CAIRO — Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey on Saturday and expelled the Turkish ambassador because of “provocative” criticisms of Cairo by Turkey’s prime minister, a spokesman for Egypt’s foreign minister said.
Egypt also announced that the country’s ambassador to Turkey, who was withdrawn in August, would be permanently recalled, all but severing relations with a regional heavyweight that had been one of Egypt’s most prominent allies before the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last July.
A Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said Ankara would respond with “reciprocal steps,” Reuters reported.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had cultivated a strong relationship with Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of Mr. Erdogan’s wider bid for regional leadership anchored by support for Islamist allies. After Mr. Morsi’s ouster and arrest by the military, Mr. Erdogan became one of the most vocal foreign critics of the crackdown on the Brotherhood, angering Egyptian official by expressing solidarity with protesters and criticizing the arrests of senior Brotherhood leaders.
Mr. Erdogan’s comments on Thursday were the last straw, according to the Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman, Badr Abdel Aty, citing “provocative” statements in support of Mr. Morsi and his criticism of the former president’s trial on murder charges.
Egypt said it was not completely severing ties between the two countries, but downgrading the relationship to the level of chargé d’affaires. It was a further sign of the country’s rapidly shifting foreign policy since the military takeover, as officials have courted powerful new friends and lashed out at former allies who have voiced any criticism.
Egypt’s relations with the United States, its closest western ally, were troubled for months after the Obama administration spoke out against the violent suppression of Mr. Morsi’s supporters, including the killing of hundreds of protesters by Egypt’s security services.
The frosty relations led Cairo to rekindle a friendship with Russia, partly as a signal to the United States, which is now giving off signs that could indicate a shift in policy. In recent weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have made a concerted effort to flatter Egypt’s interim leaders and denigrate the Brotherhood.
For Turkey, the diplomatic turnabout was further evidence of Mr. Erdogan’s faltering bid for regional influence that relied on cementing alliances with Islamist movements including in Libya, Syria and Egypt. With the strategy backfiring, Turkish officials seem to have shifted to a more pragmatic approach focused on economic and business interests and more in line with the government’s long-held policy of “zero problems” with neighbors.
Mr. Erdogan, though, has been in no mood to mend fences with Egypt. On Thursday, in the comments that caused the diplomatic break, Mr. Erdogan hailed Mr. Morsi as a “real democrat” and denounced the interim rulers, saying they had no respect for “people’s sovereignty.”
“All should have stood up against what has happened to Mr. Morsi, but they didn’t,” he said.