Ever since the attempted coup in Turkey of 2016, Ankara has become more assertive regarding its near abroad foreign policy. With the rise of the AKP in the early 2000s, the country’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu pursued the "zero problems with neighbors” policy. However, it resulted in nothing but trouble. The more recent “Blue Homeland” policy further increases pressure in the region due to Turkey’s confrontational and undiplomatic actions. Ankara, however, seems to realize the unsustainability of its current strategy as the country has carefully reached out to Cairo.
On February 18, Egypt announced a new bid round for hydrocarbon exploration in its EEZ including a block 18 in disputed Turkish-Greek waters. This seemed to confirm Ankara’s position and raised Turkish hopes for a possible rapprochement. In response to the confusion, Greece’s foreign minister quickly flew to Cairo at the beginning of March to clarify the situation. This resulted in a new publication where block 18 was redrawn and Egypt’s commitment to Greece reaffirmed.
Turkish media have been publishing multiple articles on a possible rapprochement and a demarcation arrangement that would leave out Greece. Cairo, however, has denied the agreement and remains committed to Greece.
The Eastern Mediterranean is of major importance to Turkey for three reasons. First, the discovery of significant energy deposits has raised economic stakes. Ankara longs for energy breakthroughs similar to Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus. Second, Turkey’s limited EEZ under international law is a major impediment, which is a legacy of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Lastly, Ankara’s goal is to strengthen the country’s security by extending its influence in the Mediterranean. Related: Report Accuses Banks Of Creating “Climate Chaos”
Turkey’s aggressive strategy, however, hasn’t delivered the expected results. Instead, positions have hardened and become insurmountable. While Turkish exploratory vessels regularly violate the EEZ of Greece and Cyprus in search of new oil and gas fields, the EU is contemplating economic sanctions.
Conflicting demarcations and political interests
Especially, the unilateral demarcation of the seabed and violation of Greece’s and Cyprus’ EEZ raises the stakes. The agreement between Ankara and Libya ignored the presence of Greek islands. Athens retaliated by strengthening ties with Cairo and by signing its own demarcation agreement. Turkey’s ignoring of existing realities and international law has pushed the remaining littoral states into each other's arms. Related: 13 Million Barrels Of Oil Could Be Affected By Suez Canal Blockage
Conflicting political interests concerning the role of political Islam, have soured relations between Egypt and Turkey. Ankara strongly supported Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. With the coup that deposed Morsi and President Sisi’s rise, relations with Turkey have deteriorated. Erdogan’s war-of-words and denouncing of the Egyptian government hasn’t gone down well with Cairo that has strengthened relations with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.
The strategic realities of the past couple of years and Turkey's bellicose activities have raised the stakes and necessity for cooperation. Greece and Cyprus, who have been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause in the past, have strengthened cooperation with Israel which has its share of problems with Ankara.
Egypt, on the other hand, has adjusted by setting up a new organization to improve cooperation in the energy domain. The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum includes all littoral states and France while excluding Turkey.
Furthermore, joint military exercises are organized regularly which, arguably, are a show of strength towards Turkey. While Cairo and Paris executed joint naval exercises, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent fighter jets to the Greek island of Crete. Large military deals underline the developing alliances where France plays a major role.
Paris has sold large quantities of advanced military hardware to both Greece and Egypt. These weapons are intended to maintain a strategic advantage over Turkey.
Turkey’s uphill battle
Ankara’s aggressive foreign policy has done a tremendous job in bringing together the region. Even relative outsiders such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become involved. Although it isn’t unlikely that Egypt could engage with Turkey to somewhat reduce tensions, it is highly improbable that Cairo will sacrifice ties with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel instead.
Economic and political considerations underpin an Egyptian foreign policy focused on its neighbors Greece, Cyprus, and Israel instead of Turkey. First, the energy deposits of the Eastern Mediterranean are shared with the three previously named counties. Israel even exports gas to Egypt which is liquefied and exported. Furthermore, Cyprus could in the coming years choose to do the same with a sub-sea pipeline connecting it with North Africa. Also, Greece's membership in the EU, an important market for Egypt, is a major consideration. Therefore, don’t expect a major overhaul of Cairo’s foreign policy any time soon.
By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com
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