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03/01/2023

Shukri’s visit to Syria and Türkiye

Shukri’s visit to Syria and Türkiye

It seems that Egypt is determined to move ahead with what it started months ago: Developing its relations with all its neighbors. This was reflected in the visit of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Syria and Türkiye.

Shoukry’s visit to Syria was the first by a high-ranking Egyptian diplomat to Damascus since the start of the civil war in 2011.

His visit to Türkiye was also the first for a foreign minister of Egypt in a decade, if we exclude his visit to Istanbul in 2016, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was handed over the presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit from Shoukry.

A message of solidarity

During his visits to the two countries, the Egyptian Foreign Minister confirmed that he had come to send a message of solidarity with Syria and Türkiye.

There is agreement among all observers that the visit of the Egyptian official goes beyond the humanitarian dimensions, even if the current agenda is limited to these.

Although Egypt severed its relations with Damascus under the former president, Mohamed Morsi, relations improved under the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose government, along with other countries, continued to press for Syria’s readmission to the Arab League after it was suspended in 2011.

Although Cairo and Damascus largely maintained relations during the conflict, successive Egyptian governments have been largely cautious in developing those relations to an overt level. Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk secretly visited Egypt in 2016.

The Egyptian official position on Syria has always called for a political solution, avoiding discussing the fate of Assad himself, whom many Arab leaders have long called for his departure from power.

Seize the opportunity

However, the human tragedy that the country is going through created a door for Egypt to justify taking more steps towards normalizing relations with Damascus. President Sisi made a phone call to Assad after the earthquake, in the first official contact between the two presidents. He immediately directed the transfer of urgent aid to the Syrian people.

It seems that the Egyptian position is more inclined than before to exploit the tragic situation following the earthquake to break Syria’s isolation. This is evident from Shoukry’s refusal to respond to journalists’ questions about whether Egypt would support lifting Syria’s suspension from the Arab League. This in itself is a diplomatically understandable position, but it expresses a political position of not objecting if there is an Arab consensus on this issue.

Tangible step

On the other hand, the visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister to Türkiye appears to be another step forward towards improving and developing relations with Ankara.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara were severely strained following the overthrow of former Egyptian President Morsi in 2013, following popular protests against his rule.

They began to improve in 2021, but it seems that rapprochement has slowed in light of differences over the situation in Libya.

Despite this, there have been signs of breaking the stalemate in relations between the two countries recently, especially after Sisi’s historic meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the Qatar World Cup opening last November.

The earthquake was an opportunity for rapid and remarkable rapprochement between the two countries, beginning with the urgent aid sent by the Egyptian government to help those affected, passing through a phone call between the Egyptian and Turkish presidents, and now Shoukry’s visit to Ankara.

The visit may represent, according to some sources, an alternative to a planned meeting between Sisi and Erdogan on the sidelines of the Government Summit in the UAE, which did not take place due to the absence of the Turkish president due to the earthquake.

Observers expect the visit to be a real beginning to remove all differences between the two countries, especially since the two sides overcame the most important obstacle in relations by shaking hands between the leaders of the two countries in Qatar.

In my estimation, the visit is the first tangible step in the framework of returning relations between the two countries to their normal course, and it may be the beginning of the exchange of ambassadors.

If this step takes place, the pace of discussions about the concerns of each party will accelerate.

Shortening the time

According to an Egyptian source, the rounds of discussion on these concerns over the past two years were exploratory.

The source indicated that the first objective of the visit was to provide support, but it most likely included discussions aimed at security, political and economic coordination between Egypt on the one hand and Syria and Türkiye on the other, in light of ISIS attempts to rebuild itself again.

“Egypt also seeks to help Syria to overcome its current crisis, as it suffers from sanctions, the earthquake, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the Corona pandemic”, he added.

“Cairo hopes to help Syria return to its Arab regional sphere”, he continued.

With regard to relations with Türkiye, the source said that Shoukry’s visit shortens the time to take steps towards normalizing relations in a few weeks or months instead of a year.

He expected that there would be a visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister to Egypt, which will be followed by a visit by one of the presidents of the two countries to the other.

“All official statements issued by the two countries confirm that the development of relations is moving forward in all fields”, he added.

Islam Farag
Islam Farag is an Egyptian journalist, analyst and researcher. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and has contributed dozens of press kits on regional affairs and issues. He participated in many research projects within Egyptian governmental and non-governmental institutions. He has worked in many Egyptian and Arab press institutions as a journalist and analyst. He is interested in issues of the historic relationship of the Arab world with regional and world powers. Also he is interested in power conflicts in the middle east.

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