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Egypt and Turkey: the Calm Before the Storm

June 11, 2019
Credit: Arabian Business

Egypt and Turkey have had tense, nearly eruptive relations for the past six years. They were especially tense after the ouster in July 2013 of former Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mohamed Morsi.

Given recent developments in the Mediterranean and Libya, these tensions may have been the calm before the storm.

Egypt, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood

Turkey’s Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are well known for their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and their support for the ousted president.

In an interview with Ahval, Lorenzo Vidino, the head of the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security’s Program on Extremism confirmed that the Islamists ruling Turkey in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, also known as the Ikhwan in Arabic.

In the wake of Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013, members of the Muslim Brotherhood sought refuge in Turkey, which indeed was provided by Erdogan at the time.

This influx of MB members into Turkey also came as a result of the blockade enforced by some Gulf countries and Egypt on Qatar, granted Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood back in 2017.

The result was heightened tension between Egyptian and Turkish governments, with the former accusing Turkey of providing safe harbor to terrorists.

Gas Resources in the Mediterranean

Ties between Turkey’s political elite and the Brotherhood are not the only thing wearing down the current relations of the two Middle Eastern countries, there is also a fierce competition in the Mediterranean Sea for resources – for gas, to be specific.

According to Bruegel, the Italian energy company Eni discovered the Zohr gas field off the shore of Egypt in 2015, during the largest gas discovery ever made in the Mediterranean.

The Zohr gas field has gas reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet. Another field is the nearby offshore Noor field, which could have even larger reserves than Zohr, according to The Arab Weekly.

Credit: Arabian Business

The importance of the Zohr gas field goes well beyond Egyptian borders due to its proximity to other fields off Israel and Cyprus. This could allow for development to occur in a coordinated manner, and in time, provide these economies with a competitive gas-export infrastructure.

Egypt is home to an LNG export infrastructure in Idku and Damietta. Both plants could easily allow export of gas from Egyptian, Israeli and Cypriot fields.

An eastern Mediterranean gas market would be created with the help of Egypt’s LNG infrastructure, benefiting all players involved; this would also provide an immense opportunity for Europe, where domestic production is declining, and gas-import requirements are likely to grow in the coming years.

However, problems began arising in November 2018, when Turkey started searching for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean. This move triggered tensions across the region, with the country warning it would prevent “unilateral, illegitimate and unfair” actions against its interests, according to Navytimes,

Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state and opposes the latter’s gas search, seeing it as a violation of Turkish rights to oil and gas reserves, as well as infringing upon the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s natural resources. In addition, Turkey sees its continental shelf overlapping parts of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

It is worth mentioning that Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have agreed to establish a forum for natural gas-producing nations in the eastern Mediterranean to capitalize on new gas discoveries.

That puts the countries involved and Turkey in the line of fire.


Libya is also a matter of concern in the region, with different regional powers fighting proxy wars in the unstable country. Its border with Egypt places it in Egypt’s sphere of influence, making it essential for the latter to stabilize Libya.

Libya is currently witnessing a state of war between two powers: Army General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia; and the Government of National Accord, which is backed by Turkey among others.

Credit: Reuters

Egypt would currently not allow a Brotherhood/Turkey-backed government in Tripoli, due to their recent experience with a Brotherhood government and the upheaval that followed, leading to the government’s overthrow in 2013.

Another reason lies arguably in the influx of terrorists Egypt has seen over the past few years from Libya. This may be a result of the Government of National Accord’s amicable relations with the Brotherhood or simply because of the state of anarchy Libya is currently witnessing.

Turkey is clearly not in an advantageous position in this conflict, not least because of Egypt’s superior naval power in the Mediterranean. Egypt is ranked sixth in the world, in terms of naval assets, while Turkey is 12th, according to Globalfirepower.

Another advantage for the Egyptian side is the amount of European investment injected into the gas fields discovered by Egypt and Cyprus.

Turkey should be very wary of disturbing the current situation in the Mediterranean, or of interfering in Libya, as in that case Egypt is unlikely to stand by silently. Only time will tell how this conflict will develop.

Any opinions or thoughts expressed in this article do not reflect the views of Egyptian Streets’ editorial team. To submit an opinion piece, please email [email protected]

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