Commentary

Turkey and Egypt at Odds Over Gaza

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

As the number of failed mediators for Israel and Hamas continues to grow (including the UN, the United States, Egypt, Turkey and Qatar), it has become increasing evident that peace will continue to elude everyone so long as the would-be peacemakers remain divided.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been criticized for having favored a Turkish/Qatar backed ceasefire plan over an Egyptian one, a move which has left the Israelis, the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority angry. Congress forbids U.S. diplomats from talking directly to Hamas, while Hamas is unlikely to talk to Egypt, which may loathe the rulers of Gaza even more than Israel does. Israel prefers the partnership of Egypt, while considering Turkey and Qatar too favorable to Hamas.

Further, the diplomatic division between Turkey and Egypt reflects broader disagreements over both domestic and international policy matters. It is no wonder that Turkish and Egyptian government officials have been going back and forth over the last week on who is to blame for the current state of affairs in Gaza.

The death toll in Gaza, meanwhile, continues to rise.

According to recent reports by the Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan appears to have singled out Egypt for its failure to speak up for the suffering in Gaza: “Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again hit out at the international community, particularly Egypt, for ‘remaining silent’ against the ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza, while addressing his parliamentary group July 22. During the speech, Erdogan wore a scarf resembling a keffiyeh across his shoulders, symbolizing solidarity with the Palestinians....Erdogan also praised deposed Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi for opening the Rafah gate to Gaza when he was in power. He said the ‘coup leaders’ who replaced Morsi closed the gate, which had been the most important aid route into Gaza, and again repeated his criticism of Western nations for ‘not calling what took place in Egypt a coup.’”

The strong words coming from Mr. Erdogan inevitably raised the ire of Egyptian government officials, who resent Turkish attempts to mediate the conflict: “Osama Hamdan, who is responsible for external affairs in Hamas, said in a statement on Saturday that the Egyptian initiative was not in the interest of the Palestinian people and that there ‘was no serious initiative for us to accept or reject.’ Egypt did not officially approach Hamas to participate in the agreement. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry meanwhile accused on Thursday Turkey, Hamas and Qatar of attempting to ‘thwart’ Egypt’s role in ending the offensive, reported state-run news agency MENA.”

An Associated Press report earlier this week also cited Egypt’s Foreign Minister, who reportedly warned of “worsening ties” between Turkey and Egypt, should the current bombast continue: “Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on July 26 condemned Turkey’s prime minister for calling Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi a ‘tyrant’, warning already sour relations between the two countries could worsen. In a strongly-worded statement, the ministry said it summoned the Turkish charge d’ affaires, the highest-ranking Turkish official in the country, over the comments. It said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is driven by ‘narrow ideological interests,’ referencing Turkey’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood a group, branded as a terrorist organization in Egypt.”

There is clearly no love lost between the two countries, as demonstrated by the commentary published in the respective main dailies. For example, Turkey’s other major newspaper, Daily Sabah, published an op-ed last week by Islam Abdel-Rahman, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of Freedom and Justice Party (Egypt), an organization closely allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, with Abdel-Rahman taking the West to account for not standing up to what he considered was a military coup in Egypt: “Despite the Egyptian military seizure of power, arresting main political figures, shutting down media outlets, and suspending the constitution, the Obama administration refused to call what happened a military coup, a stance that continues today. In the year that followed the military coup in Egypt, the country has witnessed the worst authoritarian regime ever in its modern history....Starting with his Orwellian comment that the military in Egypt is restoring democracy, Kerry showed the endorsement of the administration for the coup and its consequences. This was followed by a direct attack on the main opponent to the coup, the Muslim Brotherhood.”

But Turkey’s government and media rhetoric has also gotten increasingly critical of Israel. An article by the daily Yeni Safak (Turkey) cites the Turkish Chair of the D8 (a group of developing countries with large Muslim populations) as well as a close ally of Prime Minister Erdogan in an all-out critique of the Israeli government: “Numan Kurtulmus, the Deputy Chairman of Turkey's ruling AK Party and the President of the D8 group of developing countries with large Muslim populations, has described Israel as ‘a threat to world peace’ because of its near-three week onslaught on Gaza....Speaking in Ankara on Saturday, he strongly condemned Israel's ‘inhumane terrorist attacks’ carried out through its bombardment.... Kurtulmus said: ‘Israel has to realize this bad situation, otherwise cruel and inhumane Israeli attacks will damage world peace and the Israeli occupation of Gaza will turn more complicated.’”

It is unlikely, though, that this back-and-forth will do much to ease the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is why Saudi Gazette’s Khaled Almaeena calls for a more unified response by the broader Islamic community: “let us not blame others for our plight. What were we doing for the past 40 years? Dictators held sway. They would use the security element as an excuse to increase their hold on a population that just wanted to live....there seems to be a total paralyses and inertia as we watch wave after wave of disasters being heaved towards us. We are more focused on internal fighting and interfaith abuse. Sunni, Shia, liberal, Wahabi, secular and all kinds of labels are being stamped on each other....All in the name of spreading the work of the Lord as if He wants us to do it that way. And condemnation for these barbaric acts by many segments of the Ulema or learned scholars have not been strong enough.”

Finally, as Camelia Entekhabi-Fard suggests in a recent op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, the only way forward for the Palestinians, will be a negotiated, rather than a military one: “If U.S. President Barack Obama believes so strongly in the diplomatic approach, to the point that he has angered Tel Aviv—one of America’s closest allies—by making up with Iran over the nuclear dossier, then why can’t he enforce peace between Palestine and Israel? On the other hand, Iran has the financial and military resources to continue supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and play the role of spoiler in the Middle East if they so choose. However, how long will they continue to choose to do so? ... The Palestinians don’t need more arms, they need more negotiators. Communication is the key.”


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