Egypt and Turkey dismissed each other’s ambassadors and downgraded their diplomatic relations on Saturday after months of tensions over the removal of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt’s foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty said he had asked Turkish ambassador Avni Botsali to leave the country because Turkey was “attempting to influence public opinion against Egyptian interests, supported meetings of organisations that seek to create instability in the country”.
“Although they were not explicitly named, this is clearly a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood,” FRANCE 24’s Cairo correspondent Kathryn Stapley explained.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly criticized the Egyptian military for removing Morsi last July and for the violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters in which hundreds of people died in August.
The two countries had already recalled their ambassadors for consultations on that occasion, before cancelling joint naval exercises last month.
Egypt’s ambassador to Ankara had not yet returned to his post, and Turkey has now declared him “persona non grata” in retaliation for the expulsion of its own envoy.
Erdogan: “I applaud Mr Morsi”
Turkey had previously called on Egypt to release Morsi from detention. Erdogan made his latest comments on this issue during a visit to Russia on Novermber 21, saying: “I applaud Mr Morsi’s stance against the judiciary. I respect him. I have no respect to those who put him on trial.”
“Erdogan saw Morsi as an ideological brother,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Jasper Mortimer from Istanbul. The deposed Egyptian president attended a rally of Erogan’s AKP party in Turkey last year, and Morsi’s subsequent arrest was a blow to the Turkish Prime Minister’s aspirations to become a regional leader.
“Elements of the army had plotted a coup against Erdogan, so by banging the anti-coup drum, Erdogan was reminding his supporters that he could suffer the same fate one day,” said Mortimer. He said Erdogan was showing his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood to rally support in domestic politics.
On Saturday, the prime minister referred to Cairo protesters and gave their four-finger salute at a rally.
Bayram Balci, a researcher on Turkish foreign policy at CERI-Sciences Po in Paris and the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Washington, sees a link between Erdogan’s domestic position, his support for fellow Islamists in Egypt and what he calls “Turkey’s flirtation with Syrian jihadism”.
“Since the Gezi Park protest that broke out in Istanbul on May 28 and the Egyptian coup on July 3, Erdogan feels vulnerable. Election season is coming and, with no end to the war in sight and no way out for Turkey from its dead-end in Syria, Erdogan may yet again feel the temptation to continue the dangerous dance with the jihadist devil” in Syria, Balci writes.
Turkey-Egypt trade ties in jeopardy
Many Egyptians have regarded the Turkish Prime minister’s positions on their country, including suggestions in August that Israel may be behind the removal of Morsi, as a “deep affront”, Steve Cook told FRANCE 24.
The US-based Council on Foreign Relations researcher added that a deeper competition pitted the two countries against each other. “Egypt sees itself as the natural leader of the region. Even before the uprising against Mubarak, they saw Turkey’s growing influence in the region, particularly on the Palestinian issue, as essentially interfering in Egyptian affairs,” he said.
Repeated diplomatic spats between Cairo and Ankara are putting years of economic co-operation at risk.
“Trade between the two countries has boomed and Turkish companies have invested US$2 billion here, so that shows how important the bilateral ties between the two countries are,” said Stapley.
Figures from the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs show that Egypt-Turkey exchanges have more than trebled since the signature of a free trade agreement in 2005.
Yet recent tensions have been eating at the flourishing commercial relations. Bloomberg recently reported that many pro-government Egyptians boycotted Turkish holidays and soap operas, while Turkish investors now regarded Egypt as a risky destination.
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