Arabian Gulf

Qatar World Cup brings el-Sisi, Erdogan together in historic handshake

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi shook hands on Sunday for the first time on the sidelines of the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, according to the Turkish presidency. This direct communication comes after nearly ten years of disunion and hostility.

It also comes as Turkey seeks reconciliation with Egypt following historic reconciliation with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel after years of tension.

Turkish-Egyptian relations have been strained over the past years due to Turkey’s position on the overthrow of the Egyptian army in 2013 under the leadership of el-Sisi at that time before he ran and won the presidency in 2014 under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turkish President was one of the fiercest critics of the Egyptian regime and only missed an opportunity to attack him severely. He described the regime as “coup and dictatorial”, while at the same time offering only a fourth sign that Muslim Brotherhood supporters were forcibly breaking up their sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa Square. Hundreds were killed after gunmen from among the protesters shot at the security forces, and the latter responded in kind.

A Turkish presidential official confirmed Sunday evening that the two presidents had “first bilateral contact” during the tournament’s opening ceremony.

The two presidents, whose relations have been frosty since el-Sisi became president of Egypt, were seen smiling in their hands on the official website of the Turkish presidency.

Among other photos, the photo shows smiles exchanged between Erdogan and heads of state and government who came to Qatar to attend the World Cup opening.

Erdogan had previously commented on the death of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in June 2019 in a courtroom during his trial, saying “history will never show mercy to the tyrants who brought him to death by putting him in prison and threatening to execute him.”

A few months earlier, nine prisoners sentenced to death in Egypt had confirmed that he refused to talk to “someone like him,” a reference to el-Sisi.

Erdogan was not missing an opportunity to show his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, while his country is the largest supporter of the international organization and hosts on its soil many leaders of the Egyptian organization, which is classified as a terrorist organization in Egypt and Gulf countries.

Since last year, Turkey has shown a strong desire to correct the course of relations with regional rivals Egypt, Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in an opening move to ease tensions and avoid regional isolation, driven by a crisis economic situation with successive collapses of the national currency, the lira, and a record rise in inflation.

Recently, Erdogan made positive gestures towards normalizing relations with Syria and expressed his willingness to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to reconcile with Egypt after Turkey’s general election in June 2023.

Upon his return from the G20 summit in Indonesia, Erdogan hinted during an interview with Turkish journalists last week that he was willing to review his relations with Syria and Egypt.

“We can reconsider relations with countries with which we have had difficulties. We can even start from scratch, especially after the June elections,” the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. He announced that he would be a candidate in the presidential election.

The Egyptian side did not comment on Erdogan’s statements, while diplomatic contacts between the two sides came to a halt due to disagreements over Libya, especially after Turkey signed security and military agreements with the outgoing government of national unity led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, including the demarcation of the maritime border and allowing Ankara to drill for oil and gas in Libyan waters.

Both Cairo and Athens considered the agreements illegal, considering that the Libyan party, that is, the unity government, is “illegitimate.”

The host country of the World Cup is likely to have played a role in arranging the first handshake between el-Sisi and Erdogan, investing in the World Cup to show its ability to resolve crises and bridge regional differences.

The historic handshake between Erdogan and el-Sisi cannot be viewed in isolation from efforts led by Ankara’s ally, Doha, apart from the media hype to give a boost to Egyptian-Turkish relations.

But the Muslim Brotherhood’s case and Turkey’s expansionist activities in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean remain a dilemma for reconciliation efforts between the two countries.

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