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Erdogan’s Egyptian Obsession

By: Cengiz Çandar for Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse

July 12, 2013

Turkish diplomacy that is often praised for its impressive legacy and solid traditions is not, however, always all that accurate in its assessments. As much as it is praised, our Foreign Ministry is also harshly criticized — albeit at times for unjustified and baseless reasons, while at other times truly deservedly.

In recent days, the target of criticism is the Turkish ambassador to Cairo. It is reported that in assessment reports he sent to Ankara in the last days of Morsi’s rule, he concluded that the Egyptian army is not likely to stage a coup. But his misdeeds do not end there. The same ambassador is said to have sent an assessment two years ago, saying Mubarak's regime was not going to fall, and it was the right time for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit him. The ambassador reportedly even made hotel reservations for the prime minister and his delegation.

If these charges are correct, it is not only the relevance of Turkey’s Egypt policy in the past that should be questioned. It also raises questions on the soundness of today’s policy.

A large gathering of Turkish ambassadors led by those from the region met in Ankara last week — almost like a general congress without public knowledge to debate "What should Turkey do in Egypt?"

Although that is what is leaking from the meeting, it is doubtful this is what they are actually debating. Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appear to be truly opinionated about Egypt. Turkey is the only country that has taken the clearest and firmest stand with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. You can also include Tunisia and Kenya, but those countries do not have the same weight as Turkey in the international arena, and they are not acting as committed partisans of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood the way Turkey has. It seems that nothing short of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood returning to power will satisfy Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

One reflection of the Turkish foreign policy approach is the efforts to prod the UN Security Council to take action to restore Morsi to power. Many Turkish ambassadors for days debated how this irrational objective can be achieved. It is possible that the ambassadors' professional instincts prevailed and the rumors of a Turkish initiative with the Security Council of Egypt disappeared from the corridors. Instead, we have Erdogan’s — and to an extent the foreign minister’s — grievances over the "West’s double standards" and polemics that are designed to appeal to domestic politics.

For a country that until recently was striving to become a regional power, to reduce its foreign policy to sponsoring or supporting the Muslim Brotherhood inevitably dragged the Turkish standing downward. One of the perceptible victims of bringing down Morsi and the  Brotherhood was the election of Ahmad al-Jarba — known to be close to the Saudis — to replace Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, by defeating the Brotherhood-supported candidate. Turkey hosted last week's meeting in Istanbul in support of the losing candidate.

As the Egypt issue took over our TV screens, a development that was not paid much attention to — or ignored altogether — was the Baghdad visit of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, who happens to be the only neighbor we have good relations with, and his reconciliation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, once a dedicated foe.

Let’s add to all these the rupture of contacts with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)’s Syrian extension, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD is now clashing with Free Syrian Army units said to be supported by Turkey in several locations, including at Afrin near our Hatay border.

It is not a secret that Turkey has almost zero leverage on Damascus. Moreover, the removal of Morsi and the Brotherhood from power has emboldened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, strengthened his hand against Turkey and expanded his room for maneuver.

Let’s not stop here and also add that the new emir of Qatar is deviating from his father’s general line of policy, that the Gulf Cooperation Council of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now Qatar are supporting the new set-up in Egypt and also that Jordan is particularly pleased with it. Turkey — while running after Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood — is giving the impression of having lost all its functional and moral weight over the Levant, the Gulf and Mesopotamia.

Of course, we cannot ignore that there is a correlation between the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt and the diminishing weight of Hamas in the Palestine arena. Hamas was the cornerstone of Erdogan’s Palestine-Gaza policy, so much so that if you listen to the narratives of "brains" around Erdogan in closed-door meetings you will hear that the AKP sees the beginning of the Arab Spring not in Tunisia in 2010 and 2011, but in 2005 when Hamas won the elections in Palestine — without of course forgetting the AKP’s ascension to power in 2002.

This is why for Erdogan and the AKP the removal of the Brotherhood from power on July 3 after winning the elections in 2012 is an existential issue. It is as if now there is a fear within the AKP ranks that unless the Brotherhood is restored to power, the reel will be rewound to the beginning and the AKP might be confronting similar developments.

This is the perception where we have to look for the cause of Turkey’s irrational attitude on Egypt. But this is a vicious circle. In Turkish, we have an adage: "To say amen to something futile." A Turkish foreign policy based on the return of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power means nothing more than saying amen to a futile prayer.

Such a policy is obviously not in Turkey's interests, and certainly not of those of the AKP.

Cengiz Candar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. A journalist since 1976, he is the author of seven books in the Turkish language, mainly on Middle East issues, including the best-seller Mesopotamia Express: A Journey in History.

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