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Egypt, Turkey, UAE ensnarled in spat over Erdogan’s anti-Sisi speech

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lambasted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a harshly worded statement issued Monday, accusing him of flagrantly intervening in Egypt’s internal affairs when speaking to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week.

In his address, the Turkish president condemned President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rise to power following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, who Erdogan described as Egypt’s “legitimate” president.

“The United Nations as well as the democratic countries have done nothing but watch the events, such as overthrowing the elected president of Egypt and the killings of thousands of innocent people who want to defend their choice. And the person who carried out this coup is being legitimized,” Erdogan argued.

“Those objecting to the murders in Iraq, Syria and the murder of democracy in Egypt are subjected to certain unfair and groundless accusations, and almost immediately accused of supporting terrorism,” he continued.

Egypt decried Erdogan’s remarks as “lies,” calling on the statesman to reflect on his own record of human rights violations before criticizing other countries.

The Turkish president is in no position to “give lessons” on democracy to others, the Foreign Affairs Ministry fumed in its statement.

“The reality in Turkey shows that although Erdogan stayed in power for many years as prime minister, he did not hesitate to change the political system in Turkey [from parliamentary to presidential] to remain in power for 10 more years,” Egypt’s statement said.

“This could not be considered by any means as democratic, especially in light of his practices over the last years of imposing restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, and using excessive force against political activists and peaceful protesters, to the extent of closing down YouTube and Twitter,” the ministry continued.

Erdogan has been a major supporter of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood group, and in 2013 swiftly condemned Morsi’s removal from office as a military coup against democracy.

“If we defend democracy, then let’s respect the ballot box. If we will defend those who come to power not with democracy, but with a coup, then I wonder why this UN exists,” Erdogan said in last week’s speech.

Angrily rebutting Erdogan’s condemnation of international bodies that recognized Sisi’s administration, the ministry responded: “Such lies and fabrications are not strange coming from the Turkish president, who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organizations — whether political support, funding or accommodation — in order to harm the interests of the region’s people in order to achieve personal ambitions for the Turkish president, and revive illusions of the past.”

According to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry, Turkey had requested an official meeting of the two presidents during last week’s UNGA summit, but Egypt denied the request following Erdogan’s remarks.

But according to a report published in the Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman, Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu denied inviting Sisi to a meeting, adding that Turkey was highly disturbed by Egypt’s “inferiority complex.”

“It is falsely portrayed [by Egypt] that Turkey insisted on [the meeting], and they say, ‘We gave consent [to Turkey].’ We did not consider talking due to [Egypt’s] complexes,” Çavuşoğlu said.

When it was Sisi’s turn to address the UNGA, he directly addressed Erdogan’s criticism, stating, “When kids used to beat me at school, I always said that when I grow up, I will beat you all back.”

His remarks provoked a wave of sarcastic responses from social media users.

A report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that both Egypt and Turkey are world leaders in detaining journalists. Egypt is near the top of the list, following Turkey, China and Iran.

The Egypt-Turkey spat then spilled over into the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, when its foreign affairs minister issued a statement rebuking Erdogan for his “irresponsible” remarks, warning they represented a deliberate attempt to meddle with Egyptian sovereignty.

“We were surprised by the Turkish president’s remarks on Egypt, abusing the UNGA for an assault on the Egyptian legitimacy. The Foreign Ministry condemns this irresponsible speech and describes it as a flagrant violation of Egypt’s internal affairs, and a provocation against Arab feelings. We call on the Turkish president to stop insulting the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people,” the UAE’s statement said.

In retaliation, Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry railed against the UAE’s intervention as “contrary to customary practices of diplomacy and in no way acceptable.”

“Some countries may feel uncomfortable about our stance. However, this does not give those countries the right to question the statements of Mr. President and level improper charges. Such an approach is not compatible with friendship and brotherhood, either,” Turkey said.

“Within this context, we expect the United Arab Emirates, which lent support to the military coup in Egypt, to be respectful of the basic values of international relations, and refrain from making statements issues that are of no direct concern to itself.”