Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Getting it wrong

Ankara’s latest round of vitriol against Egypt ’t have come at a worse time for the Turkish government, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptian visitors to Turkey are likely to face a barrage of questions. Has the situation calmed down in your country? Is it true what we hear about collective death sentences? The questioner will then adopt a censorious scowl and ask for an explanation of such unjust verdicts. He may even ask when you think stability will return to your country.

Because of such attitudes many Egyptians are reluctant to spend their holidays in Turkey, a country where political leaders constantly attack Egypt.

The attitudes of the Turkish public are being shaped by a media directly controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). It is little wonder they perceive developments in Egypt through the lens of the powers-that-be in Ankara and, above all, of their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan makes no secret of his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and appears indifferent to the practices of jihadist and takfiri groups.

 There are some interruptions to the monotonous government broadcasts. And until recently discordant voices could even be heard in Ankara’s decision-making circles. Yasar Yakiş, a former Turkish foreign minister who in the 1990s served as Ankara’s ambassador to Egypt, is among the handful of officials to have criticised his government’s refusal to understand the nature of developments in Egypt. His appeal for open-mindedness has been echoed by other officials who call for dialogue and rapprochement with Cairo.

The Turkish opposition is more outspoken and has condemned Erdogan’s campaign of incitement against Egypt. Some Turkish dailies have also taken up the cause, using sarcasm to expose the hypocrisy of Ankara in its denunciations of Egypt. Comparisons have been drawn between the rational, coolheaded responses of leaders in Cairo to the impetuous and often hysterical attacks launched by Ankara.

Whether or not this sarcasm provoked Turkish diplomatic sources to produce a document in Arabic - issued on 5 February – is impossible to say. The text, which had all the rhetorical stiltedness of a classroom composition, was hackneyed in content. It followed the usual party line - we will support the aspiration of our Egyptian brothers for the restoration of their freedom which has been usurped.

The statement, recited by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç denounced “the most recent tragicomic effort of Egypt’s coup rulers whose understanding of government is based on a triangle of weapons-oppression-persecution.” The timing of its release was unintentionally ironic: as Bilgiç was reading out the denunciation clouds of gas were hanging over the Turkish presidential palace where riot police used water cannons, clubs and teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting against AKP policies. Not that there is anything unusual about such scenes. They have been occurring on an almost daily basis since Erdogan assumed the presidency. Erdogan’s response to the demonstrations has been consistent: they are being fomented by a foreign conspiracy against his government, led by Mossad.

That Erdogan’s default position should echo that of many other third world rulers should come as no surprise. Former president Abdullah Gül used to boast that Turkey could no longer be considered a third world state but the fact is the ruling AKP  has dragged the country right back to the heart of the third world.

“It is obvious that the current regime in Egypt, which considers persecution and tyranny as legitimate method of governance, has nothing in common with contemporary democracies are committed to fundamental rights and freedoms,” intoned Bilgiç.

Within hours of the statement being read news agencies were carrying reports that 90 US congressmen had sent a message to US Secretary of State John Kerry condemning the arrest of journalists and clampdown on opposition media in Turkey and demanding Kerry press Ankara to respect freedom of expression. They expressed “deep concern” over the Turkish government’s attempts to “intimidate, arrest and smother” critical voices, actions that threatened the democratic principles Turkey claims to respect. The letter referred to the arrest of 29 journalists on 14 December, all of whom remain in detention.

There are many cracks in the democratic facade of AKP rule. As votes were being counted following municipal elections on 30 March more than 20 provinces faced electricity cut outs. Few Turks thought the timing a coincidence. Tellingly, one of the districts affected was the capital, Ankara, where the AKP’s mayoral candidate Melik Gokcek narrowly scraped victory amid loud accusations of election irregularities. Erdogan’s own election as president in August was marred by similar claims of vote rigging.

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