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Egypt and Turkey usher in a new ‘beginning’

A day after the Egyptian president shook hands with his Turkish counterpart for the first time in Qatar, the presidency in Cairo on Monday heralded a new “beginning” in ties with Ankara.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan “confirmed the depth of historical ties between the two countries” during their brief encounter in Doha, spokesman Bassam Radi said in a statement, signalling Egypt is finally ready to bridge their nine-year rift.

Erdogan shook hands with Sisi on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar on Sunday, a photo from Turkey’s presidency showed.

Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency said Erdogan briefly met, shook hands and talked to Sisi and other leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

There was no immediate comment from Egypt’s presidency.

Bumpy relationship

Ankara’s ties with Cairo have been strained since Sisi, then Egypt’s army chief, led the 2013 ouster of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was strongly supported by Erdogan.

Turkey has for years served as a refuge for Islamist opposition activists, further stoking tensions between the two regional powers.

Long-standing disagreements over the countries’ opposing roles in war-scarred Libya also impeded moves towards a full rapprochement, until now.

The two countries started consultations between senior foreign ministry officials last year – their first talk in eight years – amid a push by Turkey to ease tensions with Egypt, the UAE, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian officials had expressed caution over any rapprochement, although Erdogan said in July there was no reason high-level talks should not take place.

Efforts on both sides

In an effort to improve relations, Erdogan’s government demanded that popular Egyptian exiled talk show hosts tone down their criticism of Egypt’s leader, in an apparent attempt to appease Cairo.

And earlier this month — as authorities in Egypt cracked down on activists amid a call for protests during the COP27 climate summit — Turkish security forces briefly detained an exiled Egyptian dissident, according to rights groups.

Yet while diplomatic relations between Cairo and Ankara have often been thorny, economic exchange has continued unabated, with the volume of trade nearly tripling between 2007 and 2020, according to the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

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