Egypt's coup weakens Turkey's hand against Shiite, Gulf blocs

From L, Bahrain’s FM Sheik Khalid bin AhmedI bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, Saudi Arabia’s FM Prince Saud al-Faisal, his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan posing for a group photo. (Photo: AP)

The military coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, has played into hands of the Shiite bloc led by Iran and the Gulf bloc led by the pro-status quo Saudi Arabia, shifting the balance of power in the region, foreign policy analysts say.

“The coup in Egypt has sharply weakened the ‘pro-change' bloc comprising Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia,” Ahmet Kuru, an associate professor of political science at San Diego State University, said in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.

According to Kuru, those who benefit from the coup are the "pro-Shiite" bloc comprising Iran, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the "pro-status quo" bloc comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Jordan.

Given Egypt's crucial role and central position in the politically fragile Middle East, the military coup is likely to have a tremendous impact on the balance of power in the region, agree analysts.

While the countries in the region are still at the stage of trying to understand the ramifications of the coup in Egypt, some countries welcomed the coup and others condemned it.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have expressed their support for the Egyptian military's removal of Morsi; however, the fall of the Egyptian leader is bad news for countries like Turkey and Qatar.

In a serious blow, Ankara has lost its key ally in the volatile region after the coup ousted Morsi, who enjoyed a close relationship with Ankara during his one-year presidency.
“The coup in Egypt has had a detrimental impact on Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has lost a key ally with the fall of Morsi,” added Kuru.

The overthrow of a democratically elected leader in a country via a military coup was harshly criticized by senior Turkish officials, who consider the move unacceptable.

Known for its close relationship with members of Morsi's moderate Islamist party, the Freedom and Justice Party, officials from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) declared their support for Morsi and denounced the overthrow of the Egyptian president, trying to convince other countries to step up pressure on Egypt.

Also, among the wealthy Gulf Arab states, only Qatar has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB or Ikhwan), which emerged as Egypt's most potent political force following a popular uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Qatar, along with Turkey, has given strong financial and diplomatic support to Ikhwan. By comparison, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have had strained relations with Cairo since Morsi's party came to power. Both Gulf countries developed a deep antipathy for the MB as its power has grown across the Middle East over the past two-and-a-half years of uprisings -- a situation they consider a threat to their stability.

According to Kuru, the two Gulf countries supported the coup because they were afraid of an emerging democracy in Egypt as an alternative to their monarchical regimes.
“The weakening of Egypt has also weakened the bloc that Turkey seeks to form. The transfer of power in Qatar has created deep uncertainties and the Ennahda rule in Tunisia is very fragile. Now, the question that comes to mind is: Who is Turkey's friend in Middle East?” asked Kuru.

Qatar, a key supporter of the new governments that rose to power in Arab Spring countries, is losing ground in regional politics as its powerful emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, unexpectedly abdicated in favor of his son Tamim last month.
Analysts believe that while Qatar's regional influence has declined, Saudi Arabia appears to have seized the reins on key issues, notably Egypt and Syria.

Turkey should not put all eggs in one basket in Egypt

With the fall of Morsi, Ankara was faced with disappointment again, similar to what it experienced with Syria, and took a firm stance, strongly condemning the incidents in Cairo.
According to Yaşar Yakış, a former Turkish foreign minister and the president of the Ankara-based Center for Strategic Communication (STRATİM), in the Syrian crisis Turkey's national interests were harmed, and if relations between Turkey and Egypt deteriorate, Ankara's Middle East policies will suffer.

“Turkey has done the right thing by opening up to the Middle East. However, Turkey has overestimated its own power when carrying out Middle East policy. It failed to meet expectations. Turkey put all its eggs in one basket in its Syria policy and eventually was harmed by this policy. I hope Turkey will not put all its eggs in one basket in Egypt,” Yakış told Sunday's Zaman.

Relations between Turkey and Syria worsened because of the former's stance against the Syrian regime and brutal crackdown on an anti-regime uprising.

“The survival of the Assad regime in Syria and the coup in Egypt have made Turkey's claim to regional leadership dubious. Everybody should ask: If Turkey really is a 'regional power,' how come it had no impact in preventing the coup d'état in Egypt?” said Kuru.

“Turkey should not take part in a sectarian polarization. It is not rational to pursue a foreign policy based on religious and ideological parameters. Religion and ideology should not overcome national interests,” added Yakış.

Turkey's relations with the Shiite bloc -- comprising Syria, Iran and Iraq -- have deteriorated in past years for several reasons. Turkish relations with the central government in Baghdad were strained due to various factors, including the Syrian crisis and the Kurdish issue. On the Iranian front, Syria, one of the last Shiite allies of Iran in the region, was the main reason for the further deterioration of relations between Turkey and Iran.

When talking about the Shiite bloc, Kuru maintained that while a weakened Egypt would not serve Ankara's interests, Tehran would regard a weakened Egypt as compatible with its interests in Syria and even in Palestine.

“The coup is likely to lead Egypt into socio-political chaos and to prevent it from playing any major role on the issues of Syria and Palestine. It is not possible for Egypt, after all, to play an active role and cooperate with Turkey in Syria,” said Kuru.

Frustrated by the lack of international support in solving regional issues, particularly the Syrian conflict, which has become a tough ordeal for the region, Ankara considers Egypt an important partner due to its influential role in the Arab world.

Egyptian-Turkish relations have even strengthened in the past year as the two countries have adopted a similar stance regarding the Syrian conflict in the diplomatic sphere and are supporting Syrian opposition forces that are struggling to topple the embattled Assad.

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