Egypt FM to visit Syria, Turkey for first time in decade since ties with both soured

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Egypt’s top diplomat Sameh Shoukry will travel to Syria and Turkey on Monday in the first such visit by an Egyptian foreign minister since Cairo’s relations soured with both Damascus and Ankara over a decade ago.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said the visit aimed to convey “solidarity with the two countries and their brotherly peoples” after the devastating earthquake which struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.

The minister is expected to emphasize Egypt’s willingness to provide assistance and that both its government and people will always be ready to stand by its “brothers.”

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake was the deadliest in the countries’ modern history. It has racked up a death toll of over 50,000, injured tens of thousands, and left millions homeless.

Syria

Shoukry will be the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Damascus and meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the eruption of Syria’s bloody civil war in 2011 which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

Assad’s regime has been politically isolated in the region since its suspension from the Arab League over the government’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. In addition, many Arab countries severed ties with Damascus and recalled their envoys.

The country’s isolation became international when the level of brutality of the war reached new heights. Eventually, the Syrian regime was sanctioned by the US for carrying out chlorine gas attacks against civilians.

However, in present day, Assad is basking in the international limelight with the outpouring messages of support and solidarity, the pledges of assistance and the desperately needed humanitarian aid packages worth tens of millions of dollars.

Syria, already ravaged by a 12-year bloody war, was hit by a deadly natural disaster that killed approximately 6,000 people and displaced millions; yet, despite the massive scale of the calamity the war-torn country is experiencing, Assad’s government is more concerned with how best to use this disaster to make diplomatic strides in achieving legitimacy for its regime and to break out of isolation on the international stage.

Assad received a phone call from Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on February 7. It was the first official interaction between the two. And Egypt's parliament speaker Hanafi Gibali met with Assad in Damascus on Sunday as part of a delegation of senior members of parliament from regional countries.

The Syrian president has also received phone calls from leaders in the Arab world, visits from their top diplomats, and a steady stream of humanitarian aid packages flowing into the country.

Turkey

Ties between Egypt and Turkey have been strained since Egypt’s army, led by Sisi, ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in 2013.

Cairo designates the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organization. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party supported Mursi’s short-lived Egyptian government. Many Brotherhood members and their supporters have fled to Turkey since the group's activities were banned in Egypt.

The two countries also clashed over maritime jurisdiction and offshore resources, as well as differences in Libya, where they backed opposing sides in the civil war.

After trading insults and accusations for years, Ankara and Cairo started softening their public rhetoric towards one another in 2021.

Turkey was on a mission; it wanted to normalize relations and rebuild ties with regional powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In that vein, Ankara launched a charm offensive campaign to ease the tensions with those countries, and eventually relations began to thaw.

Sisi called Erdogan on February 7 to offer his sympathies over the victims of the earthquake and to offer support in terms of aid and assistance. That was their first diplomatic interaction after the reconciliation.

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