CAIRO–Turkey is beginning to have serious concerns after the United Arab Emirates joined the Cairo-based Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum as an observer.
Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Jordan established the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) as an intergovernmental organisation in a virtual ceremony hosted by Cairo in September.
France has applied to join, with the United States and European Union requesting observer status.
The UAE joining confirms the forum has become an attractive platform, on which the interests of many regional and international powers converge.
The Cairo-based forum, according to experts, aims to become a “Gulf of Gas” similar to the “Gulf of Oil” that emerged in the past decades. This means that the forum could lead to a clash of interests with countries like Turkey.
When Egypt, Greece and Cyprus sought to launch the first nucleus of arrangements for promising gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, there were estimates that this region would witness the rise of some forces and the collapse of others.
As a result, some countries rushed to create the forum that turned into an international organisation with the participation of actors from the region and beyond.
The forum countries are keen to avoid the mistakes of the “Gulf of Oil,” which has been dominated by economic estimates, leaving the door open for political and security disparities.
Countries of the Eastern Mediterranean are seeking to avoid this scenario amid growing threats against the forum which has been preparing to play a major role.
Turkey’s manoeuvres in the Eastern Mediterranean have so far prevented the country from joining the forum, and Ankara’s gunboat diplomacy has failed so far to sway the agenda or the strategies of the grouping.
Countries leading the forum have only committed to respecting international law but also developed their grouping to transform it into a leading regional hub for gas suppliers.
Egypt realised early on that the Eastern Mediterranean has a great future, and it took a set of economic, political and military actions to be at the heart of the forum, weaving a crucial network of relations with concerned countries to serve collective interests and security.
The UAE’s entry to the forum made many observers realise that there have been changing dynamics in the region, with Cairo and Abu Dhabi realising that Turkey’s threat has become too dangerous to be contained by separate moves, requiring the concerned countries to establish coordination on more than one level.
Over the past years, Ankara has benefited from a security vacuum, establishing its presence in Syria and Iraq and sending its forces to the Gulf region and Libya while seeking to increase its footprint in Asia.
Ankara, in fact, believes that its tactical understandings with both Russia and the United States could become strategic. Yet, it has not realised so far that the tide is changing with a shift in power balances.
European and American sanctions against Ankara were the first indications of what is awaiting Turkey.
Ankara’s options, observers say, are very limited. Turkey can review its moves, or press ahead with escalation, moving closer to Russia, and thus doubling the pressures it has been already risking.
Experts believe Turkey could suffer a severe blow when it comes to the issue of gas exploration, especially with Ankara escalating manoeuvres it believes would help it reap more gains.
The blow would be more severe to Turkey if it includes its ally Qatar, the exports of which depend mainly on gas. Qatar, along with Turkey, have been accused of contributing to the destruction of Syria, hoping to acquire a significant share of the gas cake in the region.
Doha is aware that gas is an emerging commodity, and the Mediterranean Forum is a global project that includes many regional and international powers.
The forum, Doha knows, is planning to emulate the OPEC oil organisation to be its gas equivalent.
Hence, Qataris, experts say, should seriously consider their position on new arrangements in the region and their relationship with Turkey that has been governed by calculations and alliances which could change at any moment.
This time, the regional arrangements are moving in a direction that confirms that they are more comprehensive and broader, leaving no room for circumstantial changes or special compromises.
The aspects of the problem are so important that they will be placed within a Mediterranean framework, and far from political squabbles between countries.
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Orabi said that the UAE’s participation in the forum supports Arab economic momentum towards Israel on the basis of common interests.
He added that the Emirati move reflects Abu Dhabi’s desire to enter into regional and international partnerships so as to counter a Turkish expansion that threatens the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Orabi also said that Abu Dhabi’s move sends an important message and shows that there is a strong bloc that will face any attempt to infringe on the rights of others in the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially in the maritime areas within the Greek and Cypriot borders.
The Egyptian minister stressed the desire of the forum’s founding countries to play an effective role in protecting the interests of all member countries.
He said Egypt and the UAE will not face Turkey’s expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean region alone, as the issue has become a core responsibility of the international community “because Ankara is practicing unprecedented political thuggery, and if there is no collective efforts to confront with crimes, Turkey will expand its influence in a way that could threaten international peace and security.”
Observers believe that Egypt has held back, through the Eastern Mediterranean Forum, aspects of Turkey’s unreserved plan, achieving a number of goals that would become visible in the near future.
The recent Emirati move is quite significant. If Ankara managed to play a role in the Arab Gulf region by using Qatar, then Abu Dhabi can now find itself a role in the Mediterranean by its move to join the regional forum.
Political sources in Cairo said Egypt is ready to function as an effective and objective counterbalance to counter Turkey, and will not be satisfied with the usual political skirmishes.
According to these sources, Egypt boasts the crucial gas card that will strengthen its position.
“Turkey has become politically isolated, and any indulgence may give it an opportunity to reposition itself in different areas in the region. Therefore, there is a need to take steps that practically support Cairo’s role in confronting Ankara,” a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.