Gulen possible asylum request a bargaining card for Egypt?

Sunday 31/07/2016
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail: Egypt would consider request

CAIRO - An announcement by Egypt that it would con­sider offering political asylum to Turkish cleric and opposition figure Fethullah Gulen, who is in volun­tary exile in the United States, may increase tensions between Cairo and Ankara.
“This is a move that will inevita­bly aggravate tensions between the two countries,” said Akram Saad, a researcher at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies think-tank. “Egypt was keen to abstain from taking any escalatory measures against Turkey in the past three years but the situation seems to be changing.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said July 27th that Egypt would study the asylum request if Gulen made it.
Ankara accuses Gulen, 75, of being behind the failed July 15th putsch even though he denounced the coup in its earliest hours. Tur­key said it had submitted docu­ments proving his involvement in the coup attempt as part of its re­quest that the United States repat­riate Gulen.
Local observers said Cairo would not have stated its readiness to of­fer political asylum to Gulen if there had not been contacts with the Turkish cleric himself or US of­ficials. Foreign Ministry spokes­man Ahmed Abu Zeid, however, denied there had been contacts be­tween Cairo and Gulen.
“The Turkish politician has not requested political asylum in Egypt yet, either,” Abu Zeid said. “The government has not taken any measures in this regard.”
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told the Haberturk televi­sion channel that Ankara had intel­ligence information indicating Gu­len might be preparing to leave the United States for Egypt, Canada, Australia, Mexico or South Africa.
For Egypt this seems to be less about Gulen than about how the country Turkey antagonised al­most three years ago against the background of the ouster by the army of the Ankara-backed Islam­ist president Muhammad Morsi is turning into a thorn in the side of the Turkish regime.
Egypt has received a number of Turkish activists and opposi­tion figures, most of whom were in Egypt before the coup attempt. These people appear frequently on Egyptian television to criticise the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In this, observers say, Egypt is answering Ankara, which hosts a large number of the affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement.
Egypt was also said to have led the opposition to Turkey’s nomi­nation for a non-permanent UN Security Council seat in October 2014.
Soon after the July coup at­tempt, Egypt, which is a non-per­manent Security Council member, blocked a resolution condemning the coup over its phrasing. Egypt’s representative at a July 28th Or­ganisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia expressed reservations and asked for more time for consultation on a draft resolution proposed by Turkey to blacklist Gulen’s Hizmet move­ment.
Ankara had taken steps to im­prove its political position in the region recently. Turkey signed a reconciliation deal with Israel and sent its intelligence officials se­cretly to Damascus to mend fences with Syrian President Bashar As­sad.
Some observers say a Turkey- Egypt reconciliation could be next but the gesture considering possi­ble asylum for Gulen could hinder that.
The asylum move came after member of Parliament Emad Mah­rous requested that the govern­ment host Gulen and other Turkish opposition figures. Mahrous said Cairo should stand by the Turkish opposition.
“Gulen will likely be deported by the United States to Turkey,” Mahrous said, “but if it does this, the man will suffer repression in his country, which is why Egypt should step in and help him.”
There are suggestions that Egypt entered the Gulen fray to pressure Turkey to accelerate its rapproche­ment bid.
“The Gulen asylum gesture is one of these cards (held by Cairo), in fact,” negotiation expert Hassan Wagih said. “So far, Turkish op­position figures living here do not play any political role but whether this will continue to be the case in the future is not certain. If they do, this will be yet one more pressure card used by Cairo against Turkey, which also hosts Egyptian opposi­tion figures.”

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