Egypt’s reaction to Turkish coup attempt scuttles prospects of rapprochement

Sunday 07/08/2016
A May 2015 file picture shows Turkish riot policemen blocking a street protest against the Egyptian government in the centre of Diyarbakir, Turkey.

Washington - The support Egypt’s estab­lishment displayed to­wards the July 15th Turk­ish coup attempt appears to have stymied Turkish government plans to improve ties with Cairo. Militant statements by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in exile in Turkey will also keep relations strained.
As the Turkish military coup was unfolding, Egyptian officials and state-run media could not conceal their enthusiasm. All of the estab­lishment newspapers jumped the gun and printed front-page sto­ries about the supposed success of the coup. As these newspapers hit news stands the next morning, the failure of the coup was apparent, causing a major embarrassment for the Egyptian establishment.
It is not surprising that Egypt of­ficialdom supported the coup, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a thorn in their side since Egyptian Muslim Broth­erhood leader Muhammad Morsi was ousted as president in 2013.
Erdogan’s Justice and Develop­ment Party (AKP) has been an ally of the Brotherhood and he and other AKP officials severely de­nounced then-Defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for removing Morsi from power and cracking down on the Brotherhood appa­ratus in Egypt. Erdogan called for Morsi to be restored as president and proclaimed the new Egyptian government illegitimate.
Erdogan gave sanctuary to Egyp­tian Muslim Brotherhood lead­ers and activists who escaped the Egyptian regime’s dragnet and al­lowed them to establish media out­lets in Turkey that have been used to denigrate the Sisi government.
Sisi and his supporters thus were only too happy to see Erdogan lose his grip on power when elements of the Turkish military tried to take control of the country on July 15th. They undoubtedly hoped he would be replaced, the AKP outlawed and the Egyptian Muslim Brothers lose their sanctuary in Turkey.
On his Facebook page, Sisi wrote that the coup attempt “against Er­dogan resulted from his failed poli­cies in the region”. He added that the Turkish president is “responsi­ble for civil war in Turkey and the instability and insecurity in the re­gion” and “provides financial and military aid to terrorist groups”.
Sisi also said the Turkish military “is the only guardian and protector of the main principles of the Turk­ish state and cannot remain silent against his wrong policies when he made Turkey the largest exporter of terrorism”.
After the coup failed, Sisi re­moved this passage.
The attempted coup and its after­math have set back recent Turkish plans to re-engage with countries in the region. Turkish officials were putting out feelers right before the coup attempt to improve relations with Syria, Jordan and even Egypt. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nu­man Kurtulmus suggested that re­lations with Egypt could improve if Cairo did not carry out the death sentence against Morsi.
The post-coup attempt period, however, has seen the reverse, at least with Egypt. According to sev­eral reports, Egypt used its tempo­rary seat on the UN Security Council to block a resolution condemning the Turkish coup attempt. The res­olution, which was backed by the United States, included wording calling on “all parties in Turkey to respect the democratically elected government of Turkey”.
Egyptian diplomats argued that the Security Council is in “no po­sition… to label that government — or any government for that mat­ter — as democratically elected or not”. This statement underscored the dim view Egypt has towards Erdogan and his AKP government.
After the dust settled, Erdogan got into the fray. In an interview with Al Jazeera he said the Egyp­tian people “yearn for democracy” and that Sisi “has no relationship with democracy and has killed thousands of his people”.
In response, the Egyptian For­eign Ministry issued a statement that Erdogan was “confused” about the “difference between popular revolution with more than 30 million people demanding change from the military [referring to what happened in Egypt in mid- 2013] and the accepted meaning of a coup”.
Exacerbating the situation were the statements by some Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood activists in Turkey and elsewhere. Badr Mo­hamed Badr wrote that he hoped to see the bodies of those involved in the Turkish coup attempt “hanging in the biggest public squares” and “God willing, this will happen with the military gang in Egypt”. An­other Brotherhood activist wrote that he “lives for the day” when he can see the Egyptian Defence min­ister’s “brain on asphalt”.
Egyptian officials undoubtedly believed such inflammatory state­ments were encouraged by Erdog­an and his party.
Whatever chances there were for an easing of tensions between Cairo and Ankara have disappeared for the time being and even coun­tries such as Saudi Arabia that have good relations with both Egypt and Turkey are unlikely to play a medi­atory role given this war of words.