Egypt expels Turkish ambassador, scales back relations

Turkish president says ties to be ‘restored soon’; tension between Istanbul, Cairo simmering since Morsi ouster in July

CAIRO — Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey Saturday and ordered its ambassador expelled from Cairo, a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries that have mounted since the Egyptian military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi this summer.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the Turkish envoy has been considered persona non grata and is being asked to leave the country because of what it described as Ankara’s continued “interference” in Egyptian affairs. It said it will scale back its diplomatic relations with Turkey to the level of charge d’affaires.

In reaction to the decision, Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters that he hoped our relations “will be restored soon.”

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party had strongly backed Morsi — a leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — as an example for the Arab world of a democratically elected Islamist leader. It has criticized his July 3 overthrow by Egypt’s military, while also criticizing the West for what it has deemed a weak response to a military coup.

Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August after Turkey condemned the ouster and a subsequent bloody crackdown on pro-Morsi protests. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt had declined to return its envoy to Ankara.

Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders, dismissing the trial of Morsi which opened earlier this month on charges of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, and describing on Thursday the situation in Egypt as a “humanitarian drama.”

He had previously called for the trial of Egypt’s new leaders for the crackdown.

“This (Turkish) leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and by supporting meetings for groups that seek to create instability in the country and by making statements that can only be described as an offense to the popular will,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

Egyptian officials and media have repeatedly accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of meeting in Turkey to plan protests and other ways to undermine the new government in Cairo.

On Saturday, the independent daily newspaper al-Watan reported on its front page that the international members of the Muslim Brotherhood continued “their plotting” against Egypt in a meeting in Istanbul. The paper was referring to a human rights conference in which participants said they will take legal actions against Egypt’s new leaders for what it said were “massacres” against supporters of Morsi.

In comments Thursday, Erdogan said according to the state-run Anadolu news service that “there is a humanitarian drama going on in Egypt.”

Morsi himself is on trial accused of inciting the murder of protesters during his tenure in office. He dismissed the trial as illegitimate in his first public comments, and insisted he was still Egypt’s leader.

“I applaud Mr. Morsi’s stance in front of the judiciary. I have no respect for those who are trying him,” Erdogan said Thursday.

Egypt’s statement described Erdogan’s comments as “an unacceptable challenge” to Egyptians’ will, and “falsifications” of facts.

Since August, Egypt’s has refused to return its ambassador to Turkey, saying it would reconsider when Turkey stops meddling in Egyptian affairs. Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour said that Turkey should have relations with “Egypt and its people and not with leaders of a certain group.”

On Saturday, Turkish Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali said according to Turkish NTV television that “the people of Turkey and Egypt are brothers. Stability in Egypt is important for the region.”

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