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Turkey, Egypt hold first call in move towards rapprochement

Wide-ranging impact possible as Ramadan good wishes exchanged after Ankara push to improve ties
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry attends a news conference in Cairo, 27 July 2020 (Reuters)

Turkey and Egypt held phone talks on Saturday after years of strained relations between the regional neighbours following a push for improved relations by Ankara. 

Foreign ministers of the two countries exchanged good wishes for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts next week.

"Our Minister Mr Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry with the aim of reciprocally celebrating the month of Ramadan," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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Last month, Turkey said it had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wanted to improve cooperation after years of tensions following a 2013 coup in which the Egyptian army toppled Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohamed Morsi, who was close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A thaw in ties between the two countries could have repercussions around the Mediterranean. They have backed rival sides in the war in Libya and sealed conflicting maritime deals with other coastal states.

Cairo has said Ankara's actions "must show alignment with Egyptian principles" to normalise ties.

Last month, Cairo welcomed Turkey's move to demand that Istanbul-based Egyptian opposition TV channels should tone down criticism of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

A number of Egyptian exiles have raised concerns that the recent move towards rapprochement between Turkey and Egypt could impact their journalism work, specifically their freedom to express critical opinions of the Egyptian government.

A senior Turkish government official, who was briefed on the issue, told MEE on condition of anonymity that the heads of Mekameleen and Al-Sharq, two Egyptian satellite TV channels based in Istanbul, were "asked to soften their political criticisms against the Egyptian government and stop personally attacking Sisi".

The development has left many people residing in exile in Turkey apprehensive about future decisions in expressing their opinions freely.

Osama Gaweesh, the editor-in-chief of EgyptWatch, an independent advocacy and news platform, said the developments could have a significant impact on those working for opposition TV channels, and the decision to scale down criticism could potentially escalate. 

"It is hard for my colleagues at Mekameleen to tone down criticism of Sisi and the regime because the purpose of the station is to criticise and expose the regime's human rights violations and corruption," he told Middle East Eye.

"I think this is the first step that could be followed by other orders from the Turkish government who could close the TV station within months," he said.

Sisi's government has banned all political opposition and independent media, and many have fled the country during the crackdown. Some launched channels abroad, mainly in Turkey, which has become a safe haven for members of the opposition and Morsi supporters.