Egypt steps up support for Syrian Kurds, increases political pressure on Turkey
CAIRO - Egypt is stepping up political and diplomatic support for Syria’s Kurds in the face of the Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held areas in north-eastern Syria.
“Resisting this Turkish aggression is a legitimate right,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said during a meeting October 12 in Cairo with a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The meeting took place just before an emergency session of foreign ministers at the Arab League during which the Arab countries issued official condemnation of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring.
Arab countries, except for Turkish allies Qatar, Somalia and the western Libya government, signalled intentions to ramp up pressure on Istanbul through curtailing economic cooperation, boycotting Turkey as a tourist destination and downgrading diplomatic representation.
Relations between Egypt and Turkey have deteriorated since an army-backed uprising in Egypt against Islamist President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was supported by Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken against Egyptian policies on numerous occasions, including lashing out at Cairo’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey is a major refuge for figures, including some accused of criminal offences, sought by Egyptian officials. It is also involved in the Brotherhood’s media and propaganda machine, which works against Egypt.
Istanbul has been trying to destabilise Egypt by increasing tension in Egypt’s neighbours, including Libya where Ankara backs the western Libya government that depends on Islamist militias to control Tripoli.
Turkey acts as a factor of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean where it explores for resources in Cyprus’s territorial waters, setting up a naval confrontation with Greece and political confrontation with Europe.
The emergency Arab League meeting convened at Egypt’s request. Cairo also tried to raise the issue of the Turkish invasion in meetings with European and US officials. However, this is less about settling scores with Istanbul than about Syria’s territorial integrity, which Egypt has been calling for preserving, analysts said.
“Egypt is totally against regional powers imposing their own agendas on Syria at a time this Arab state suffers many weaknesses,” said Mohamed Abdel Qadir, a Turkish affairs specialist at Egyptian think-tank Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The Turkish occupation of parts of Syria threatens the country’s territorial integrity and seeks to change demographic realities in it.”
Shoukry said almost the same thing October 16 during a meeting with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius in Vilnius, saying Turkish “aggression” in north-eastern Syria would have negative effects on the political process in the country and the humanitarian situation in it.
Egypt, which fights a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinai, is also concerned that the Turkish incursion would allow an ISIS revival after the escape of thousands of ISIS members from Kurdish prisons and camps.
Those following the meeting between Shoukry and the Syrian Democratic Council delegation said Egypt would try to play a role in bringing the Kurds and the Syrian regime together, using the good contacts Egypt has with almost all players on the Syrian stage.
The Kurds have given way to the Syrian Army to fill in the positions they left in northern Syria.
Egypt is a late arrival on the Syrian scene, having had its own problems to deal with in recent years, Kurdish analysts said. However, control by Syrian troops of northern Syria and the border with Turkey would take the steam out of the Turkish operation in north-eastern Syria, they added.
“Erdogan primarily aims to kick the Kurds out of northern Syria and replace them with Syrian refugees in Turkey,” said Kurdish writer Hosheng Osi. “This is a crime but all indicators show that this plan will fail because of Kurdish resistance and also because of growing international pressure.”