Turkish-Egyptian Relations: Assessing the Impact of Erdoğan's Cairo Trip

February 17, 2024
By Enes Esen, published on 17 February 2024
Turkish-Egyptian Relations: Assessing the Impact of Erdoğan's Cairo Trip

President Erdoğan's visit to Cairo on February 14 was marked by high honors, including a warm welcome by President Sisi at the airport and a salute with cannon fire upon his motorcade's arrival at Cairo's Ittihadiya palace. The visit garnered widespread attention, with all major newspapers in Egypt featuring Erdoğan's arrival as their headline news. President Sisi used the occasion to reaffirm Egypt's stances on Libya and the East Mediterranean, long-standing points of disagreement between Turkey and Egypt. President Erdoğan leveraged the platform to criticize Israel sharply, particularly concerning the ongoing conflict in Gaza. These diplomatic exchanges are crucial for rebuilding bilateral political, economic, military, and diplomatic ties, which have faced significant challenges since the overthrow of President Morsi.

In this vein, this visit was praised as the beginning of a new era, the end of hostilities, and acknowledgment of President Sisi as the legitimate ruler of Egypt by Turkey, who recently secured his third-term. Overlooked in these optimistic narratives is the shared economic turmoil faced by Ankara and Cairo, characterized by high current account deficits, sluggish growth, widespread inflation, and currency devaluation. To mitigate their economic problems, both countries have turned to the Gulf countries. Large financial investments by the Saudis and the Emiratis are highly anticipated in Turkey in the last couple of years. Turkish ministers paid frequent visits to the Gulf countries to meet investors. On his way to Egypt, Erdoğan first went to Dubai to lure Emirati investors to Turkey. Similarly, the Sisi government has relied on the Gulf countries, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to tackle its current account deficit problem. Lately, Egyptian media reported this week a potential Emirati investment of $22 billion in the Mediterranean city of Ras el-Hikma.

In this regard, economic cooperation was high on the agenda in the talks between Erdoğan and Sisi. The leaders announced that they have agreed to raise their trade volume to $15 billion in a short period of time and to increase Turkish foreign direct investment in Egypt. Egypt is already Turkey’s biggest economic partner in Africa. Furthermore, Turkey is one of the most important destinations for Egyptian natural gas. The trade volume between Turkey and Egypt was $6.6 billion in 2023, a 15.7 percent decrease compared to the $7.8 billion recorded in 2022. Nonetheless, it should be noted that these targets tend to be more symbolic expressions of goodwill rather than grounded in meticulously researched estimations. This raises questions about the practicality of achieving these objectives.

On the other hand, not everything in this visit was about Turkish-Egyptian bilateral relations. Erdoğan used this visit to advance his agenda on other fronts. One of the primary objectives during President Erdoğan’s foreign visits appears to be the introduction of his son, Bilal Erdoğan, to the global stage as his heir. Despite the fact that Bilal Erdoğan is not a government official, even lacking an official advisory capacity, he is consistently included in the Turkish delegations, often surpassing other ministers in protocol. This was evident more than ever in the recent visit to Cairo, where Bilal Erdoğan sat next to the Minister of Defense, Yaşar Güler, in the first row during the press conference held by President Erdoğan and President Sisi. Meanwhile, senior officials such as the Head of Intelligence, İbrahim Kalın, and the President’s Chief of Communication, Fahrettin Altun, were relegated to the second row.

Lastly, with his domestic audience in mind, Erdoğan used the occasion to gain political favor in the upcoming local elections from religious Kurdish voters by paying homage to the shrine of Gaza-born Imam Al-Shafei, who founded the Shafei school of Islamic jurisprudence—one of the four prominent schools in Sunni Islam. The importance of this gesture extends beyond the general reverence that Sunni Muslims in Turkey hold for Imam Al-Shafei. It particularly resonates with the Kurds in Turkey, who predominantly adheres to the teachings of the Imam (Turks mostly follow Imam Abu Hanifa.). This is why several major Turkish media outlets highlighted Erdoğan’s visit to this specific shrine.

The significance of Erdoğan’s Cairo visit extends beyond diplomatic pleasantries and bolstering economic relations. This visit serves as an unmistakable acknowledgment of President Sisi's legitimacy as the ruler of Egypt by Turkey. President Sisi’s upcoming visit to Turkey in April is anticipated to further develop this relationship, particularly in terms of military cooperation. Similarly, these visits provide an opportunity for Erdoğan to introduce his son as his successor, both to the global community and to his ministers and advisors who vie for an upper hand in gaining his favor.

You may also like

No items found.