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Egypt declares Turkish envoy unwelcome -- Turkey responds in kind

By Susannah Cullinane, CNN
updated 3:15 AM EST, Sun November 24, 2013
A portrait of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is seen through a Turkish flag during a rally in Istanbul in August.
A portrait of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is seen through a Turkish flag during a rally in Istanbul in August.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egypt asked Turkey's ambassador to leave Saturday
  • Turkish media said Egypt attributed the move to Ankara's interference in its affairs
  • The Turkish government later declared Egypt's former ambassador unwelcome
  • The move follows a worsening in relations since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsy

(CNN) -- The Turkish and Egyptian governments engaged in a round of tit-for-tat diplomacy Saturday, with Egypt first expelling Ankara's ambassador and Turkey reciprocating.

Cairo blamed its decision to declare Turkish Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsali "persona non grata" -- or unwelcome -- on Ankara's interference in its domestic affairs, Turkey's Anadolu Agency news outlet said.

Turkey accused Egypt of not respecting "the will of the people," downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Cairo, and declared its ambassador unwelcome. Cairo had lowered its diplomatic representation in Turkey to the level of charge d'affaires and withdrew its ambassador in August.

The diplomatic spat is the latest sign of a worsening relationship between the two nations and one that an analyst said vividly illustrated Turkey's "growing isolation in the Middle East."

The relationship between the countries went sour after the Egyptian military in July ousted President Mohamed Morsy and his government.

Morsy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, had close ties with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

After it toppled Morsy, Egypt banned the brotherhood's activities and froze its finances.

Erdogan -- who was accorded a hero's welcome when he visited post-revolution Cairo in late 2011 -- has spoken out strongly against Egypt's post-Morsy leadership.

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Fadi Hakura from the London think-tank Chatham House told CNN that Saturday's events were "a vivid illustration of Turkey's growing isolation in the Middle East."

"There's a perception gaining ground in the region that the Turkish government is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood and that its foreign policy is defined by sectarian priorities," Hakura said.

"Turkey has tense relations with Israel, the neighboring countries -- Iran, Syria and Iraq -- the majority of the Gulf Arab states and Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan," he said.

Hakura said U.S. President Barack Obama also was deeply unhappy with Turkish foreign policy in the region.

"Since early August there has been no telephone contact between the U.S. President and Turkish Prime Minister and that's a reflection in part with Turkey's deepening isolation in the Middle East and also frustration in Ankara at Obama's reluctance to get involved in the conflict in Syria," he said.

Hakura said while tensions between Cairo and Ankara would not have a major impact on Turkish-U.S. relations, "what these events do is reduce the importance of Turkey to U.S. foreign policy calculations."

It is a shift from 2012, when Erdogan told an audience at his party conference -- that included then-President Morsy -- that Turkey was a role model for regional democratic Islamist movements in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"This understating that we have put forth has gone beyond our borders and has practically become an example to all Muslim countries," Erdogan said.

Last month Suat Kiniklioglu, a former lawmaker from Erdogan's AKP party, also warned that Turkey needed to reprioritize its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East after suffering serious setbacks in the region in recent months.

"Egypt is a key actor in the Middle East. There is a clear need to calibrate the language directed at Cairo, as well," Kiniklioglu wrote in the English language Today's Zaman newspaper.

"The falling out with Israel, the Arab Spring and especially the civil war in Syria have radically altered Turkey's position in the region," he said. "The coup in Egypt has added insult to injury. Consequently, Turkey is confronted with significant challenges on all fronts in the region."

CNN's Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.

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