By blocking UN vote, Egypt sticks finger in Turkey's eye
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Egypt blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution this past Saturday that would have expressed support for Turkey's government after the coup attempt launched against it the day before. Cairo's move is the latest, but most brazen indication yet that it has little intention of reconciling with Ankara — neither before the coup attempt nor after.

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The resolution would have expressed concern over the situation in Turkey, urged all parties to show restraint and pledged support for Ankara's elected government. Egypt, however, wanted that last clause removed, arguing that the council is "in no position to ... label that government — or any other government for that matter — as democratically elected or not."

When America and Britain balked at removing the clause, Cairo offered an alternative that would call on the warring parties in Turkey to "respect the democratic and constitutional principles and the rule of law." Members were unable to reach the required unanimous approval, the resolution was shelved, and Ankara sniped back: "It is natural for those who have come to power through coup" to keep mum on a failed coup elsewhere.

It wasn't always this way. During the three decades of Hosni Mubarak's presidency, Egypt’s Turkey ties were marked by cordial competition, with both sharing an alliance with Washington while also jockeying for influence in the eastern Mediterranean. Relations soured with the arrival of Turkey's then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as his Islamist-rooted government forged ties with Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups region-wide. Still, economics ultimately carried the day, and trade expanded 16-fold during Erdoğan's first decade at the helm.

The rupture came with the Arab revolutions, as Mubarak resigned amid mass protests in 2011, to be followed by the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, who was himself removed as president by the military amid large-scale demonstrations in 2013. A livid Erdoğan recalled Turkey's ambassador, and Cairo repaid the favor by declaring Ankara's envoy persona non grata. Neither has returned to his post since.

For Erdoğan, now the Turkish president, Egypt is a morality play representing his dreams and nightmares for the Middle East. The fact that the largest Arab state, a decades-long Western ally, had fairly elected likeminded Islamists had raised his hopes of "Islamist democracy" leading the region on its own terms and at a healthy distance from the West. The fact that that government succumbed to a military overthrow — as have Turkish Islamists before Erdoğan, and as was attempted last week — only cemented Egypt as a lead actor in Erdoğan's drama.

Today, Turkey hosts a number of Arabic-language pro-Brotherhood media outlets, and Erdoğan vilifies Cairo's military-led government at every opportunity. He regularly flashes the Brotherhood's four-fingered solidarity sign, most recently upon his triumphant post-coup return to Istanbul on Friday. The message was unambiguous: What happened in Egypt won't happen here.

In the weeks prior to the coup attempt, Turkey strove to mend some of the relations most frayed by Erdoğan's combative foreign policy. These have included Israel (despite its deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla to Gaza and continued blockade of the Hamas-run statelet), Russia (despite its jet breaching Turkish airspace in November) and potentially even the Syrian regime (despite it having killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and despite Ankara's fulsome support for anti-government rebels).

But apart from some Turkish officials' perfunctory statements on the potential for a thaw with Egypt, the country has remained conspicuously off of Erdoğan's reconciliation agenda. "The context with Egypt is different from the approaches undertaken with Russia and Israel," he said after prayers this month, ruling out normalization with Cairo's "repressive regime."

Egypt sees itself as locked in an existential battle with the Brotherhood and its Islamist ilk, and is predictably unimpressed by Erdoğan's antics. And given its own improving diplomatic standing — with its foreign minister welcomed in Jerusalem last week and Washington on Friday — Cairo is even less keen than Ankara to bury the hatchet.

Five years ago, at the height of the Arab Spring, Erdoğan made a triumphant visit to the Egyptian capital, welcomed by throngs of citizens and billboards of his face lining the highway from the airport. This weekend at the U.N., the Egyptians showed him they have no plans to repeat that scene anytime soon.

Kessler is deputy director for research and research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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