Turkey-Egypt ties further sour after Morsi’s death

Some Egyptian lawyers have filed lawsuits against the Turkish ruler, accusing him of destabilising Egypt.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Islamist demonstrators attend event for Muhammad Morsi, at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, June 18. (AP)
Negative fallout. Islamist demonstrators attend event for Muhammad Morsi, at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, June 18. (AP)

CAIRO - Tensions are growing between Egypt and Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped up his criticism of Egypt following the death of ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.

Morsi died June 17 after a hearing in his trial on charges of espionage for the Palestinian movement Hamas. He fell on the floor in front of a dozen other leaders and members of his Muslim Brotherhood movement, who were being tried with him in the same case, one of many in which Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders had been implicated.

Morsi died of a heart attack, according to the Egyptian medical examiner. Nevertheless, Erdogan criticised Egyptian authorities for what he described as leading the Islamist former president to a “slow death.”

He also claimed that Egyptian prison authorities had denied Morsi, who was ousted in an army-backed popular uprising in July 2013 after only one year in power, proper medical care while he was in jail.

Describing Morsi’s death as an “assassination,” Erdogan vowed to bring the Egyptian government to the international court and raise the issue at the G20 summit in Japan June 28-29.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denounced Erdogan’s statements June 20, describing them as “irresponsible.” He said Erdogan’s comments did not deserve a response.

“Egypt is ready to counter any threats, even if they are empty and weightless,” Shoukry said.

Morsi’s death came at a time when Erdogan needed to assert his Islamist credentials among Justice and Development Party (AKP) loyalists on the eve of the Istanbul elections, Egyptian analysts said.

“He wants to escape his internal crises by feigning strength he does not possess,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University.

The June 23 mayoral election rerun in Istanbul was won by opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, dealing a heavy blow to Erdogan and the AKP.

The criticism levelled at Cairo was in line with Erdogan’s hawkish policy towards Egypt, one that has been increasing in intensity since Morsi’s 2013 ousting.

Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning party was hoping to gain regional leverage by backing Islamist movements in “Arab spring” states, such as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.

This dream was dashed after the Islamists lost one “Arab spring’” state after another.

Egyptian political thinker Ammar Ali Hassan said the AKP aimed to exert influence in Arab states after the Brotherhood rose to power.

“I know the secrets behind Erdogan’s anger, especially after the Egyptian people devastated his illusions,” Hassan wrote on Twitter June 23.

Egypt stayed relatively silent over the past seven years as Erdogan kept criticising Cairo. Shoukry’s June 23 criticism of the Turkish president bucks this trend.

Lawyer Tarek Mahmud has filed a case against Erdogan, accusing him of being a terrorism sponsor.

“Erdogan works to harm Egypt’s interests by sponsoring terrorist organisations, such as the Brotherhood,” Mahmud said.

A trial is scheduled in the case in the coastal city of Alexandria July 6. Other lawyers say they will launch legal proceedings against Erdogan in international courts.

There are also calls in Cairo for boycotting Turkish goods. They are championed by export and import associations that highlight the need for economic action against Istanbul.

Egypt and Turkey signed a free trade agreement in 2005. It came into force in 2007. With a population of more than 100 million, Egypt is an inviting market.

Trade exchange between the two states reached $5.1 billion last year, according to the Turkish-Egyptian Businessmen Association. Egyptian exports to Turkey make up less than 20% of this trade exchange, the association says.

“This means that a boycott of Turkish goods will be painful to Turkey,” said Mohamed Baraka, a member of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce. “By buying Turkish goods, Egyptians give Turkey the money it uses in harming Egypt’s interests.”