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Turkey's Criticism of OIC Over Egypt Seen as Split with Arab Allies

  • Dorian Jones

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media before he leaves for Turkmenistan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Aug. 15, 2013.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media before he leaves for Turkmenistan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Aug. 15, 2013.

Turkey's call for the resignation of the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, for not speaking out against the bloodshed in Egypt is being seen by analysts as another sign of Ankara's growing isolation from other Islamic countries. Turkey's stance toward Egypt is in stark contrast to the position of some of its allies in the Middle East.

Turkey's deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, Monday accused the OIC and its Turkish secretary general of condoning Egypt's bloody crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Bozdag said OIC head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu should resign over what he considered the organization's indifference to the bloodshed.

Ihsanoglu has called on all parties in Egypt to exercise restraint.

Diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz, of the Turkish newspaper Taraf, says the resignation call has caused some surprise in Turkey because Ihsanoglu is a Turk. But Idiz views the call as an indication of the Turkish government’s wider frustration with its Arab allies.

"It just goes to show how uptight this government is over this Egypt business and is very frustrated that the narrative that it wants to be coming out [from] some of these Islamic organization’s is simply not coming. But rather than be able to openly criticize Saudi Arabia, Jordan and whatever, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is an easy target," said Idiz.

Turkey’s ruling party, the Islamic-rooted AK Party, has close ties with deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. Ankara has been in the forefront of condemning Morsi’s overthrow and the subsequent crackdown on the Brotherhood and its supporters. In stark contrast, many Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have backed Egypt's new military-led government.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of Carnegie Europe, says Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying a high price for his country's stance.

"He has adopted the rhetoric that actually puts Turkey on the high moral ground certainly, but also this is driving Turkey apart from its allies in the Gulf as well, in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. So this is leading to the collapse of the alliance that was set up between these countries and Turkey to manage the security relationship in the region," said Ulgen.

Regional observers point out many Arab monarchies remain deeply suspicious if not outright hostile toward political Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing they could threaten their rule.

Differences between Ankara and the Gulf States have also manifested themselves over Syria. Idiz says Turkey is seen as backing more radical elements of the Syrian opposition, while Saudi Arabia supports former Baath Party and the secular elements.

The split is a dramatic turnaround for Turkey’s government, which has considered its close ties with Middle Eastern countries as one of its major triumphs. Analyst Ulgen says the split could add to growing pressure for a change in policy.

"When we compare at how Turkey positioned itself as almost an order-setter just two years ago, this situation certainty cannot be presented as a success for Turkish foreign policy. So I believe at some point there will be reassessment of what Turkey is doing," he said.

With Ankara playing no role in recent U.S. and EU mediation efforts to end the Egypt crisis, and being firmly on the sidelines of the current Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, analysts say this is likely to only add to pressure on Ankara to reassess its foreign policy.
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