Turkey Eases up on Egypt Coup Condemnation

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As it seeks to retain its essential role in the ever-tumultuous Middle East, Turkey has eased its rhetoric against the recent demise of political Islam around the region.

The Turkish government has decided to soften the hard-line stance it had adopted against the temporary Egyptian government that was set up after the coup that deposed elected President Mohammed Morsi on July 3. According to a senior official who did not want to be identified, the first indication of the decision was the congratulatory message Turkish President Abdullah Gul sent on July 24 to the current Egyptian president, Adly Mansour, on the occasion of Egyptian National Day. The same source said the decision to send the message was made in a security meeting held on July 24 by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The main item on the agenda of the security meeting was the tension arising from clashes on the Turkish border between the [Syrian] Democratic Union Party (PYD), which seeks Kurdish autonomy in Syria, and militants from al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. It was reported that the meeting dealt comprehensively with the Middle East issue by also discussing the possibility of the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestine and developments in Egypt.

A few hours after the meeting, Ahmet Sever, the chief adviser to Gul, issued a statement to announce that Gul had sent a message to Mansour to congratulate him on the occasion of Egyptian National Day. This was the first time Turkey had directly addressed the temporary regime in Egypt. Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had repeatedly demanded the immediate release of Morsi and his resumption of power and [asserted that] Turkey did not recognize the temporary administration in Cairo as legitimate. Perhaps to preempt any domestic debate about opening up to the Egyptian coup regime, Sever noted that Gul’s message was prepared in consultations by relevant government institutions in Turkey.

In reality, Turkey’s decision to soften its stance toward the post-coup regime in Egypt was not taken in a single meeting on that day. Egypt’s ambassador to Ankara, Abdurrahman Selahaddin, did not attend the July 18 iftar dinner invitation of Erdogan for foreign envoys in Ankara. The next day, on July 19, the Egyptian ambassador asked for an appointment with Davutoglu. In his interview, published by the daily Hurriyet on July 22, the ambassador said he believed Turkish-Egyptian relations would soon get on track and that what was happening was but a “summer cloud.” Also on July 22, it was announced that Davutoglu had spoken to US Secretary of State John Kerry on the phone to discuss Israel-Palestine, Syrian and Egyptian issues.

After the Ankara security meeting and before the announcement of the message to Egypt, the US Department of Defense announced suspension of the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. The increasing international reaction to the detention of Morsi without allowing him even to meet his family certainly played a role in the suspension of the delivery of the planes. According to Ankara, Turkey’s persistent objections played a part in the US decision but Davutoglu and Kerry’s conversation did not have a role in softening Turkey’s attitude.

According to the senior source, there were several elements that led to the softening of attitudes toward the temporary administration in Egypt. First, it was becoming clear that Egypt was not going to calm down anytime soon because the people were divided into pro- and anti-Morsi camps. Second, it was definitely going to be more difficult to influence Egypt’s return to democracy if the political channels between Ankara and Cairo were not kept open. Third, Turkey for a long time had assumed a supportive role for Egypt in the Palestine issue and there were hopes of new peace talks under US auspices. Fourth, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt had also affected Hamas and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

This is why the assessments by the National Intelligence Organization and the Foreign Ministry played roles in the decision of Erdogan to soften his approach toward Egypt.

Changes in Palestine and Syrian policies should not come as a surprise after this change in Egyptian policy.

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