Turkish foreign policy after the coup in Egypt

Turkish foreign policy after the coup in Egypt

Since the coup d’etat in Egypt that toppled the elected president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the Turkish government has been following an extremely rare, if not unique line in the history of diplomacy. With the motivation of bitter Turkish experience, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is persistent on not accepting the fait accompli by the Egyptian army and has been asking world leaders and institutions for the reinstallation of Morsi; in another words, undoing the coup.

This is perhaps a climax of the “politics of principles,” which Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been repeating to describe the foreign policy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government through its 11 years in power. This is also how Turkey’s policy of involvement in the Syrian civil war has been explained. Not only the Turkish government, but also the opposition and civil society, have condemned the coup in Egypt, in such a way as to say that they would not allow a military coup in Turkey anymore. Aside from domestic political concerns, the Turkish point of view of not accepting the toppling of an elected president by the army, no matter what authoritarian tendencies he might have developed during his one year in power, is approved by Turkish people.

But is Erdoğan’s persistence in trying to undo the coup a mission impossible? Recent reports show that the U.S. administration had been in contact with both Morsi and the army for some time, to find a compromise to avoid a coup. It should also be noted that the White House has reiterated its position of being equidistant from all political parties in Egypt, even after receiving Ankara’s messages that it should back Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood administration. So, we can assume that a radical shift in the U.S. position regarding Egypt is not likely. Similarly, the European Union, which needs the unanimity of its now-28 members, is not likely to take the same position as Ankara either.

Actually, Erdoğan seems more hurt by the stances of fellow Muslim countries - especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey’s partners in the Syrian situation, who have also helped Turkey cope with the eurozone crisis for the last few years by backing it up with financial resources. Perhaps Ankara failed to read the full details of the power shift in Qatar on June 25, (possibly because of the major crisis it had with Germany and the EU over the Gezi Park incidents), which played a role in the diplomatic support that the coup regime in Egypt received from the Arab world. In the power shift, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left his chair for the “fresh blood” of his 33-year-old son Tamim, while also removing prime minister (and foreign minister) Hammad bin Jassim, who is pointed to as the main dirigent of heavy Western involvement in the Syrian war.

On top of all this, the developments in Egypt have taken an even more critical path following the military’s opening of fire on Morsi supporters in Cairo’s Adawiya Square on July 8, killing dozens of protestors. This led to a call for an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, making the reinstallation of Morsi to power even more difficult. It is more likely that the U.N., the U.S., the EU, and Arab countries will concentrate their efforts for a balanced interim government to take Egypt to elections as soon as and as free as possible, and to let Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood compete.

There are groups among supporters of the AK Parti who ask for a braking off of relations with the coup regime in Egypt. That sounds like a move of principles in the extreme, and it may further damage Turkey’s current situation in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey already has no diplomatic relations with Syria. Israel has reportedly suspended the reconciliation talks with Turkey, upon remarks from Erdoğan (and some of his ministers) that they found “anti-Semitic.” Turkish Airlines can now only fly to Jordan via Egyptian air space, thus doubling its flight time, because of those conflicts. Turkey has few links left with the Shiite half of Lebanon because of the Syria conflict, and has only distant links with the secular half of the Palestinian state because of its full commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas in Gaza. In addition, Ankara does not recognize the Greek part of Cyprus.

In summary, cutting or reducing the level of ties with the coup regime in Egypt does not look like being the most rational thing to do for the Erdoğan government. This means a major shift in Turkish foreign policy toward a “realpolitik” one will be necessary, which will have consequences in domestic politics, too.