Rival powers Turkey and Egypt try to mend ties after long rift

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of floating bridges and tunnel projects executed under the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) - Turkey and Egypt will try to improve strained ties at talks starting in Cairo on Wednesday after an eight-year rift which led them to back rival factions in Libya's war and put them at odds in a dispute over east Mediterranean waters.

Relations between the regional powers have been tense since Egypt's army toppled a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president close to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in 2013.

Both countries expelled ambassadors and Erdogan described Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as a tyrant.

Turkey sees mending ties as part of an effort to build bridges with U.S.-allied Arab states after years of political rivalry and military interventions which showed Turkey's clout but frayed its alliances in the Arab world.

The consultations on Wednesday and Thursday will be headed by deputy foreign ministers and are the first at that level since 2013, Turkish officials said. They will cover trade, energy cooperation and maritime jurisdiction in the east Mediterranean, a senior Turkish official said.

"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," a joint statement said.

Mutual trade is worth close to $5 billion a year despite the political rift.

"Turkey and Egypt are the region's powerful countries, and there are many areas where they can act together and cooperate," said a senior Turkish official.

Two Egyptian security sources said Egyptian officials would listen to Turkish proposals for restoring relations but would consult Egypt's leadership before agreeing to anything.

The two countries' foreign ministers have already spoken by phone and Ankara says intelligence chiefs have also been in contact.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said last week that rapprochement could help end the war in Libya, where Turkish troops assisted the Tripoli-based government in repelling an attack from eastern forces backed by Egypt and Russia.


Egypt, which has so far responded cautiously to the Turkish overtures, was angered by Turkey's decision to offer haven to Egyptian opposition figures including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Egypt after Sisi took office.

Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has supported Arab parties and politicians linked to the Brotherhood, putting him at odds not just with Egypt but also the Gulf Arab powers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In a gesture to Cairo two months ago, Turkey asked Egyptian opposition television channels operating on its territory to moderate criticism of Sisi's government.

The Turkish official said Ankara did not want the broadcasts to cause problems. Brotherhood members in Turkey had not been asked to leave, he said, but "of course it is not desired that harm is done to the positive developments."

Prominent Brotherhood figure Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar said Egyptian opposition groups in Turkey, which include liberals as well as Islamists, had been told Turkey's push for better relations would not be at their expense.

"We...heard from Turkish authorities that they will not ask anyone to leave Turkey - from the Muslim Brotherhood or other groups," he said.

Turkey also says the two countries have agreed in principle not to oppose each other at international platforms including NATO, where Turkey's membership allowed it to veto Egypt's participation in some alliance partnerships.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun, Dominic Evans, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Aidan Lewis, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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