News Analysis: Egypt-Cyprus approach raises Turkey's economic concerns: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2018-02-12 18:14:51|Editor: Liangyu
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by Mahmoud Fouly, Abdel-Maguid Kamal

CAIRO, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing approach, coordination and closeness between Egypt and Cyprus and the maritime demarcation deal between the two countries have been raising Turkey's concerns over the past few years, amid Ankara's tense relations with both Cairo and Nicosia, said Egyptian political experts.

Turkey has recently declared its rejection of a 2013 maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Cyprus that allows exploration for gas in the area. Turkey's position has been slammed by Cairo as infringement of Egypt's economic rights in its eastern Mediterranean's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that his country considers the maritime border demarcation agreement "null and void," adding that it "violates Turkey's continental shelf." Turkey claims part of Cyprus' EEZ as its own continental shelf.

Cavusoglu continued that no foreign country, company or vessel may conduct any unauthorized hydrocarbon or scientific research activity on Turkey's continental shelf.

"Turkey and Cyprus have historical territorial disagreement and Ankara's rejection of Egypt-Cyprus maritime demarcation deal indicates Turkish plans for gas exploration in the Mediterranean," said Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University.

On the other hand, Egypt's ties with Turkey deteriorated following the military ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 in response to mass protests against his one-year rule and his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly rejected the military removal of Morsi in July 2013, led by then-army-chief and current Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Sisi accuses Turkey, besides Qatar, of supporting terrorism and interfering in Egypt's domestic affairs by hosting fleeing blacklisted Brotherhood members.

"Turkey is at odd with Cyprus and Greece, while Cairo has key agreements with Nicosia and Athens, which causes a lot of concerns to Ankara," Fahmy told Xinhua.

Egypt has recently celebrated the early production of its Zohr gas field, the largest in the Mediterranean Sea, which was discovered by Italy's oil giant Eni in August 2015.

"Zohr gas field surely raised Turkey's greed as well as concern over possible expansion of Cairo's influence in the east Mediterranean region that Ankara sees as a threat to its interests," said the political science professor.

Cyprus has remained divided since 1974. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared in November 1983 but it was only recognized by Turkey.

Egypt and Cyprus, in addition to Greece, signed several cooperation agreements over the past few years, including an agreement in November 2017 to cooperate in surveillance of the east Mediterranean region to prevent arms and people trafficking as well as terrorism.

The presidents of Cyprus and Egypt also discussed an agreement to build a gas pipeline from a Cypriot natural gas field to Egypt.

On Sunday, Cypriot ambassador to Cairo Khris Moritissis told Egyptian lawmakers that Turkey does not have the power to direct any threats to the interests of Cyprus and Egypt in the east Mediterranean.

"Turkey's rejection of Egypt-Cyprus maritime demarcation agreement complies with the Turkish hostile attitudes towards Egypt at both the economic and political levels," said Mohamed Megahed al-Zayyat, security expert and adviser to the Cairo-based National Center for Middle East Studies.

The expert said that Turkey is aware that the Egyptian-Cypriot agreement has been approved by the United Nations and that Ankara's denial of the deal is illegal. "The Turks understand this very well."

"I believe there is no conflict or overlap between the Egyptian and the Turkish EEZ in the east Mediterranean," Zayyat told Xinhua.

He said that the appearance of Egypt's Zohr field as the largest in the Mediterranean lured not only Turkey but all east Mediterranean states to carry out further exploration for gas and led to international and regional race in the region.

Zayyat illustrated that there is a disagreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians over gas-rich areas on Gaza Strip's offshore, besides similar Israeli-Lebanese and Syrian-Turkish disagreements.

"East Mediterranean states cannot explore for gas outside their EEZs according to international laws," the expert continued, stressing the ability of the Egyptian naval forces to protect the country's gas fields in case of any violation.

"Generally, I believe that the prickly relations between Ankara and Cairo do not require further tension," Zayyat told Xinhua.