Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, founder of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), has consistently opposed Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi's July 3, 2013 ouster by Defense Minister 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, branding it a military coup. Erdogan identifies with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement and, in contrast to many leaders of Arab countries who backed Mursi's removal, supports the MB's call to restore Mursi to the presidency, and its argument that his removal came as part of a military coup against a democratically and legitimately elected government.
In his criticism of supporters of Mursi's ouster, Erdogan did not spare Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, saying that history would curse religious scholars like him.
With the opening of Mursi's trial on November 4, the Erdogan government again voiced criticism of Egypt's regime and called for Mursi's release. Additionally, Turkey's ambassador to Cairo denied Arab media reports that following Mursi's ouster Turkey had hosted meetings of the MB's global organization.
Erdogan's position against Mursi's ouster generated a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Egypt that led Egypt, in November 2013, to downgrade its relations with Turkey, declare the Turkish ambassador persona non grata and expel him, and refuse to return its ambassador, whom it had recalled in August. Prior to this, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry had canceled joint Egypt-Turkey military maneuvers and scrubbed an agreement to import Turkish cotton. Additionally, Egyptian security forces shut down the Turkish news agency's Cairo office. A public campaign to boycott Turkish products and Turkish television productions was launched in Egypt, and an attorney even filed a lawsuit against Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy demanding that relations between the two countries be severed.
Ergodan was attacked in numerous articles in the Egyptian press; they called him narrow-minded and hypocritical, and depicted him as a leader who strove to be considered moderate and cultured but whose support for the Egyptian MB revealed his ugly face, his support for terrorism, and his hatred of democracy and freedom. They also said that his position on Mursi's ouster was because it signified the fall of the MB regime in Egypt and thus marked the collapse of his dream of reviving the Islamic caliphate – and also because he feared that he would suffer a similar fate.
The deterioration in Egypt-Turkey relations also impacted relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which was the first country to grant Al-Sisi diplomatic and economic support once he had removed the MB from power. This found expression in Saudi press articles, published in both Saudi Arabia and London, which claimed that Erdogan's position towards Egypt was illogical and derived from his apprehension that his rule is unstable and his fear that the MB's plans for the entire region would collapse together with his dream to reestablish an Islamic caliphate. However, on the official and diplomatic level, no change was discernible in Saudi-Turkish relations.
It should be noted that Erdogan's views on Mursi's ouster are not shared by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who seeks to maintain normal Turkey-Egypt relations, and are opposed by Turkish opposition elements.
This report discusses the Turkey-Egypt diplomatic crisis and public and press reactions in Egypt to Erdogan's opposition to Mursi's ouster.
Erdogan: Mursi Is Egypt's Legitimate President; His Deposers Betray The Islamic World
Since Mursi's removal, Erdogan has on numerous occasions expressed his anger over it, and has termed it a military coup. He has said on more than one occasion that he considers Mursi Egypt's legitimate president and that his position on this stems from his great respect for the Egyptian people, which elected Mursi by a majority of 52% in free and fair elections. Free elections, he said, are the only way to decide whether a ruler or a government will remain in power, and where such an election has been held, no one person is entitled to infringe on the will of all the others by removing the elected individual. Erdogan added that the forces behind Mursi's ouster in Egypt sought to do the same in Turkey with the June 2013 demonstrations at Istanbul's Taksim Square, but they were unsuccessful. On another occasion, he said: "If we remain silent over the coup in Egypt, we will have no right to say a word if in the future the same trap is set for us."
Calling Mursi's ouster a catastrophe, he wondered how the West could remain silent in the face of the violation of the democratic principles that it claimed to venerate. He also criticized the Arab countries' support for Mursi's ouster, saying: "The Islamic world is like the brothers of the Prophet Joseph, who threw him into the pit; as in the story of Joseph, Allah will disgrace those who betrayed the Islamic world and their brothers and sisters in Egypt."
In late August 2013, Erdogan harshly criticized the Egyptian army and Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, saying that both the army and Al-Azhar institutions had overstepped their role with their participation in a coup against a legitimate president. On another occasion, Erdogan argued that Israel was responsible for Mursi's ouster. On November 3, 2013, the day before Mursi's trial began, Erdogan said at a meeting of his party that "the Raba'a Al-'Adawiyya sign [depicted below] has become a global emblem of condemnation of oppression, persecution and massacres."
Erdogan flashes Rabaa Al-'Adawiyya sign (source: Al-Watan, Egypt, August 28, 2013)
On November 21, 2013, as he departed for Russia, Erdogan said that he respects Mursi and admires his opposition to his trial, and added that he has no respect for his prosecutors. This was the last straw for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, which promptly decided to downgrade relations with Turkey.
The Egypt-Turkey Diplomatic Crisis
Turkey-Egypt diplomatic relations deteriorated significantly due to Erdogan's position on Egypt's current regime, to the point where they were downgraded.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry first summoned Turkish Ambassador Huseyin Botsali in late July, and clarified to him that Turkey's statements regarding Egypt deviated from diplomatic norms and constituted flagrant interference in Egyptian affairs.
On August 16, 2013, Turkey recalled its ambassador, and at the same time Egypt recalled its own. Egyptian Ambassador 'Abd Al-Rahman Salah Al-Din said that his return to Turkey would be contingent upon the results of his country's reevaluation of its relations with Turkey, and that Turkey's position on Egyptian affairs is more than interference in them but constitutes incitement of other countries against Egypt. Salah Al-Din added: "Most unfortunately, the Turkish government is biased towards the MB, even though its relations with most of Egypt's parties and political and social forces were good."
In early September 2013, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced that although the Turkish ambassador had returned to Cairo, Egypt's ambassador to Turkey would return to Ankara only after Turkish interference in Egyptian affairs had ceased. Similarly, on October 7, Egyptian President 'Adly Mansour told the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Egyptian ambassador "will not return to Turkey at this time, and will not [do so] until after the Turkish government acts with responsibility [befitting] the historic relations between the two peoples and the fraternal countries."
In late October 2013, it appeared that the Turkish government was softening its tone towards Egypt, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said while on a visit to Kuwait that because Turkey wanted Egypt to be strong so that it could guarantee security and stability in the region, it would support any president elected by the Egyptian people, rather than specific groups or individuals. He clarified that Turkey's previous criticism of Egypt had stemmed not from disrespect but from its concern for Egypt. In response, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr 'Abd Al-'Attey called these statements mere words, not a formal expression of a position, and added that unresolved problems with the Turks remained due to Erdogan's statements against the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the June 30 revolution – and that these statements called for an apology. Al-'Attey added that for this reason, the Egyptian ambassador would not at this point be returning to Ankara.
The Turkish government's statements on the occasion of the start of Mursi's trial showed that there was actually no softening in the Turks' tone vis-à-vis Egypt. In addition to Erdogan's remark that Rabaa Al-'Adawiyya emblem symbolized the fight against oppression, Turkey's Foreign Ministry called, in an announcement, for the release of all political prisoners in Egypt, including Mursi, stating: "Turkey has always stood by the principle of legitimacy" – that is, it stood by the Mursi government.
In response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called Erdogan's comments "part of a series of pronouncements and declarations by senior Turkish officials who insisted on distorting the facts in Egypt and challenging the will of the Egyptian people," and added that the Turkish Foreign Ministry's announcement "was a [further] expression of this and constituted unacceptable interference in Egypt's internal affairs."
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On November 12, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador for a rebuke, protesting statements by senior Turkish officials that it called "unacceptable interference in Egyptian affairs"; on November 23, it summoned him again and demanded that he leave the country as "persona non grata." The ministry stated in an announcement: "The Egyptian Arab Republic's government has followed with revulsion the Turkish PM's most recent statements on Egypt's internal affairs, made the day before yesterday [November 21] shortly before he left Moscow. [These statements] constitute a further link in the chain of his [expressions of] positions and statements that reflect an unacceptable insistence on challenging the will of the honorable Egyptian people and mocking its legitimate choices, and constitute interference in the state's internal affairs. Furthermore, they include lies and distortions of fact..."
The announcement continued: "Egypt, out of its great esteem for the historic relations between it and the friendly Turkish people, has repeatedly attempted to give the Turkish leadership an opportunity to act wisely and to place the supreme interests of the two countries and the two peoples above narrow partisan and ideological interests. But [despite this,] this leadership has gone too far in its unacceptable and unjustified positions – by attempting to incite the international community against Egyptian interests, by supporting meetings of organizations seeking to undermine stability in [Egypt – a reference to the abovementioned meetings of the international MB hosted by Turkey which Turkey claims did not take place]; and [by making] statements that at the very least constitute an insult to the popular will that was realized on June 30."
It added that "in light of the Turkish leadership's continuation of this unacceptable behavior," the Egyptian government had decided to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Turkey from the level of ambassador to the level of chargé d'affaire; to permanently transfer Egypt's ambassador to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's general offices in Cairo (i.e. not to return him to Ankara); and to declare the Turkish ambassador persona non grata and demand his immediate departure from Egypt. It also clarified: "The Egyptian people and government esteem the Turkish people and blame the Turkish government for the current state of the relations between the countries and for its repercussions..."
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that relations with Turkey would not be completely severed and that diplomatic and economic relations would continue, because the true measure [of the relations between the countries] was Egypt's relationship with the Turkish people, which opposes Erdogan's position.
Responding to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's announcement, Erdogan again flashed the Rabaa Al-'Adawiyya sign, as he participated in a November 24 conference in the northern Turkish city of Trebizon. He said: "We always respect, and will continue to respect, those who honor the will of peoples. The position taken against our ambassador has led to a parallel measure on our part; we have instructed their ambassador to leave Turkey by November 29, 2013." The Turkish Foreign Ministry also declared the Egyptian ambassador persona non grata and downgraded its relations with Egypt to that of chargé d'affaire, stating: "This situation grieves us, but the historical responsibility for it is borne by the provisional Egyptian government that took power in the July 3 coup..."
At the same time, the deteriorating relations between the two countries found expression in other areas: In August, around the time when the ambassadors were recalled, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced the cancellation of the annual December joint naval maneuvers with Turkey. Also in late August, the Egyptian Agriculture Ministry banned importing cotton from Turkey as well as agricultural cooperation with it. Senior ministry official Ahmad Rifaat said that the Egyptian economy would not be harmed by this measure, which, he said, was taken due to Turkey's interference in Egypt's internal affairs and due to reports of Turkish support for terrorist operations in Egypt. The following week, it was reported that Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of the official Turkish news agency Anadolu and shut them down.
Displays Of Popular Egyptian Anti-Turkey Protest
Egyptian anger against Turkey was noticeable on the popular level as well. For example, Egyptian attorney Lutfi Gayyid Ibrahim filed a lawsuit demanding that Egypt sever diplomatic relations with Turkey and recall its ambassador from Ankara, to protest Erdogan's interference in Egypt's affairs. Additionally, throughout August, demonstrations were held outside the Turkish consul's residence in Port Said; protestors called on the Turkish government to respect the will of the Egyptian people and delivered a letter of protest to the consul condemning Erdogan's position and supporting the roadmap of Egyptian Defense Minister 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. The letter stated: "We are saddened that the Turkish prime minister is biased towards an Egyptian faction whose failure in running the country is proven." Demonstrations were also held on November 16 outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Cairo.
Demonstrators burn Erdogan's photo during November 16 demonstration outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Cairo
In further protest over Erdogan's support for the MB, private Egyptian television channels, including CBC, Al-Kahera Wal Nas and Al-Nahar, halted their broadcasts of Turkish soap operas. CBC manager Muhammad Hani called this a harsh message reflecting Egyptians' opposition to Turkey's anti-Egypt position, as well as to Turkey's support for terrorism and the MB. Additionally, Egyptian television host Neshat Al-Dihi resigned during the live broadcast of his weekly program on Turkey's official Arabic-language channel TRT in protest against Erdogan's position; he said that he would have been ashamed to continue working for the channel in the absence of a formal apology to Egypt by Erdogan.
At the same time, popular campaigns for boycotting Turkish products emerged. The Union of Sufis in Egypt launched such a campaign, calling it "Safeguard Your Country," to protest against Erdogan's insult to the Sheikh of Al-Azhar. Union secretary Dr. 'Abdallah Al-Nasser Hilmi said: "We demand that the Turkish people swiftly remove Erdogan and his government, because this government is setting Turkey back, and is setting it in a hostile position vis-à-vis fraternal countries like Egypt and other Arab countries." The Coalition of Egyptian Sufis announced that it had approached Sufis in Turkey asking that they oppose Erdogan's position on Egypt as well.
Calls for boycotting Turkish products also spread via social media:
A Facebook campaign to "Boycott Turkish Goods Because Of Erdogan" (source:Facebook, November 24, 2013)
A campaign to boycott Turkish products: "Depose Erdogan, the MB agent" (source:Al-Fajr, Egypt, July 19, 2013)
"Boycott them!" (source: Al-Yawm Al-Sabi',Egypt, September 11, 2013)
"For my country's security and stability – boycott Turkish products" (source: Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, September 11, 2013)
Articles In Egyptian Press Against Erdogan's Position On Mursi's Ouster
Al-Ahram Editorial: Erdogan's Position Stems From His Fear Of Ending Up Like Mursi
The Egyptian press has published numerous articles condemning Erdogan's position on Mursi's ouster. The official Egyptian Al-Ahram's August 29 editorial states: "No one knows for sure what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants from Egypt and its people. Does he think that it was he who was running their affairs during the year of MB rule in Egypt? [Did he think] during the rule of ousted president Muhammad Mursi Egypt that Egypt had become an Ottoman province that belonged to him...? [Erdogan] is afflicted by a lack of the political balance [that is crucial] for great statesmen and leaders, especially for a substantial regional power such as Turkey. Since the removal of his only ally in the region, the statements coming out of his mouth have been inappropriate for diplomacy, for politics, or for relations between countries.
"The torrent of Erdogan's attacks on Egypt included his... assault on the Grand Imam – Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the admired and internationally respected religious scholar. [It would seem] that Mr. Erdogan wanted the entire world to act according to his narrow view and his blind support of the MB regime. [Erdogan] did not like the Grand Imam's position and his support for Egypt or the June 30 revolution... We can't help but wonder... about the motives for Erdogan's and Turkish officials' attack on Egypt and its leaders, that has been continuing since the June 30 revolution. Does [this attack] stem from the loss of an ally and fellow member of the international [MB], or from fear of a similar fate?"
Fortune teller to Erdogan: "Take heed before it is too late. You have no business in Egypt, unless you want to suffer the same fate as the MB" (source: Ahram-canada.com, July 24, 2013)
Erdogan Threatens Egypt's National Security
Another Al-Ahram editorial states: "It is amazing that the Turkish prime minister persists in his stubbornness, and continues to destroy Egypt-Turkey relations... Instead of being concerned about the Arabs' and Muslims' most important problem – the liberation of Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque – Erdogan and his government are sunk in the swamp of Syria, supporting terrorist organizations, and even following [Sheikh Yousuf] Al-Qaradhawi and inciting against Egypt and its army. [Additionally, they are] hosting the global terrorist MB organization, to conspire against Egypt and its peaceful people..."
Cairo University political science professor Nourhan Al-Sheikh wrote: "Shortly before the Arab Spring revolutions, the alliance between Erdogan and the MB was revealed, and both sides began together to plan how to enable the MB to hijack the revolutions of our free peoples in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and the rest of the Arab countries... Erdogan and his government blatantly interfered in Egypt's internal affairs in a way that threatens our national security by unprecedentedly supporting the MB. Erdogan even took the liberty of discussing Egypt's internal situation during meetings of the international MB in Istanbul, and of making decisions that could destabilize Egypt and enable extremist organizations to carry out terrorist activity in our beloved homeland, terrorizing Egyptians and killing our innocent civilians and soldiers..."
Egyptian Politicians: Erdogan's Attitude Towards The MB Reveals His Hatred Of Democracy And Freedom
Columnist and Sadat Democratic Party head Dr. 'Effat Sadat wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi': "I cannot describe Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's [reaction] to what happened to the MB in Egypt as anything other than 'Erdogan-like prostitution.' The Ottoman prime minister refuses to recognize the popular will that was expressed by protests unprecedented in history...
"Over the last decade, Erdogan has tried to present himself as moderate and cultured, and to this end he licked the boots of the Europeans so they would add his country to the European Union – which they have so far refused to do. His hopes were eventually dashed, because of the exposure of his ugly face following the Egyptian people's June 30 revolution. [At that time,] Erdogan revealed his true face of hatred of culture, development, democracy, and belief in freedom of opinion and expression, by supporting the MB's terrorism. He even refused to recognize an entire people's right to live in honor and freedom. When some of his countrymen dared to peacefully oppose his policy, he brought them down, with barrages of gas and bombs, violence, condemnations, and false accusations...
"The Turkish prime minister did not stop at criticizing the events in Egypt and the [Egyptian] regime. He turned to insulting the [Egyptian] military, police, and national leaders, most recently the honorable Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, in a desperate attempt to turn back the clock...
"[Erdogan's] image of an ascetic Wali [Ottoman ruler], which he is trying to sell us, does not change [the fact] that Turkey leads the Middle East in prostitution and in alcohol and drug use. In fact, prostitution is legal in Turkey and is not considered a crime..."
Egyptian Journalist: Mursi's Ouster Shattered Erdogan's Caliphate Dream
Ibrahim Khalil, former editor of the weekly Roz Al-Yousef, wrote: "What the Egyptians did [ousting Mursi] set fire to the expansion policy of which Erdogan had dreamed of for so long – as part of which Egypt would be a market for Turkish products. But the miracle worked by Egyptians on June 30 shamed Erdogan in front of his people. His support for the MB failed miserably...
"Erdogan's shock over the end of the MB regime was deep, because he had banked on [the scenario of] the return of the Ottoman Caliphate, from Egypt to Turkey via Gaza and Syria, following the fall of Bashar Al-Assad. Erdogan's fantasy might have led him and his government to the unexpected act of supporting terrorism by smuggling funds – as was revealed by a complaint submitted to the [Turkish] prosecutor-general, claiming that the Turkish ambassador [to Cairo] transferred cash to the MB in diplomatic mail pouches..."
Khalil added: "During the rule of the ousted Muhammad Mursi, the Turkish ambassador was like a Turkish high commissioner in Egypt. He controlled investments and closed deals between the Turks and MB businessmen...
"Isn't it time for the public to take initiative and boycott Turkish goods? The answer is very simple – Yes... Egyptians should rise to the challenge and take responsibility for knowing who is a friend and who is an enemy, who is exploiting their suffering and who rushes to their side in time of trouble – as the honorable Saudi King 'Abdallah did..."
MB And Its Supporters Praise Erdogan, Condemn Turkish Ambassador's Expulsion
Prior to his arrest by the new Egyptian regime, Egyptian MB Freedom and Justice Party deputy leader Dr. 'Issam Al-'Arian expressed his party's praise for Erdogan's position and for his refusal to meet with Egyptian leaders who were not elected by the people but were appointed by the coup's organizers. He added that Erdogan's position was is in line with democratic principles and constitutional values.
The Egyptian daily Al-Watan quoted a security source at the Burj Al-Arab prison, where Mursi is held, as stating that Mursi had criticized the downgrading of Turkey-Egypt diplomatic relations and had said:
"How can they do this? Erdogan's statements bother them because he tells the truth. How can they sever relations between powers like this... with such ease, after I strengthened Egypt's relations with an important country like Turkey within a short period?"
Mamdouh Al-Wali, whom Mursi appointed head of Al-Ahram's board of directors and who was removed from the post following Mursi's ouster, criticized the downgrading of diplomatic relations, saying that it would negatively impact Egypt's economic situation. In an article on the MB website, Al-Wali assessed that Turkey would not keep its promise to increase investments in Egypt to $5 billion, and that it would reverse its intention to grant Egypt favorable credit terms valued at $1 billion. Al-Wali further assessed that flights and tourism between the two countries would be affected, as would relations between the Cairo and Istanbul stock exchanges and joint agreements on health care, energy, and electricity production.
Al-Wali added: "It would appear that the damage to many sectors of the economy is the result of a decision by the coup government to deliberately downgrade diplomatic relations in order to humiliate the other side, without considering the negative economic consequences of this rash decision. [Other] countries in Africa and Europe have refused to recognize the military coup, yet we have not treated them like we treated Turkey – which is the regional and military power in the region that supports Egypt."
The Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya organization, which supports the MB, also objected to the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador, calling it "an unacceptable escalation." An official in Al Gama'a's Building and Development Party, its political wing,, said that expelling the Turkish ambassador was not the solution because Egypt does not need additional rivalries in the world, and called on the Egyptian regime to reverse its decision. He added that Egypt would have been better off expelling the Israeli ambassador.
Pro-MB demonstrator: "Don't expel the Turkish ambassador; he is the legitimate ambassador" (source: Al-Ahram, Egypt, November 25, 2013)
*L. Lavi is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 994, "The Arab Press: Support For Mursi's Ouster, Criticism Of Egyptian Army's Undemocratic Move," July, 9, 2013.