Lesser-known Turkey-Egypt tensions threaten regional stability

The growing antagonism between Turkey and Egypt has become a source of regional tension that could further destabilise the Middle East, Nicholas Saidel wrote in an article for the Wall Street Journal.

With the five-year-old Libyan conflict becoming a flashpoint between the two countries, the feud could trigger another refugee crisis in Europe, “disrupt maritime commerce in the Mediterranean and lead to a resurgence of ISIS in Libya,” the article said.

Turkey’s maritime agreement last year with Libya’s U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has challenged Egypt’s economic zone in the Mediterranean, as well as those of Greece and Cyprus, and a $6.7 billion deal to build an undersea pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

“The agreement sets out exclusive economic zones for Turkey and Libya that would hamstring further exploration by Egypt in a region rich in natural gas,” it said.

Military cooperation between Turkey and the GNA has further aggravated the already-bitter relationship between Ankara and Cairo.

Turkey’s deployment of soldiers and Syrian mercenaries, some 4,700 of them according to the Britain-based SOHR, to back the GNA has alarmed Egypt, which supports the opposing side, the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The GNA’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the entry of Turkey’s paid Islamist fighters from Syria are also points of concern for Egypt, which fears a jihadist resurgence so close to its borders. The Egyptian military is already battling an insurgency by Islamist militants affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula.

“On Jan. 12, Ali Abdel Aal, Egypt’s speaker of parliament, said Egypt ‘does not prioritise military solutions over political ones,’ but Cairo may resort to military force to thwart Turkey’s ‘invasion’ of Libya,” the article said, warning of further strain in relations for Turkey and Egypt and an emergence of a “Russo-Turkish axis” in the eastern Mediterranean.