Egypt's crackdown divides regional leaders

Muslim Brotherhood ally Turkey has condemned the attacks, while Gulf monarchies, which have pledged $12 billion in support, voiced support for the military.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
A boy holds a poster of Egypt's deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi during a rally in protest of the recent violence in Egypt, in Sanaa August 16. Deeply polarized Egypt has divided regional leaders from Turkey to Qatar.

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Wednesday's deadly crackdown in Egypt has sent shockwaves across the Middle East, as regional governments line up on either side of the military-Islamist divide.

Turkey, Iran, and Qatar – all of whom have backed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohamed Morsi – issued condemnations of the Egyptian Army's deadly crackdown, which left hundreds dead and injured.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called out Western nations for not more firmly condemning the violence, which killed more than 600 people, according to the latest estimates. “As a matter of fact, if Western countries do not act sincerely on this issue… I believe that democracy will start to be questioned throughout the world,” he was quoted by Hurriyet Daily News as saying.

“The Security Council of the United Nations should convene quickly to discuss the situation in Egypt,” Mr. Erdogan added. “This is a very serious massacre ... against the Egyptian people who were only protesting peacefully.”

Iranian President Hassan Rohani also called on the Egyptian military to step back. "I warn Egypt's military that Egyptians are a great and freedom-seeking nation. Do not suppress them," he said in a parliamentary speech, reports the Associated Press.

And a Qatari Foreign Ministry official said in a statement that Qatar "believes that the safest and guaranteed way to resolve the crisis is a peaceful way based on dialogue between parties that have to live together in a pluralist social and political system." Qatar has been a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Jerusalem Post notes.

But the Post adds that Qatar is the outlier among the Gulf states, which by and large view the Muslim Brotherhood and similar popular movements as threats. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have all issued statements in support of the Egyptian military's crackdown, calling it a necessary response to what the UAE called "political extremist groups." The three countries alone have promised $12 billion in aid to Egypt's post-Morsi government.

The regional power that has suffered perhaps the biggest loss of influence due to Egypt's crisis is Turkey. Analysts told Agence France-Presse that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) invested considerable effort in supporting post-Mubarak Egypt, and President Mohamed Morsi's government in particular, in an effort to show the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

“Turkey hoped the transformation in the Middle East would work in its favour because it would gain clout if Muslim Brotherhood-type governments came to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria,” said Professor Ilter Turan at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

“This plan did not work in Syria, and it collapsed in Egypt,” he said.

“Turkey is forced into isolation in the Middle East, losing its control of the situation in the region.”

Turkey's fierce condemnation of the Egyptian military's crackdown stems in part from its loss of influence, Mr. Turan added. “The frustration voiced by Turkey’s leaders stems not only from the pictures of violence or failure of democracy in Egypt, but also from the collapse of the government’s dreams to become a regional player,” he said.

And analysts tell The Washington Post that the greatest winners in the Middle East from the turmoil in Egypt are radical jihadists. The Post notes that the region's militant groups broadly condemned the military coup that deposed Mr. Morsi, and likely see the resultant crisis as an opportunity to turn disaffected Islamists in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood has long and repeatedly condemned violence – into a front line.

Extremists “couldn’t have wished for a better example of how democracy doesn’t work,” said Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi groups. “Muslim Brotherhood members feel especially vulnerable now. They feel that they have been cheated. Radical rhetoric will likely be more acceptable to them now than before.” ...

By locking up Morsi and the group’s top, venerated leaders and keeping them incommunicado, the military could be deliberately pushing the Brotherhood toward behavior that mainstream Egyptians will repudiate, said Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute.

“You might see individuals turn more to anarchy,” said Zelin, who runs the blog “You have a bunch of young people full of rage and emotion. The question is whether the military is doing that on purpose.”

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