Turkey and Egypt's Great Game in the Middle East

The Regional Powerhouses Square Off

Egyptians chant slogans in Tahrir square as they arrive to celebrate former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's victory in the presidential vote in Cairo, June 3, 2014. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Courtesy Reuters

The chaos in the Middle East has tested many relationships, not least the one between Egypt and Turkey. Shortly after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Turkey became one of Egypt’s chief regional supporters. When the new president, Mohammad Morsi, was himself pushed out of office in 2013, Turkey shifted course. With General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in power in Egypt, Turkey quickly became one of the country’s main adversaries in the Levant.

In August 2013, Turkey asked the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Sisi. The next year, Egypt openly lobbied against Turkish candidacy to obtain a seat at the UN Security Council. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also told Al Jazeera that his government “does not accept the [Sisi] regime that has undertaken a military coup.” He has also called Sisi an “illegitimate tyrant.”

Things between Egypt and Turkey have deteriorated still further in the wake of Egypt’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) targets in Darna, Libya on February 16. The internationally recognized Libyan government and military in Tobruk supported the move, but factions, many of them Islamist, that have taken over Tripoli under the name New General National Congress (NGNC) were strongly opposed. Turkey has loaned NGNC a measure of diplomatic support by refusing to recognize the official Libyan government. For its part, Ankara condemned the airstrikes, saying “These attacks deepen the existing problems in Libya and the atmosphere of conflict and scupper efforts to resolve the crisis by peaceful means.” The United States, meanwhile, has neither applauded nor criticized the strikes.

In the immediate term, it seems likely that the regional rivalry between Egypt and Turkey will exacerbate the Libyan civil war. Further out, it could throw the whole region in to worse chaos.


Egypt and Turkey are the two largest Muslim-majority countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. Both see themselves as regional powers, and now, as the leaders of Sunni Islam. The tensions between them date back to the

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