Turkey: Relations with Egypt Go from Bad to Bizarre

As discussed in a previous post, Turkey's vocal criticism of the recent military takeover in Egypt -- much of it a reflection of the Turkish leadership's fear of they themselves being the target of a coup -- managed to create severe strains between Ankara and Cairo.

Although Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down his criticism since the early weeks of the Egyptian coup, the new leadership in Cairo doesn't seem quite ready to give Ankara a pass. For evidence of that, look to Egypt's state-run media, which appears to be delighting in running items designed to needle Turkey. On Monday, for example, the website of Al-Ahram ran a juicy item reporting that Egyptian writers and actors, angered by Ankara's policies, are calling for a boycott of the crown jewel in Turkey's regional soft power arsenal: its exceedingly popular soap operas. From the article:

Considering the support the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government has shown for Morsi, calls for a boycott have been raised by a number of production companies and the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate.

According to television director and the head of the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate Mossad Fouda "Such an initiative was important. It received mass attention from different production companies; both private and governmental. Also, many satellite channels prevented the broadcasting of Turkish series as a protest to the Turkish intervention in Egyptian affairs and because of its negative stance towards the 30 June Revolution."

Fouda foretells that once the political impasse is resolved, Turkish soap operas will not have the chance to be promoted as before and will not receive the mass attention they once enjoyed.

"Many locally-made Egyptian series came under threat by Turkish soap operas, which do not offer any new artistic material," Fouda critiqued.

Moreover, the head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, Shokry Abu Emera, who signed a number of Egyptian- Turkish protocols that gives rights to Egyptian television to broadcast Turkish series, postponed their broadcast after Turkey's response to the current political situation in Egypt.

The Associations of Arab writers likewise confirmed their support for the boycott of Turkish soap operas in a statement.

According to writer Mohamed El-Gheity: "Boycotting the Turkish soap operas is a national duty and I was one of the first to attack this type of drama because I have information that they are carried out under the supervision of the CIA through the production companies. This is all a contribution to the provision of drama to spread chaos, crush and smash identities of societies and question the idea of Arab nationalism in favour of the US-supported Turkish project."

But there are also other signs, beyond accusations that Turkish soaps are merely a front for American intelligence operations, that Egyptian leaders are trying to make life miserable for Turkey. As Today's Zaman reported today, Egyptian authorities have for the last month been holding 94 Turkish truckers in detention over an outstanding debt owed by their shipping company. The amount owed? $1100. The story may sound laughable, but it's a deadly serious development for Turkish exporters. Since losing Syria as a trade route because of the violence there, Turkish exporters have turned to Egypt as an alternative way to get their goods to the Gulf. In the wake of the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, this Egyptian route -- which relies on ships that ferry Turkish trucks across the Mediterranean to Egyptian ports -- has also been under threat, so much so that the Ankara has said it would foot the bill for those ships to take the more expensive trip through the Suez Canal and straight to Saudi Arabia.

The continuing tension between Turkey and Egypt impacts much more than soap operas and Turkish exports to the Gulf. As the International Crisis Group suggests in an excellent new report on the turmoil in Egypt and how to keep it from spiraling out of control, because of its vocal support for Morsi, Turkey (along with Qatar), could act as a "channel to the Islamists, walking them down from their more maximalist demands."

As the Turkey-related news coming out of Egypt shows, though, while Ankara may still have the ear of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, it certainly is no longer trusted by the new leadership in Cairo. This means that Turkey will likely continue to be a marginal player in the international effort to move Egypt past its current political crisis, a development that will make the already difficult task of getting that country back on track even harder and that marks yet another step back for Ankara's previously dynamic regional foreign policy.

Turkey: Relations with Egypt Go from Bad to Bizarre

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