Reuters called it “a bravura diplomatic performance” by the former Muslim Brotherhood leader. According to the Associated Press: “Morsi emerged as a major regional player. He won the trust of the US and Israel, which once worried over the rise of an Islamist leader in Egypt, but throughout the week-long Gaza crisis saw him as the figure most able to deliver a deal with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.” Both leading press agencies quote US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who thanked President Morsi “for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence.”
In an ironic twist of history, one day after the Gaza deal, the much-praised Morsi, citing the need to break the deadlock in Egypt’s stalled transition from dictatorship to democracy, issued a decree granting himself broad powers that will be free of judicial oversight. Liberal opponents have labeled the resulting institutional set up as “an absolute presidential tyranny” and have called for demonstrations against what they see as a serious setback for last years’ revolution against Hosni Mubarak.
Whatever the outcome of this domestic fight will be, in the short term Morsi is seen by many as the big winner in the Gaza crisis.
Who then is considered to be the big loser? According to several analysts, that title goes to Turkey in general and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular.
In the New York Times, Turkish and foreign pundits agreed that last week “Turkey found that it had to take a back seat to Egypt on the stage of high diplomacy.” Turkey is no longer seen as a regional power broker and finds itself shut out of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The main reason? Turkey’s uncompromising stance on Israel and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leader’s extremely harsh words on Israel, described by Erdoğan as “a terrorist state” guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” It has made him popular on the Arab streets, and I guess it goes down well with many Turks as well. The result however is that Turkey has lost its seat at the negotiation table because it is no longer perceived as an honest broker in conflicts in which Israel is involved.
In a vitriolic piece on the Foreign Policy website, Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the prestigious US Council on Foreign Relations, bluntly stated that Erdoğan’s repeated Israel bashing has pushed Turkey to the sidelines and made it once again a mere observer of regional events. Cook underlines that “given Ankara’s goals under the AK Party, cooling relations with Israel was a reasonable position to take, but the Turks seemed to have the spirit of the converted. They embraced the principles, themes, and language of anti-Israeli sentiment so common in the Arab world, but without any nuance that would allow them to continue to play in the Arab-Israeli game. The Egyptians, Jordanians, Qatari, and even Saudi governments, for example, have a long history of engaging in very public criticism of Israel, but have always managed to keep lines of communication open to manage regional crises and look out for their interests. Not so the Turks who seemed to relish burning bridges with the Israelis.”
Cook may be overdoing his vilifying but he definitively has a point. The Turkish government did its utmost to portray the Gaza deal as a common effort of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. Spokespersons stressed the perfect relations between Cairo and Ankara, symbolized by dozens of agreements concluded last week. That is probably all true. Still, perceptions are extremely important in international relations. Most observers agree that, at least for the moment, Egypt under Morsi has replaced Turkey as the main regional actor. That is partly an inevitable result of the Arab Awakening. It is also due, however, to Turkey’s decision to cut all ties with Israel. Is anybody in Ankara ready to tell the prime minister that his inflammatory rhetoric has proven to be counterproductive and will take Turkey nowhere?