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Policy Paper: Reconsidering Turkey’s Egypt Policy

This (no so-good) policy paper was written as a requirement for POLS 328 – Theories of International Relations course offered by Asst. Professor Ismail Yaylaci, during my sophomore year at Istanbul Şehir University.

Executive Summary:

As the current ideal policy is failing to bring about any good, Turkey needs more rational and real Egypt policy that transcends the personal desires of the political elites. Primarily is the fact that Turkey is alone in the arena to champion the cause of democracy. It has taken a moral stance, which is unrealistic in international politics and is increasing the costs of Turkey. Secondly, Turkey needs an alley like Egypt who shares the same attitude against terrorism to fight against contemporary threats like ISIS. Thirdly, Turkey is dependent on Egypt for an easy trade route to Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The trade that will occur due to the virtue of Egypt will contribute to the development of military capabilities, which would then enhance Turkey’s survival capacity. Lastly, reconciliation with Egypt will allow Turkey to get rid of unwanted alliance in the region that is limiting Turkey’s ambitions as a regional hegemon. A realist policy would certainly be able to realize the national interest of Turkey; something that idealist policy has failed to do so far.


Turkey’s current liberal policy towards Egypt – despite of being morally right and overwhelmingly backed by the populace at home – is flawed and needs a total revision to maximize Turkish national interest. It is commendable that Turkey was among the first states to condemn the coup after General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. Although similar response came from several liberal democracies other than Turkey, but it was the latter who furthered this condemnation into a permanent policy against the Sisi regime. Since then Turkey has been endorsing Morsi as the legitimate ruler of Egypt and advocating the restoration of democracy in Egypt on moral grounds. However, this idealistic expedition has started threatening Turkey’s status in the region and to counter the negative effects of this idealist blunder, there is a need of reconsideration in Turkey’s Egypt policy on realist grounds.

Morality in the international Relations:

Before proceeding to the new policy proposals, it is necessary to demonstrate why Turkish moral stance on Egyptian politics is detrimental. Morality is a mirage when it comes to the international relations and taking a moral stance is too costly. The international politics is an unchecked state of anarchy in which each actor – principally the states – is selfishly trying to pursue its own interests. The only source of power in international politics is military – and the wealth that would then translate into the former. To understand better, take world as an arena full of rival states are willing to do anything to triumph over each other. Morality does not hold in this type of situation nor does any other civilized principle. Though morality, humanitarianism, democracy and other fancy notions have been included in the textbook discourse, the real politics remains aloof of these concepts. Every states possess its individual scale of morality. It is can be understood by the current policy parameters that Turkey had a noble intention but such righteousness equates suicide in the international arena. Turkish idealist policy makers have overlooked the ‘real interests’ of the state due to which Turkey is now facing undesirable costs. The current policy was derived from the globally accepted norms but idealist policy makers overlooked the fact that moral standards are bound to change according to the context, time and place.

Miscalculation of the Turkish national interest:

While endorsing Muslim Brotherhood’s government, Turkish political elites forgot that Egypt was a typical case of realpolitik in international relations. Turkey adopted an adamant stance against Sisi’s dictatorship and expected the same from other liberal democracies. It was expected to painting a liberal image of Turkey and earning enough soft power. Given the circumstances of the time, Turkey’s attitude reflected the regional and global desire of the democratization of the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring. However, Egypt was an outlier whom the West could not afford to see in the hands of Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Turkish reaction to the coup was justified but its transformation into Turkey’s Egypt policy was certainly premature. The political elites and idealist policy makers failed to recognize the distinction between the high and the low politics. They aimed at the realization of abstract goals instead of the national interest that in turn led to loss in Turkish power as new alliances have appeared to counter its regional hegemony. The current Egypt policy of Turkey has backfired as Turkey is left alone in the arena by other liberal democracies who have prioritized their national interests over the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. On the other hand, the ideal foreign policy makers miscalculated what was best for Turkey. They allowed the aspirations of political elites – who happen to be sympathizers of the Brotherhood – to cloud their judgment. They let the principles of low politics dictate the agenda in high politics. To correct their mistakes, instead of democratization of Egypt, Turkey must seek an increase in its power and strive for certain objectives – its own survival, maintaining its regional hegemony, maximizing its latent power and possibly obtaining nuclear capability – through a brand new policy. Once these objectives are achieved and Turkey overcomes the regional security dilemma, it can focus on other goals such as democratization of Egypt and the region.



Need of alliance with Egypt:

Turkey is strategically placed on the world map and it also controls vital trade routes. Historically, this blessing made it vulnerable to the invasion of the global powers and recently it has been various regional disputes and internal strives. Although it seems to be overcoming its traditional security challenges, new threats are emerging on its Eastern borders. Anarchy in Syria and the growing threat of ISIS in Iraq has brought the security and territorial integrity. These phenomena has the potential to create havoc on Turkish borders. ISIS is a regional phenomenon and it will take more than one state to overcome it. To counter this situation, Turkey must ensure its survival by increase in its power by enhancing its own military capabilities and forgoing alliances with the states who share the same attitude towards terrorism as Turkey does. Egypt being an active campaigner against the growing Muslim fundamentalism and terrorist organizations can be a suitable partner in Turkey’s war against ISIS. But under the current standoff between Turkey and Egypt, this coalition appears to be hyperbole. If Turkey continues with its current policy, it will be virtually left alone in the ring as other regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran are working on their own agenda which is in conflict with the Turkish one. Alliance with Egypt is necessary and probably inevitable. Thus, the current situation begs Turkey to prioritize its national interest and survival over the abstract principles that it is trying to hold up.

Overcoming military and economic costs:

Reconciliation with Egypt is necessary to enhance Turkish military and latent power. The pre-coup friendly relations between both states deteriorated under the current policy and resulted into enduring diplomatic confrontation on certain regional and global platforms. Not only have that as the military relations between both states worsened. Egypt has thwarted the joint naval exercises and the plans to build a common defense industry with Turkey are also taken off the table. Turkey needs to normalize its military ties with Egypt to augment its own defense industry and to sell its equipment to Egypt. Both sides have suffered adverse economic consequences of mutual opposition, Turkey being a far bigger and growing economy than Egypt is a relative loser in this mess. Egypt is threatening to suspend a free trade and a transit-trade agreement facilitating Turkish exports to the Arabian Gulf and Africa which will further intensify the financial troubles for Turkey. If Turkey wants to be the regional hegemon and to maximize its national interest, it needs wealth which can be converted into military power. Normalizing relations with Egypt is obviously a millstone in realizing this goal.

Aiming at the regional hegemony:

Turkey – under the strategic vision of Turkish political elites – has been striving to obtain the status of a regional hegemon in the past decade. Particularly in case of Syria and Palestine, Turkey has proved its regional significance. Turkey must possess unchallenged power and influence in the region to play the role of the regional hegemon. This objective remains elusive in the presence of Israel that happens to be nuclear power. Israel, however, cannot influence the countries in the region due to its antagonistic existence Turkey, on the other hand, was able to influence the regional developments – particularly during the Arab Spring. However, with the deteriorating relations with Egypt and failure to democratize Syria, Turkey’s political maneuverability in the region is diminishing. With most of the states in the region being non-democratic, Turkey’s bid for democratization is causing insecurity among the poetical elites in the region. They view Turkey’s moral intent as an intervention in local politics and they are certainly not happy with it. Turkey needs to give up on its current agenda to regain the trust of these Arab states and avoid any unwanted alliances in the region that may disrupt the regional balance of power. Meanwhile, if Turkey is able to obtain nuclear power by any means, it will emerge as a true regional hegemon with the ability to influence regional actors and even dictate them through coercive means.

Restoring the regional balance of power:

The current anti-Sisi policy has urged Egypt to approach the regional foes of Turkey and establish a new balance of power in the region. As discussed above, Turkey has played a key role in the regime change in Libya and Syria. Its growing wealth and increasing self-dependence on defense equipment has enabled Turkey to enhance its offensive capabilities, which indeed threatens the countries in the region. Though Egypt faces no immediate threat from Turkey, it has convinced the neighboring states like Greece, Cyprus and Israel to enter into an alliance against Turkey. This strategy is tacitly backed by other powers in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia which are cautious of the Turkish democratic rhetoric. Moreover, Turkish attempt to establish a counter-balance has failed. After the Egyptian coup, Turkey allied with Qatar but the current balance of power is really skewed in the favor of Egypt as all weak states in the region have rallied against Turkey – which is definitely a realist move. In addition, after Qatar has given in – due to the pressure from Saudi Arabia and other states from Gulf Cooperation Council – Turkey has been once again left alone in the arena. With all the other states taking the side of the opponent, Turkey is left with no other choice than ending the ongoing aloofness and reconsider recognizing Sisi’s regime. This situation calls for a radical policy change; otherwise, Turkey will lose the status that it has been working for since the last decade. The current situation is giving Egypt a reason to exploit Turkish vulnerable position. It is persuading the states in the region to forge new alliances to check the growing power of Turkey, which can curtail its regional ambitions. Egypt is also challenging Turkish influence in Libya. For Turkey, it is necessary to stop this development by any means at disposal. Though Turkish military in Qatar can be a deterrent for states like Saudi Arabia, it is impossible for Turkey to contain Egypt by military means, as it is extremely difficult to install bases in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa with angry Israel besides Egypt. Thus the new policy must seek alternative ways demonstrate Turkish power and that’s possible if Turkey slides Egypt to its own side by recognizing the Sisi’s government and restores the old patterns of the regional balance of power.

The probable future outcomes:

In the new Egypt policy, Turkey must give up its moral stance and focus on maximizing its national interest by carefully manoeuvring in the international arena. The current strife can end easily as both states are apparently recognizing the costs associated with the conflict. As Turkey was the instigator, so the first step must come from its side as it has more to lose than Egypt. As already mentioned morals have no place in international politics, they are mere instruments in realizing the national interests of the strong states who are willing renege on them anytime. Thus, a radical change in Turkey’s stance and joining hands with Sisi must not create any moral dilemma. A change in policy will not only normalize Turkey’s relations with Egypt but it will also enable Turkey to regain trust of the other states. It will be the manifestation of Turkey’s commitment to maintain the status quo of the region without interfering in the politics of the other states as a wise regional hegemon. The new policy will also open gates for any future regional alliance led by Turkey against Israel, if the latter challenges its position in the region. In short, new realist policy will definitely be able to counter the side effects of the old ideal one.

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