ANKARA: Turkey made significant efforts in 2021 to normalize relations with Armenia, Egypt, the Gulf and Israel after years of disagreements.
The big question now is whether Ankara’s efforts to melt the ice with these countries by defusing regional conflicts will continue with the same vigor in 2022.
On Thursday, Armenia announced that its embargo on goods from Turkey would be lifted on January 1 and that Yerevan-Istanbul charter flights would resume soon after decades of border closures.
Two weeks ago, Turkey appointed its former ambassador to the United States Serdar Kilic as its special envoy to conduct normalization talks with Armenia. This gesture was followed by Armenia which appointed Ruben Rubinyan – who studied in Turkey thanks to a scholarship from a Turkish NGO – as its special representative for the dialogue. Moscow will host the first meeting between the two emissaries in January.
“Turkey has recalibrated its foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the MENA region,” said Professor Michaël Tanchum, non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington and senior associate researcher in policy in the Africa program of the European Council on Relations foreign, Arab News said. According to Tanchum, Turkey has focused on Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Israel in the eastern Mediterranean.
Regarding Egypt, Turkey this year called on all media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood based in Istanbul to soften their criticism of the Egyptian government. The two countries held talks in September, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced that Ankara is considering returning ambassadors to Egypt and Israel.
During his recent meeting with representatives of the Jewish diaspora, Erdogan stressed that Turkey-Israel relations are vital for the stability and security of the region.
“The two (Egypt and Israel) have become key energy, economic and military partners of Greece and Cyprus following the deterioration of their respective relations with Turkey at the start of the previous decade,” Tanchum said. . Likewise, Ankara has been baffled by the development of Greece’s defense ties with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel under the Abrahamic Accords solidified this alignment of Middle Eastern states with Greece and Cyprus.
Tanchum believes that, for Egypt, the most immediate stumbling block – despite Ankara’s diplomatic efforts – is Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Beyond that, the two countries are increasingly rivals for influence across Africa. The fact that Egypt was not invited to Turkey’s recent African summit shows the geopolitical limits. Nonetheless, trade relations between the two nations are likely to intensify, barring a major incident. The same goes for Israeli-Turkish relations, ”he said.
Although Turkey and several regional actors have supported different parties in the Libyan conflict, Ankara is now supporting Libya’s political transition towards elections.
Turkish Airlines is also expected to restart its flights to Benghazi once technical work and security measures are completed.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently noted that Turkey does not distinguish between western and eastern Libya, and that Ankara is ready to meet both the military strongman, General Khalifa Haftar, and the Speaker of the Tobruk-based Parliament, Aquila Saleh.
Turkey’s efforts towards reconciliation with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel as part of its efforts to break through its regional isolation have intensified in recent months.
The United Arab Emirates pledged $ 10 billion to invest in Turkey following Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayed’s visit to Ankara on November 24, providing a vital boost to the Turkish economy. Turkey’s central bank is expected to sign agreements with its UAE counterpart soon, and Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE in February.
“The rapprochement between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates will likely continue, with the increase in Emirati investments in Turkish companies. The acquisition by UAE fintech firm Tpay of Turkish digital financial and mobile banking company Payguru is just one example of additional investments likely to occur in 2022, ”Tanchum said.
Meanwhile, Erdogan announced that Turkey will work to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. Foreign ministers of the two countries met in May and pledged to hold regular consultations. Experts predict more such engagements between Riyadh and Ankara in the new year.
Of all its relations that Turkey has sought to improve in 2021, Tanchum sees Armenia as the wild card.
“Due to the outcome of the Karabakh war, there is a real moment of opportunity for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation,” he said. “A grand diplomatic gesture on the part of Turkey which closes a chapter on an old historical wound could redefine the tone of Turkish foreign policy with positive spillover effects on Turkey’s relations with its neighbors in the eastern Mediterranean as well as with the European Union. ”
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, agrees that 2021 has been a year of significant changes in Turkey’s foreign policy.
“By re-establishing friendships and forging new partnerships, Ankara has shown that it realizes that it cannot stand alone and ignore everyone in regional and global politics. Therefore, he chose to renew his ties with his old rivals, ”he told Arab News.
Cagaptay expects Turkey’s next target for normalizing relations to be the United States, but given Ankara’s current power-sharing agreements with Russia in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus South, this process could be more delicate and take longer.
“Therefore, I think it’s not a full pivot (in foreign policy), but the Middle East part is at least an attempt,” he said.
Regarding Turkey’s relations with Egypt, Cagaptay notes that it has taken Turkey nearly eight years to recognize that its singular support for the Muslim Brotherhood has not borne fruit.
“No one could have predicted the speed of the Brotherhood’s fall from power. So I don’t blame Erdogan for this, but he should have been in contact with other political actors and I think that’s where the policy is poorly designed, ”he said. “This is now recognized and 2022 is a pivotal year. “