The deepening political standoff in Egypt has taken a toll on Turkey’s relations with Gulf nations, who quickly pledged generous financial aid immediately after the army of the world’s largest Arab nation moved to remove former President Mohammed Mursi on July 3.
Turkey has been a vocal critic of the military intervention in Egypt, with its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan almost daily bashing of the country’s army-backed interim government and its international supporters.
In just two days after the military coup in Cairo, the UAE offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel and Kuwait offered $4 billion in cash and loans.
Since the ouster of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the foreign reserves have been falling by around $1-2 billion every month. The generous multibillion-dollar aid promised by the Gulf nations created a breathing space for melting Egyptian economy and bought the interim government in Cairo a window of several months to fix its finances. The aid helped Egypt boost its foreign reserves, which had dwindled after more than two years of huge political turmoil.
The fate of the relationship largely depends on how much blood in Egypt will be spilt in upcoming weeks.Mahir Zeynalov
The foreign aid illustrated how Egypt’s leader Mursi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, is deeply distrusted by Gulf authorities. However, the aid by Gulf nations infuriated Turks, who for weeks staged protests and rallied against the military coup in Egypt.
The first official reaction came from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who said days after the coup, that Turkey welcomes every kind of aid to Egypt but complained that this aid could have been made prior to the army intervention to shore up the Egyptian economy.
Saudi's fight against terrorism
While tensions were running high in Turkey, with social media campaigns and street protests, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz announced his country’s support to Egypt in its fight against “terrorism.”
He added that the stability of Egypt is being targeted by “haters” and that anyone interfering in the country’s internal affairs is “igniting sedition,” openly referring to Turkey.
A day after the Saudi king’s statement, which was met with anger in Turkey, Turkish prime minister doled out one of his harshest criticisms to financial backers of Egypt’s interim government since the ouster of Mursi. He accused those who provided billions of dollars to Egypt while putting economic embargo on Mursi’s Egypt of being “partners of the coup,” openly targeting the Gulf countries.
Christopher M. Davidson, author of “After the Sheikhs,” told me that with King Abdullah's “appallingly misjudged” decision-making, which threatens to lose Saudi its leadership role in the Muslim world; he feels Erdoğan senses that Turkey has a golden opportunity to reassert itself in the region. He added that he sees Erdoğan as potentially championing an anti-Gulf political and/or economic front.
Turkey’s own experience with a number of military coups that significantly set back its democracy has taught a precious lesson: there is not a good kind of coup. In Turkey, even calling for a coup is considered a political sin. Past painful history of coups and their negative impacts in Turkey’s democracy and progress has become an important reference for what awaits Egypt in upcoming period. The army intervention, coupled with the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters that left hundreds of people dead, made it clear for Turks that the ruling authority in Cairo is both anti-democratic and deeply immoral.
Şaban Kardaş, associate professor of international relations at Ankara’s TOBB University, also spoke about the worsening relationship between Gulf nations and Turkey because of the deepening crisis in Egypt. He said there is a perception in the Gulf that Turkey has a Muslim Brotherhood-like authority, particularly after its position on the conflict in Syria. He said this perception has been growing as Turkey threw its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood against the coup.
He noted that this will become the biggest psychological barrier to bolster ties but downplayed that worsening relations could have immediate impact on Turkey because Gulf nations have little, if any, leverage regarding Turkey.
The position of Gulf nations regarding the mass upheavals across the Middle East is no secret in Turkey, who has been on the forefront of cheering nations as decades-old decrepit Arab rulers began falling in quick succession. Turkey worked closely with Qatar in the Syrian crisis and coordinated efforts to revive Egypt’s economy under Mursi’s one year in power.
Despite differences, Turkey was successful in sustaining a relationship with the Gulf based on mutual interests amid a growing threat by Iran. The latest standoff over Egyptian crisis, however, is a sure path to troubled waters and might deepen divisions. The fate of the relationship largely depends on how much blood in Egypt will be spilt in upcoming weeks.
Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov