Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The stars rarely align for Egypt and Turkey | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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File photo of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan making the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sign during a speech.

For years we have called for Turkish–Egyptian rapprochement, speaking at every opportunity about the importance of cooperation and strategic openness between the two states. We have every right to express our opinion about the deterioration in relations between these two countries today, following the decision to expel each other’s ambassadors. This decision was taken for political reasons, and does not reflect any particular failure on the part of the two ambassadors.

They are trying to convince us that diplomatic relations have not been severed, and that what happened is just a reduction in the degree of representation. Both states have repeatedly stressed that the consulates are still operating in both countries. However, all indications point to tensions and deterioration in relations, because opportunity for genuine dialogue is absent—or, rather, rejected.

There are different views about what happened and why:

Cairo has said that relations will not improve if Turkey doesn’t recognize the change in authority in Egypt. Cairo also says it expects an apology, and it speaks often of serious Turkish attempts to inflame the Egyptian street.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s statement was clear in describing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as someone standing in opposition to the will of the Egyptian people. It said his position on Mursi’s ouster is an insult to the Egyptian people’s legitimate choices, adding that Erdoğan’s statements include many lies and falsifications. Cairo also claimed that Ankara is trying to incite the international community against Egypt, and that it supported meetings that aimed to destabilize the country.

The decision to expel Turkey’s ambassador did not take place on impulse, but after its long-term repercussions had been studied—or so an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The same spokesman affirmed that Cairo only took this decision after Ankara had squandered all its opportunities to apply common sense and prioritize its own national interests.

Egypt’s media, for its part, has viewed Erdoğan’s actions and stances as direct interference in Egyptian affairs. Some Egyptians believe Ankara is masterminding a conspiracy against Egypt by attempting to ignite a new popular revolution on January 25, while the uncovering of this plan was the real reason behind the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador. Some Egyptian academics have even claimed that Turkey could openly support a campaign of assassinations in Egypt.

Others point to Erdoğan’s lack of concern about what was being said every day in Cairo regarding the end of the Brotherhood era, insisting on describing the events in July as a military coup and defending the legitimacy of ousted President Mohamed Mursi. Ankara has attacked many Western capitals that reversed their positions on the events in Egypt over the last four months. The Turkish prime minister has clearly demonstrated his position, and particularly his view of those who have put Mursi on trial, by flashing the Rabaa sign during a rally in Trabzon.

However, according to some Turkish analysts, some of those in Egypt are raising the specter of Turkey on purpose in order to influence the country’s new constitution, which is currently in the process of being drafted.

Others claim that the efforts of both ambassadors, Turkish Hussein Awni Botsala and Egyptian Abdul Rahman Salah Al-Deen, towards improving relations had failed and reached a dead end, leaving no alternative but to completely freeze diplomatic relations until further notice. Supporters of this idea claim that there is no need to further reduce diplomatic representation between Turkey and Egypt, and indeed no need to secure stronger ties on an institutional level. They argue that it is better to simply freeze diplomatic relations at their current level.

Over the last century, ambassadors between Egypt and Turkey have been expelled or recalled five times, and diplomatic relations were severed twice. The important thing to note is that Egyptian and Turkish star signs have never aligned, except on rare occasions. It is enough to consider Egyptian–Turkish trade and compare this with other countries. This clearly shows that the two capitals have little real desire to open up or secure closer relations, except when the Muslim Brotherhood reached power, which pleased the Justice and Development Party. However, Brotherhood rule ultimately did not last longer than a year.

There is a story about an American jokingly asking a Chinese friend: “When will you stop putting rice on the graves of your ancestors?” The Chinese friend answered without hesitation: “When you stop throwing flowers on the graves of those you loved.”

Everybody must act according to their own culture.