CAIRO, Egypt (UPDATE) – Egypt expelled Turkey’s ambassador on Saturday, November 23, in the latest souring of diplomatic ties that began when the Egyptian army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from power in July 2013.
Turkey said it would reciprocate by declaring the Egyptian ambassador non grata. It also summoned the Egyptian charge d’affaires in Ankara for an explanation.
Cairo’s expulsion of ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali came in response to remarks by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, November 21, in which he renewed his criticism of the coup and of Egypt’s continuing crackdown on Morsi’s Islamist supporters.
Egypt had decided to “expel the Turkish ambassador and downgrade our ties to the level of charge d’affaires… declare the Turkish ambassador persona non grata and… not send our ambassador to Turkey,” foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A ministry statement accused Ankara of “supporting … organizations 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”.
Cairo and Ankara had both recalled their ambassadors after a previous spat in August, but while Botsali eventually returned to Cairo, Egypt’s Abderahman Salah El-Din stayed home.
Abdelatty said Erdogan’s latest comments, made in Ankara on Thursday before heading for talks in Russia, 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 deaths 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.
Erdogan irritated Egypt’s new authorities straight after Morsi’s July 3 ouster by describing the president’s overthrow as a “coup”.
He then caused further anger with repeated calls for Morsi’s release and for free and fair elections.
Relations deteriorated further in August when the Turkish premier condemned a deadly security force action against two Cairo protest camps set up by Morsi’s supporters.
The following day, Cairo and Ankara both announced they were recalling their ambassadors for consultations.
Ankara said on Saturday it would reciprocate Cairo’s latest move.
“We will take steps in reciprocity after comprehensive consultations with the Turkish ambassador,” foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu told AFP.
But Turkish President Abdallah Gul sought to ease the spat between two of the region’s most populous nations.
“This situation between Turkey and Egypt is temporary and conjectural,” Gul said in televised remarks.
“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.”
The expelled ambassador too sought to calm the row.
“Turkish and Egyptian people are brothers. I’ll continue to pray for the good of Egypt,” Turkish media quoted Botsali as saying.
“It is of utmost importance for the region and the world that Egypt remains on the path of democracy,” he added.
Turkey’s Islamic-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 just one year later following days of mass protests accusing him of partisanship towards the Brotherhood and failure to address the country’s economic woes.
His ouster triggered instant international condemnation, which intensified after the authorities began cracking down on Islamists, leading to more than 1,000 deaths and thousands more arrests.
Washington even suspended a chunk of its annual $1.5 billion military aid to its longtime ally.
Egypt’s military-installed interim government has been deeply sensitive to the foreign criticism.
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 Monday, November 18. – Rappler.com