The army’s overthrow of the failed former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, in order to rescue Egypt from the spectre of civil war, has stripped the Turkish Prime Minister of his moderate mask. In September 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdogan used Dream TV’s platform urged Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution that would put Egyptians of all faiths on an equal footing, adding, “Secularism does not mean atheism”. In the event, that advice was ignored.
Morsi issued power-grabbing presidential edicts, appointed Islamists to Parliament’s Upper House and pushed through a constitution that ignored the rights of minorities and women. And instead of listening to warnings from the EU as well as his own advisors that his non-inclusive stance was polarizing the country, he proceeded to insert governors from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaa Islamiya in nine Egyptian governorates. Hours-long queues for petrol, winding bread queues and regular electricity cuts marked the final seal on his political demise.
Over 30 million Egyptians, representing a third of the population, said he had to go. Whether one views the military’s intervention as a coup or democracy’s correction by popular demand is purely academic. Egypt’s future track is for Egyptians to decide – and the majority have made the decision to put right mistakes made following their 2011 revolution. As far as they’re concerned, Morsi was impeached by the street for leading the nation down a dark and dangerous tunnel. To give their sentiments context, if the GM of a multi-national corporation broke his contractual obligations by setting that corporation on the road to bankruptcy, he can hardly complain when shareholders demand the termination of his contract.
However, instead of respecting the Egyptian people’s will, Prime Minister Erdogan has been surprisingly antagonistic, going as far as to announce that he would not recognize Egypt’s new interim government while insisting, “My president in Egypt is Morsi because he was elected by the people”. Emphasizing his stance was his refusal of an invitation to meet with Egypt’s interim Vice President Mohammed El Baradei. Erdogan told a Turkish daily “If we don’t judge the situation like that it is tantamount to ignoring the Egyptian people.” Ah, this is telling. Just about the only sector of Egyptians refusing to accept the transition are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which indicates that Erdogan is siding with his ideological brethren against the Egyptian people. Turkey’s Minister for European Affairs asked the UN Security Council to “take action” in response to “the coup”. A spokesman for the interim president has accused the Turkish premier of meddling in his nation’s affairs.
At a time when Turkey has its own problems with anti-government protestors, dispersed by riot police using teargas and water cannon and arrested in their hundreds, its government seems unduly concerned by events in Egypt. Arab leaders have wisely taken a backseat on Turkey’s problems whereas Erdogan is behaving as though the Ottoman Empire is still up and running. His own country in crisis, Erdogan was driven to cut short his vacation on the Aegean coast to summon senior cabinet ministers for an emergency meeting to discuss events in Egypt!! Following that cabinet session, representatives of the Global Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations were secretly hosted in a hotel close to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, according to Al-Watan News, to discuss developments.
The message is crystal. Prime Minister Erdogan perceives Egypt’s rejection of the Brotherhood as a threat to his own Islamist AK Party, which until know held up as a successful model of political Islam in the region. With the domino theory at the forefront of his mind, he rightly worries that antigovernment demonstrators who flocked to Taksim Square and Gezi Park may feel empowered by Egypt’s example - or, worse, that they, too, will look to the powerful Turkish military, with which the Erdogan government has had fraught relations, to come to their aid. Like his friend Morsi, Erdogan’s is shoring up his party’s interests and has abandoned fair judgment in so doing. If Egypt’s caretaking cabinet succeed in stabilizing the country and achieving a pluralistic democracy, his dream of exporting the AK Party’s brand of Islamic democracy throughout the Middle East will be dashed.
It’s obvious that Erdogan cares less about Egyptians, which prompts one to wonder about his other stated commitments. For instance, he talks a good talk against the brutal Syrian regime – and, to be fair, he has done a lot for Syrian refugees – but so far his aggressive posture against Al-Assad hasn’t being translated into action. The same can be said for his support of Palestinians. Following an attack by Israeli commandos on a Turkish-led aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s siege on Gaza, causing the death of nine Turkish citizens, Erdogan, who has provided material support to Hamas, described the raid “as a cause for war”. The attack elicited icy relations between long-term close allies, Ankara and Tel Aviv, diplomats were withdrawn, but that’s as far as it went. Today, Israel and Turkey are almost as cosy as ever.
While the Obama administration and the EU were initially cautious following Morsi’s sudden downfall, they now accept this fait accompli provided the country forges quickly ahead with a new constitution followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. Erdogan is increasingly out on a limb and if he fails to treat his paranoia and take the hand of friendship that Egypt’s new leadership still extends, the future for Turkish-Egyptian relations looks grim.
From my personal viewpoint, I heartily welcome the changes taking place in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t satisfied with getting their man in Al Ittihadiya Palace, it was out to spread its poisonous world view throughout Gulf States. We don’t want glassy-eyed fanatics causing trouble in our countries - and neither do our brothers and sisters in Egypt hoping for a prosperous new dawn. I wish them luck.