Egypt, Turkey downgrade ties in row over Morsi

Egypt Turkish ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali speaks during a meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, on June 1, 2010.  By Khaled Desouki AFP
NOV 23, 2013 LISTEN
Turkish ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali speaks during a meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, on June 1, 2010. By Khaled Desouki (AFP)

Cairo (AFP) - Cairo on Saturday expelled Turkey's ambassador and Ankara downgraded relations in tit-for-tat moves that marked a further fraying of ties after the July ouster of Egypt's Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The latest row between the two US allies saw Egypt expel the Turkish envoy after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday renewed his criticism of the "coup" that ousted Morsi and Egypt's continuing crackdown on his Islamist supporters.

Cairo decided to expel Turkish ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali, declare him persona non grata, downgrade ties to the level of charge d'affaires and not send its own ambassador back to Turkey, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told AFP.

A ministry statement accused Ankara of "supporting ... organisations seeking to create instability in the country," in a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belonged.

It said Ankara was also "trying to influence the international community against Egyptian interests."

Turkey responded by declaring Cairo's ambassador to Ankara, Abderahman Salah El-Din, as "persona non grata" and downgrading ties "in line with the reciprocity principle that forms the basis of international relations."

Turkey's foreign ministry summoned the Egyptian charge d'affaires in Ankara for an explanation and said Ankara held Cairo's new military-installed authorities responsible for the current tensions.

Cairo and Ankara had both recalled their ambassadors after a previous spat in August, but while Botsali eventually returned to Cairo, Egypt's envoy Salah El-Din stayed home.

Abdelatty said Erdogan's latest comments, made in Ankara on Thursday before he headed to Russia for talks, were "provocative" and amounted to "interference in Egypt's internal affairs."

The Turkish premier had said: "I applaud Mr Morsi's stance against the judiciary. I respect him. I have no respect for those who put him on trial."

Morsi is being tried on charges of inciting the killing of protesters during his turbulent one-year rule but has told the court that he remains the country's legitimate president and does not recognise its authority.

In a separate development Saturday, Egypt extended by 15 days the detention of a Turkish student for participating in protests in Al-Azhar university.

Hope for 'stability' in Egypt

Turkey's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had forged a close alliance with Morsi after he won Egypt's first freely contested presidential election in June 2012.

But the Islamist president was ousted by the army following days of mass protests by opponents, who accused him of poor governance and of betraying the 2011 uprising that toppled long-ruling president Hosni Mubarak.

Erdogan angered Egypt's new authorities immediately after Morsi's July 3 ouster by describing it as a "coup." Morsi's opponents have rejected that term, insisting the army responded to the will of the people expressed through mass protests.

The Turkish leader then caused further outrage with repeated calls for Morsi's release and for free and fair elections.

The row escalated in August when Erdogan condemned the dispersal of two Cairo protest camps in a massive security operation that left hundreds dead, mainly Morsi supporters.

On August 15, a day after the operation, Cairo and Ankara both recalled their ambassadors for consultations.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul sought to ease tensions between two of the region's most populous nations, saying: "The situation between Turkey and Egypt is temporary and conjectural."

"Turkey and Egypt are just like two halves of an apple on the two sides of the Mediterranean. We're very sad about what's going on in Egypt. I hope relations will be back on track."

Botsali, the expelled Turkish ambassador, also sought to calm the row, saying: "Turkish and Egyptian people are brothers. I'll continue to pray for the good of Egypt," according to remarks carried by Turkish media.

Turkey's foreign ministry too said it hoped "that friendly and brotherly Egypt will regain stability and democracy as soon as possible and relations between our countries will return to normal."

Morsi's ouster triggered international condemnation, which intensified after the authorities began cracking down on Islamists, leading to more than 1,000 deaths and the arrest of more than 2,000.

Washington even suspended a chunk of its annual $1.5 billion military aid to its longtime ally.

In September, Egypt recalled its ambassador from Tunis following a call by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki for Morsi's release. The Egyptian envoy returned to Tunis on November 18.