By Adel El-Adawy
The Egyptian-Turkish relationship has reached a low point and can be considered severed, because of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s full-fledged support for the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of the majority of Egyptians and the Egyptian state. As Egyptian Ambassador to Turkey, Abdel Rahman Salah explained: “The fear of Erdoğan’s government of the reoccurrence of the 30 June scenario in Turkey is one of the reasons he supports the Muslim Brotherhood organization.” The stance of the Turkish government contradicts its previous policies, and has been regarded by observers as having deviated from strategic rational.
The Egyptian-Turkish relationship has been longstanding for many decades. With the fall of Mubarak, the relations entered a new strategic dimension. Turkey was one of the first countries to congratulate Egypt for its achievement after the 25 January Revolution and many regarded Turkey as a model for the moderate Islamic State. The relations between the two countries were further consolidated with a successful three-day bilateral visit in September 2011 by Prime Minister Erdoğan with several ministers and over 200 businessmen accompanying him. In response, the Egyptian government and people strongly appreciated the support of Turkey and sincerely regarded the relationship as a strategic partnership for regional stability.
The close cooperation between the two countries was slowly increasing for many years prior to the 25 January Revolution, especially on the economic front. The 2005 free trade agreement between the two countries, which came into effect in March of 2007, really boosted economic cooperation. The trade volume in 2010 was $3.1bn compared to $1.1bn in 2006. After the election of the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian-Turkish relationship became more diversified and was elevated to a new level. The trade volume in 2012 reached over $5bn, and the interactions and initiatives between the two countries included new forms of cultural and educational exchanges. Even Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, during Morsi’s last cabinet reshuffle, was on a bilateral visit to Turkey to discuss how to strengthen military cooperation. On the regional front, Turkey and Egypt were closely collaborating, such as on the Syrian crisis, which exemplified the strategic partnership.
However, this all changed after the ouster of Morsi. For now, the strategic political partnership has abruptly ended. Although the recalled Turkish Ambassador has now returned to Cairo, there are still no indicators that his Egyptian counterpart will return to Turkey in the foreseeable future. From the Egyptian perspective, the Erdoğan government’s accommodation of meetings in Istanbul for the Muslim Brotherhood International Alliance has been deemed unacceptable. This has only further narrowed the developed strategic cooperation to an alliance with an organisation, rather than with the Egyptian state. The Egyptian interim government regards the Turkish efforts on the international stage, such as the attempt to convene the UN Security Council on Egypt, as a direct effort to undermine Egypt’s national security. The hostile stance against the Egyptian people and the insult of Sheikh Al-Azhar, the highest authority of moderate Islam in Egypt and the Muslim World, has completely diminished Erdoğan’s popularity in the Egyptian street.
Erdoğan’s policy towards Egypt has isolated him in the Arab world, especially after Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE indicated strong support for the political change in Egypt. Erdoğan’s support for the Brotherhood at the expense of the majority of Egyptians threatens Turkish interest in Egypt. Egypt already cancelled the joint naval exercise, and Turkish investments might suffer from Erdoğan’s policies. Turkish power trajectory and influence in the Arab World is diminishing, which will make it difficult for Turkey to continue the rise as a main regional power interlocutor.
Erdoğan’s own future with the upcoming elections might now be put in jeopardy. Unless Turkey realises it cannot interfere in Egypt’s domestic affairs and stop its destructive policies towards Egypt, the strategic relationship that once was will remain history. After all, from an Egyptian perspective, it might be best for the Turkish-Egyptian relationship to see a leadership change in Turkey. The post-30 June Egyptian government and Erdoğan ‘s Turkey will not cooperate in the foreseeable future, as one of the two will have to take a step back and Egyptians believe that it will be Turkey.
Adel El-Adawy is a Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.