With the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Turkey has lost its most important strategic ally in the Arab world, making it one of the biggest losers of the second revolutionary wave in Egypt. Turkey lost not only a political and ideological partner, but the Brotherhood’s fall affects multiple aspects of Turkey’s Middle East strategy. The repercussions of Turkey’s loss in Egypt will harm Turkey’s image and its regional presence, especially since the new Egyptian rule considers Turkey to be a regional competitor, not a strategic partner.
Turkey used to be at the forefront of the winners of the Arab Spring, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and Tunisia. Now, Turkey is at the forefront of the Arab Spring’s losers.
Egypt’s new composition and Turkey
After President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, the four main forces in Egypt are the military, the state apparatus and the former regime’s supporters, the Salafists, and the revolutionary and democratic forces. But none of those powers has the will or ability, each for its own reasons, to be Turkey’s strategic ally in the same way the Brotherhood was.
The doctrine of the first of the above forces — the Egyptian military — is not founded on religious considerations, despite the importance of religion in developing the individual fighter. Rather, the Egyptian military’s doctrine is founded on Egyptian nationalist considerations first and on Arab nationalism second.
Over the last century, all the wars fought by the Egyptian army were done on an Arab nationalist basis. The Egyptian army deals with Turkey on the basis that the latter is a maritime neighbor and a partner in a broad international alliance, but without having a “common identity” with Egypt, as the Muslim Brotherhood believes.
The Egyptian army considers Turkey’s Justice and Development Party to be a political rival and an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the Egyptian military establishment views the Turkish model of limiting the power of Turkey’s military establishment by means of an alliance with Washington as a model that threatens the presence and interests of the Egyptian army.
The second Egyptian force — the state apparatus and the former regime’s supporters — has historically viewed Turkey as a regional competitor and remembers Egypt’s confrontations with Turkey. Even former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime — which, like Turkey, was squarely in the Western alliance — has always considered Turkey to be a regional competitor. One year before his regime fell, Mubarak foiled the “Arab neighborhood” project that former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa launched. That project sought openness toward Turkey and Iran.
The third Egyptian force — the Salafists — do not consider Turkey to be “Islamic” enough. They oppose the Turkish model, which is at peace with secularism. In short, the Salafi vision doesn’t intersect with that of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party.
The fourth Egyptian force — the revolutionary and democratic forces — has not hidden its sympathy with the Taksim Square uprising against the intransigence of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and his party, even before Morsi’s ouster. The fourth Egyptian force sees in Turkey a successful economic model. But it also sees Turkey as a place where the electoral winner hampers others' freedoms under the pretext of “the will of the ballot box,” something very similar to what Morsi had done. Moreover, Ankara is clearly allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and has denounced the second Egyptian revolution as a “military coup,” despite the clear Egyptian will to remove Morsi from power.
Since none of the four Egyptian forces are seeking a “strategic partnership” or even special relations with Ankara, Egyptian-Turkish relations will remain cool until further notice.
Turkey’s tactical and strategic losses
With the fall of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey’s losses appear to be multifaceted. Turkey’s tactical and strategic losses pose a major challenge to Turkish decision-makers. Morsi’s fall ended the so-called Turkish model in the region whereby the elites in the Arab Spring countries were inspired by how the Justice and Development Party rules Turkey. A model needs to be adopted for it to become a true model. Egypt 2013 is closer to Turkey 1997 than to Turkey 2003. By ending its experiment with the Turkish model, Egypt has effectively turned it into a mere theoretical idea.
Ankara has benefited from the “Turkish model” mantra to raise its stature in the West, which considered Turkey most able to “tame” the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Brotherhood, in turn, used the “Turkish model” to build bridges with the West as a way for the Brotherhood to fight its opponents in Egypt. In short, during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, the “Turkish model” went from being an inspirational idea to a subterfuge by both Turkey and the Brotherhood so that each can achieve its aims.
Turkey’s attempt to help the Muslim Brotherhood reach power in Libya and Syria was greatly harmed by Morsi’s fall. Turkey lost its most important, and apparently irreplaceable, Arab ally in the region.
The siege on Gaza was an excellent opportunity for Turkey to raise its stature since the 2010 Freedom Flotilla. With the fall of its Egyptian ally, Turkey lost its only means to enter Gaza.
Erdogan’s dream to enter Gaza may have ended because the new Egyptian government will not allow him to use Egypt’s territory to enter Gaza. Worse, Turkey’s relations with Iraq and the Syrian regime are deteriorating. With the loss of its Egyptian partner, Turkey’s “zero problems” policy, as set by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has effectively ended.
Turkey now has good relations with only two of its neighbors: Hamas in Gaza and Israel — a tragic end to the dream of Turkish regional leadership.
Turkey loses and bows
According to realistic estimates, Turkey’s ability to influence events in Egypt is very low because Ankara has no special relations with any force in the new Egyptian structure. Economically, Egypt can pressure Turkey, but the reverse is not the case.
First, there is a $4.2 billion trade balance between the two countries. Turkey exports to Egypt $3.9 billion worth of goods and imports only $0.3 billion. So negative relations harm Turkey a lot more than they harm Egypt.
Second, Turkish goods are relatively not very competitive in general. Western goods are of better quality, and Chinese and Asian goods are cheaper. So Egyptian importers can easily replace Turkish goods.
Third, Turkey can only use Egyptian ports to export its goods to the Gulf states and Africa after Syrian territory has become unavailable to Turkish trucks heading to the Gulf states.
The Turkish government will probably continue to denounce the “military coup” in Egypt for domestic Turkish purposes — confronting the political power of the Turkish military. Turkey will also continue its behind-the-scenes effort to change the Egypt policy of Turkey’s Western and Arab allies. But in the end, Turkey will be forced to bow to the status quo to limit its losses in Egypt, because Turkey doesn’t have the ability to change the new balance of power in Egypt.