Turkey, Egypt to benefit from cooperation on East Med, experts say

Turkey and Egypt have numerous fields for potential cooperation including in maritime zones, economy and security, Cihat Yaycı, former Turkish navy rear admiral and head of the Maritime and Global Strategies Center at Bahçeşehir University, said Friday.

“Egypt can gain larger maritime zones if it signs a delimitation agreement with Turkey in line with international law principles,” Yaycı told Anadolu Agency (AA).

“Turkey and Egypt, with good relations and cooperation, will be influential powers in the Eastern Mediterranean and the global energy market,” he added, saying that Egypt’s announcement of holding a tender for hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean by recognizing the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) demarcated by Turkey is a positive sign.

He explained that the agreement struck between Egypt and the Greek Cypriot administration in 2003 did not comply with the principle of proportionality of international law as Cairo has a larger shoreline.

“If Egypt chooses to strike a delimitation agreement with Turkey rather than with the Greek Cypriot administration, it will gain 11,500-kilometer squares (3,352 square nautical miles) more – that means more than the survey area of the island of Cyprus,” he added.

Maritime zones give states rights over natural resources. Largely unexplored, the East Mediterranean is thought to be rich in natural gas.

“Turkey and Egypt’s rights and interests are common. An agreement between Egypt and Turkey, which have the longest shoreline in the Eastern Mediterranean, is important and necessary,” Yaycı said, adding that thereby both countries will gain the maritime zones they deserve and will have energy resources.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last month that Turkey may negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement with Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean, depending on the condition of bilateral ties.

“We see Egypt respecting Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) deal with Greece as a positive step,” Turkey’s top diplomat said.

In November 2019, Turkey and Libya signed a maritime delimitation deal that provided a legal framework to prevent any fait accompli by regional states. Accordingly, the attempts by the Greek government to appropriate huge parts of Libya’s continental shelf, when a political crisis hit the North African country in 2011, were averted.

The agreement also confirmed that Turkey and Libya are maritime neighbors. The delimitation starts from Fethiye-Marmaris-Kaş on Turkey’s southwestern coast and extends to the Derna-Tobruk-Bordia coastline of Libya.

In response, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement in August 2020, designating an EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries.

The relations between Turkey and Egypt deteriorated after Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi toppled the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in a coup after only a year in office.

Ankara has maintained its position that a democratically elected president cannot be deposed by a military coup and thus, has voiced its criticism of el-Sissi and his backers, including the West and some of Ankara’s rivals in the Gulf region.

The Egyptian government, on the other hand, urged Turkey not to intervene in an issue that it considers as the country’s internal affairs. The dispute led to a deadlock in bilateral relations for many years.

Recently, however, signs of a possible reconciliation have come from both countries, particularly due to the changing dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkey-Greece crisis over the region’s energy resources.

Çavuşoğlu on Thursday said a Turkish delegation would visit Egypt next month, in the first step toward normalization of ties between the two countries.

Noting that he spoke with his Egyptian counterpart in a phone call, in which they both extended Ramadan greetings, Çavuşoğlu said the conditions are ripe for both sides to hold talks after eight years.

“Egypt is an important country for the Muslim world, Africa, Palestine and everyone. The stability and prosperity of Egypt are important for everyone,” Çavuşoğlu said.

‘Cairo switching alliances may change region’

Muhammad Soliman al-Zawawy, a lecturer at Sakarya University’s Middle East Institute (ORMER), told AA that a possible Ankara-Cairo alliance would open new doors for the two countries.

He said thereby Turkish companies would be able to join tenders for hydrocarbon searches in Egyptian waters and thus both countries would find more advantageous deals than unfair contracts made with Western companies.

The Eastern Mediterranean basin is estimated to contain natural gas worth $700 billion (TL 5 trillion), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Egypt has a gigantic offshore field, Zohr, discovered in August 2015 by Italy’s ENI. The field could hold reserves of over 850 billion cubic meters (30 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas.

“Cairo changing its alliances that it built in the past decade, may change the whole equation of the region.”

Al-Zawawy said an agreement between Turkey and Egypt would also complicate the EastMed pipeline project, which violates the maritime borders of Ankara, Cairo and Tripoli.

To transport the region’s gas to the rest of Europe, and help meet its aim of reducing energy dependence on Russia, the Greek Cypriot administration, Greece and Israel struck an agreement in December 2018 to build a gas pipeline, called EastMed. Egypt is not part of the project.

This 1367-mile pipeline is set to pass 106 miles south of Cyprus and end in Otranto, in southern Italy after crossing the Greek island of Crete and mainland Greece.

The cost of its construction is estimated at $7 billion and it should be able to transport 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.

However, building the pipeline is still several years away and it would not be operational until 2025 at the earliest while Turkey and Libya’s deal further complicates the project.