CAIRO: On Nov. 23, just hours after Egyptian authorities downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey to “charge d’affairs” and expelled Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsalı, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flashed the four-finger Rabaa al-Adawiyah sign at a political rally in Trabzon, Turkey.
Erdogan’s gesture, which, in Egypt, has come to signify pro-Muslim Brotherhood sentiments, was seen as a clear expression of solidarity with recently ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and a contemptuous display of the Turkish prime minister’s distaste for the Egypt’s military-backed interim government.
The downgrading of diplomatic relations and expulsion of the Turkish ambassador was a response by the Egyptian government to Erdogan’s comments on Thursday, Nov. 21, which praised Morsi’s behavior during his court appearance on Nov. 4 and denigrated the interim regime that is putting him on trial.
“The Turkish ambassador was expelled because there were violations against the Egyptian people. Prime Minister Erdogan infringed on the Egyptians who spoke out against Morsi on June 30,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy at a panel discussion at the American University in Cairo on Monday, Dec. 2.
In response to Egypt’s actions, Turkey symbolically expelled Egypt’s ambassador, who had already been recalled by Egyptian authorities, and similarly downgraded diplomatic relations with the Arab world’s most populous country.
“We will have good relations with the ones who act positively to us. We will be friends with those who want to be friend and open our doors. There can sometimes be quarrels but these can later be repaired,” Erdogan said in his speech at the rally in Trabazon on Nov. 23, reported Hurriyet Daily News.
The mutual downgrading of diplomatic relations and expulsion of each other’s ambassadors is of the latest in a political row that has been bubbling since the military ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi on July 3.
“This crisis is the biggest since relations between the two countries began in 1949,” Mohamed Abdel Qader, a political researcher specializing in Turkish affairs at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Cairo Post.
Prior to Morsi’s ouster, a close personal relationship developed between the two Islamist leaders, which resulted in strengthening of Egyptian-Turkish relations. Under Morsi and Erdogan, the two countries had expressed a mutual interest in building a strong bilateral partnership.
“Our history, hopes and goals bind us together to achieve the freedom and justice that all nations are struggling for,” Morsi said during a trip to Ankara in September 2012, reported the LA Times.
Following Morsi’s ouster, Prime Minister Erdogan has been one of the most outspoken critics of the “coup” that removed Egypt’s Islamist president from power and the government that replaced him. The Egyptian government, and the military that buttresses it, strongly deny such criticism, be it foreign or domestic, thus making Erdogan’s denunciations especially destructive.
“Egyptian-Turkish relations improved dramatically with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, and with the end of their rule relations sharply declined, which proves that the relations were between groups and not countries,” said Abdel Qader.
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said “our statements against the military coup in Egypt was not because we are supporting one group against another, it was because of our respect to the choice of the Egyptian people because the election in 2012 was the only free and fair election with multiple candidates in the history of Egypt and it was the Egyptian people’s choice that President [Mohamed] Morsi was elected as president.”
“If another person had been elected, Turkey’s position would have been the same as a democratic country respecting the right of choice of the people everywhere in the world and also in Turkey,” he added.
According to Abdel Qader, Turkey’s condemnation of the “coup” and the subsequent dispersals of pro-Morsi demonstrators at Rabaa al-Adaweya and elsewhere reflects an inconsistent policy toward Egypt.
“Under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), why didn’t Turkey talk about the massacres at Maspiro and Mohamed Mahmoud? Why didn’t they criticize the repression that took place at IthadeyaPalace under Morsi if they’re really human rights defenders? There is no consistency,” said Abdel Qader.
Erdogan’s staunch support his former Islamist ally and his antagonistic and destructive posture toward Egypt’s current regime is a reflection of Turkey’s recent foreign policy throughout the Middle East, said Dr. Koray Caliskan of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Turkish foreign policy is now informed purely by ideological and religious motivations, and Islamism has been the main determinant of interest articulation in Turkish politics,” Caliskan told The Cairo Post.
This is not to say the Erdogan’s appraisal of Morsi’s ouster and the military-regime that replaced him is incorrect, and his criticisms unjustified, said Caliskan.
“Morsi made many mistakes, but it was wrong to organize a coup d’état against him. He should have been punished with the ballot box,” Caliskan said.
While he disagreed with the military ouster as well as the current Egyptian regime, Caliskan reserved most of his criticism for Prime Minister Erdogan.
“Prime Minister Erdogan’s reading of Egyptian politics is not wrong, but foreign policy is something else. No matter what happened in Egypt there is a government, and you have to relate to it,” said Caliskan. “I think that our prime minister [Erdogan] should learn that international relations are international relations, not interpersonal relations,” he added.
Turkey’s long history of military coups, which many, including Caliskan, believe to have been detrimental to the country’s democratic development, could be partially fuelling Erdogan’s criticism of the Egyptian coup that ousted Morsi.
“I will never respect those who come to power through military coups,” Erdogan told reporters on Nov. 23, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
However, according to Abdel Qader, such concerns are not justifiable in the Egyptian context. “Erdogan shouldn’t project the fear of military intervention in Turkey upon Egypt. If the Turkish military had a negative role in the democratic progress in Turkey, it could be the total opposite in Egypt because the Egyptian military responded to the protesters in Jan. 25  and June 30,” he said.
At the Dec. 2 AUC Tahrir Dialogue panel discussion, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed his desire to resume fruitful relations with Turkey, but said that the relationship is not likely to improve any time soon.
Both Caliskan and Abdel Qader agreed that it is Prime Minister Erdogan, not the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who stands in the way of reconciliation.
“There won’t be any reconciliation before Erdogan loses power. He doesn’t learn from his mistakes. This is the problem. He doesn’t step back, but this is why he’s going to lose [political power],” said Caliskan. “Some people call this being proud, others call it an incapacity to learn.”
This article was originally published by The Cairo Post.