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Alparslan Akkuş

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Why Turkey and Iran Oppose the Military Coup in Egypt

Posted: 08/01/2013 8:34 am

The international community was mostly silent towards the ousting of Egypt's first elected president, Muhammed Morsi, while the Middle East's two non-Arab Muslim countries, Turkey and Iran, were fuming against the military coup. The two countries have been at odds when it comes to the civil war in Syria and the sectarian divide ripping apart Iraq, but on the matter of Egypt they seem to be of the same mind. Two weeks ago, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, in Ankara to discuss the recent developments in Egypt. This was also the first high level contact between the countries after the Iranian presidential elections on June 14.

Some may believe the coup in Cairo is pushing these two countries with very divergent interests together, thawing the ties that had been on the rocks in the past few years.

Turkey and Iran were quick to condemn the military takeover. Does this new-found unanimity mean a new era of closer relations between the two countries? It is important to keep in mind that Ankara and Tehran have very different reasons for taking this stance.

The democratization process in Turkey has been interrupted by 5 coup-d'états or coup attempts in last five decades. Also, any analysis of the Turkish government's principled stance against the coup should be coupled with the fact that Turkey's own military attempted to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the recent past just before he managed to establish civilian authority over military.

Some, mostly Erdogan's opponents, have tried to lump together the AK Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, because of the mildly Islamist background of the former. Given the ongoing protests in Turkey against the AK Party, the last thing Erdogan wanted to see was the Egyptian military removing the Muslim Brotherhood from government.

With the Muslim Brotherhood, which saw the AK Party as a successful political role model, in power, Turkey could have increased its influence in the Arab World's most important country. Without the Muslim Brotherhood in government, Turkey's ambitions to enhance its influence in Egypt and in the region will come to naught.

Iran's Three-Tiered Strategy

Meanwhile Iran's decision to condemn the military coup in Egypt is totally for different pragmatic reasons. Given the Sunni-Shia sectarian difference between Egypt and Iran, Tehran's ability to expand its influence over Cairo is limited. Despite this critical divide, Iran is looking for ways to establish a somewhat warm relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership so as to use this bothered movement to expand its particular interests in the region. Iran's this rapprochement policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood is the result of a well-planned strategy which aims killing three birds with one stone:

Firstly, Iran aims to use the brotherhood against its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia. It's no secret that the Saudis and the brotherhood represent two very different outlooks that can never be reconciled. The brotherhood represents the republican form of political Islam, posing an existential threat to the monarchical rule of the Saudis. Just recall how Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf monarchies, poured billions of dollars into the cash-starved Egypt soon after the coup.

Iran's second ambition is to use the Brotherhood against Israel, which the clerical establishment views as the eternal foe. Israel was not happy with a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. One of the first things the brotherhood leadership said when it first came to power was its desire to revise the Camp David accords. While the brotherhood later decided to forget it, it was enough to irritate Tel Aviv.

Third, and maybe the most important Iranian ambition is to reach out the Syrian branch of the brotherhood in order to saw discord amongst the Syrian opposition. Syrian brotherhood was slow to pick up the gun and this is one reason why Iran sees it as a key component of the anti-Assad opposition it can manipulate to its own advantage. For Iran, closer relations with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would yield a divided opposition in Syria.

This was probably why Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu kept underlining the importance of Hezbollah's withdrawal and stopping the bloodshed in Syria during his meeting with Salehi, who was expecting to discuss Egypt.

 

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