.  

Meetings between intelligence officials have preceded Wednesday’s talks. The foreign ministers of the two countries also spoke on the phone last month.

Turkey is seeking to rebuild relations with Egypt and Arab states in the Gulf following the inauguration of Joe Biden as U.S. president in January. Policy differences have left Turkey isolated from both its Arab neighbours and NATO allies led by the United States.

Turkey’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seeking to end Sisi’s rule, may present the biggest stumbling block to a rapprochement. Last month, Turkey requested that Egyptian opposition television channels based on its territory moderate criticism of his government in a gesture to Cairo.

Egypt has cautiously welcomed the move as a first step.

“There’s a great deal of mistrust fuelled by eight years of open hostility, and so Egypt feels hesitant,” said Nael Shama, the author of a book on Egypt’s foreign policy, according to AFP.

While Turkey has never pursued regime change in Egypt or any other country “selling out dissidents, who fled authoritarian regimes, is absolutely out of the question,” Burhanettin Duran, director of the foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a pro-Turkish government think tank, said in the Daily Sabah newspaper on Wednesday.

Ankara says that better ties with Cairo will help the security situation in Libya and the wider Middle East. But it says that a 2019 accord with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli allows it to continue stationing troops and Syrian militants in the country despite a U.N. call for all foreign fighters to leave.

Turkey should cooperate with Libya to ensure all foreign forces and mercenaries leave the country ahead of elections in December, Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of its interim government, said at a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Monday.