Egypt and Turkey continue war of words as Arab countries take sides
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - REUTERS

CAIRO: In the latest salvo in the war of words between Egypt and Turkey, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should not talk about democracy, something it said his country “lacks.”

The barb came in response to Erdoğan’s latest remarks on Egypt’s current regime at the World Economic Forum Sunday.

The WEF comments came five days after Erdoğan’s criticism of the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi at the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. There, Erdoğan slammed the United Nations for hosting Sisi, saying that by doing so it had become “a place where people from autocratic regimes come to speak.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded in turn.

“Egypt condemns the ongoing lies said by the Turkish president, and those who review the internal affairs of Turkey over the past 12 years see that though Erdoğan claimed he sponsored democracy and was a defender of the Arab Spring revolutions, his record and history over those years are far away from real democracy,” the ministry statement said.

“He (Erdoğan) should not give lessons to others on democracy and the respect of human rights, and he should not be a guardian of them,” the statement added.

“Unfortunately, we see that in one country where the will of the people manifested itself, those who are elected with a vote of 52 percent are toppled,” Erdoğan said at the WEF, referring to the military ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. “That coup is legitimized and accepted by the rest of the world in many countries, including countries which are governed with democracy.”

“That person (Sisi) can actually go on the stage and speak at the United Nations General Assembly… is it a platform where democratically elected people speak, or is it a place where people from autocratic regimes come to speak?” Erdoğan asked.

“I, Tayyip Erdoğan, believe in democracy. Because of this, I do not want to be in the same picture with those people who come to power through anti-democratic means,” he continued. “In Egypt we have seen a coup against an elected president and we have then seen people who have been killed.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement slammed his remarks, saying, “Although Erdoğan stayed in power as the prime minister, he did not hesitate to change the regime of the country from the parliamentary system to a para-presidential regime, and he changed the Turkish Constitution as well to be in power for another 10 years.”

“That is undemocratic, especially amid the activities of the past years when he imposed restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and used excessive force in dealing with political activists and peaceful demonstrators,” the statement added, noting that Erdoğan’s government also banned Twitter.

“In addition to that, there are severe restrictions imposed by his regime on the press, prosecution and court verdicts against writers and journalists, discrimination against Kurds, interference in the judiciary concerning corruption cases and detention of citizens without charges for long periods,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry continued. “Such things are being monitored and confirmed by the reports of international and regional organizations such as the European Union regarding Turkey’s human rights record.”

Relations between both countries became strained immediately after Morsi was ousted on July 3, 2013 after mass protests called for the end of his regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. In response to Erdoğan describing Morsi’s ouster as a “coup,” Egypt on Nov. 23, 2013 downgraded bilateral diplomatic relations with Turkey when it declared Turkish ambassador Hussein Botsali persona non grata.

On the same day, Egypt decided to cancel a meeting between both countries called for by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, although Ankara denied it had invited Egypt to hold such a meeting.

Arab League, UAE talk Turkey

Perhaps in seeing in an outspoken Turkey the ghosts of past Ottoman aggression, many Arab nations have come to Egypt’s defense as the war of words has intensified.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Saturday at the general assembly criticized Erdoğan’s speech at the U.N., said it interfered in Egypt’s internal affairs and was “unacceptable and contradicts diplomatic norms.”

“We regret some parties’ statements and their unacceptable questioning of Egyptian legitimacy. The current government is one that was elected by the Egyptian people’s will, for they believed that it is able to achieve their aspirations,” Bin Zayed said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi also chipped in, saying in a Saturday tweet Turkey had interfered in Arab internal affairs.

Divisions between the two Middle Eastern powers appear as divisive as ever. However, Prime Minister Tammam Salam of tiny Lebanon announced Sunday he would like to mediate between Erdoğan and Sisi to heal the rift.

“I hope such a mediation could be done,” Salam said in remarks during an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

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