Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July that Turkey cannot contribute to peace in the Middle East without mending relations with Egypt — a key actor in the region for reaching a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abbas visited Ankara amid a ground offensive by Israel in Gaza in mid-July and met with then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and then-President Abdullah Gül.
Abbas conveyed two messages to Erdoğan during his visit to Ankara, Sunday’s Zaman has learned. This was a month before Turkey’s presidential election on Aug. 10 in which Erdoğan was elected president.
The Palestinian president had raised two points with Erdoğan. One was on the need for Turkey to have a balanced relationship with Hamas, encouraging or pressuring them for reconciliation with leading Palestinian political party Fatah. Hamas was launching rocket attacks against Israel, which prompted the Israeli offensive.
During Abbas’s visit to Turkey, then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke on the phone with Khaled Mashaal, the political leader of Hamas, informing him that Turkey’s talks with Abbas do not mean that Ankara is excluding Hamas.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has close ties with the Hamas leadership that controls Gaza.
The second point raised by Abbas was on Egypt. Abbas told Erdoğan that without Egypt, Turkey cannot influence the Arab world and that Egypt is key to finding a solution to the Palestinian issue.
President Erdoğan has been criticizing Egypt’s former military leader and current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, at every chance since the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, a politician from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey’s refusal to accept Morsi’s ouster prompted the new Egyptian leadership to cut ties with Ankara and expel the Turkish ambassador from Cairo. Ankara responded in kind by declaring Egypt’s ambassador to Turkey persona non grata.
According to a diplomatic source speaking to Sunday’s Zaman on condition of anonymity, Erdoğan had promised to stop criticizing Egypt, but the promise was short-lived and he kept up his heavy criticism of Sisi and the international community that maintained a relationship with Sisi.
Most recently, Erdoğan criticized Sisi on Monday after Egypt asked Interpol to issue a red notice for Qatar-based pro-Muslim Brotherhood cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi.
“This person, who came to power through a coup [Sisi], shows up and gives instructions to Interpol. A step has been taken with an order to Interpol to seek the chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Youssef al-Qaradawi, with a red notice. What kind of act is this?” Erdoğan asked during an address at the fifth Religion Council hosted by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
Interpol issued a red notice for Qaradawi last week upon the request of Egypt’s coup regime. According to Interpol’s website, the notice on the 88-year-old Egyptian-born cleric was issued on charges of “incitement and assistance to commit intentional murder, helping prisoners to escape, arson, vandalism and theft.”
Mixed messages from Turkey to Egypt
Erdoğan has effectively blocked at least two recent attempts to normalize ties with Egypt which appear to be coming from Prime Minister Davutoğlu and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
During the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, a meeting between Çavuşoğlu and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukri, was scheduled to take place but was cancelled by the Egyptian side after Erdoğan’s highly critical remarks of Sisi at the meeting.
According to various sources speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, the idea for the meeting came from the Turkish side. An Arab diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman many in the region do not understand what Erdoğan is trying to achieve by not mending ties with Egypt.
“We should respect the choice of the people at the ballot box. If we want to support coups … then why does the United Nations exist?” Erdoğan had asked in his UN speech.
Sisi toppled Morsi, who was elected in a free vote in July 2013, a year after Morsi came to power.
“It appears to be that there are two leaders in Turkey with two different choices regarding the policies towards Egypt,” the Arab diplomat said.
This was the second blow to the Turkish government’s efforts carried out by its Foreign Ministry to normalize ties with Egypt. Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Önhon was sent to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart in August in an attempt to improve relations with this important regional country. Önhon was only able to meet with Arab League representative Ahmed Bin Huli in Cairo, and not his counterpart at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
The main meeting was cancelled due to remarks made by then-Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler criticizing Sisi’s administration. Following the Egyptian presidential elections in May, İşler had called the elections “sham elections.”
“Turkey is losing the Arab world and the international community. The government is trying to emerge as the leader of this new Islamic world. And they share the same line as the Muslim Brotherhood,” said the Arab diplomat.
What Turkey can do to mend ties?
According to the Arab diplomat, the first step to mending ties with Egypt could be offering “silence,” which means stop making critical remarks about Egypt’s administration.
Secondly, the diplomat said, stopping support for violence and terrorism will be useful. The diplomat pointed out that some members of the Muslim Brotherhood in İstanbul had been sentenced in Egypt due to crimes of participating in deadly terrorist attacks.
“I am not optimistic about seeing Turkey and Egypt normalizing their relationship any time soon,” said the diplomat.
The diplomat added that the Arab world was expecting a softening in the tone of the Turkish government toward Egypt after the Turkish presidential election, but that did not happen and Erdoğan continued to criticize Sisi.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Adana deputy Faruk Loğoğlu had previously told Sunday’s Zaman that Erdoğan’s welcome of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders to Turkey in September may place extra strain on Turkey’s regional relations and is a move against Turkey’s interests.
“It is clear that hosting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey would be source of added strain in our relations with Egypt, relations that are at their lowest at present. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and perhaps others in the region might also express discomfort. Turkey needs friends, not new enemies. In short, granting refuge to the individuals in question runs counter to Turkey’s interests. Turkey cannot and should not be the protector of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology,” Loğoğlu added.
Source: Today’s Zaman