After years of estrangement and lack of high-level diplomatic contact, Turkey’s foreign minister called his Egyptian counterpart after Islamic State attack against churches on Palm Sunday killed at least 45 Coptic Christians to convey condolences.
The ISIS attack rattled the Egyptian state and society, exposing the ever-constant menace of extremist violence that systematically targeted Egypt’s vulnerable Christian community. It also laid bare the nature of security challenges that the Egyptian state faces as stability eludes President Abdel Fattah Sisi’s administration despite heavy-handed approach to security matters. He declared three months of state of emergency.
But the deadly attack at least paved way for a semblance of opening with Turkey, the country which has yet to restore its ambassador back to Egypt after years of the diplomatic rift following a military intervention in Cairo in 2013.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry to offer his condolences. It was a seminal moment given the lack of such contact for years.
“We convey our condolences to the bereaved families and the whole people of Egypt,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement before a second attack hit an Alexandria church.
The level of reaction from the Turkish authorities condemning the brutal attacks was noticeable.
“We strongly condemn the heinous attacks on churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday today,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter.
Turkey’s top religious official Mehmet Gormez even went on to curse the attacks, which he described as the shared problem of all humanity.
“The immunity of a place of worship, no matter the religion it belongs to, cannot be violated and the bloodthirsty killing of innocent worshippers cannot ever be forgiven,” he said in a statement.
It is far from clear whether the upswell of support and display of solidarity from the Turkish authorities suggest a change of heart toward the Sisi administration. Turkey’s leaders had long reviled Mr. Sisi for removal of President Mohammad Morsi, ‘castigating his administration after a brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo a month after the military intervention.
More than 1,000 Brotherhood loyalists who had been encamped in Cairo in a weeklong protest of the military takeover were killed in a security operation criticized by the international community. Since then, Ankara has refused to recognize the new regime even after the selection of Mr. Sisi as a president in a popular election in 2014.
Cairo often excoriated the Turkish government for what it said meddling in Egyptian internal affairs, found its pro-Brotherhood remarks disturbing and intolerable. A number of exiled Brotherhood leaders found a shelter in Turkey, a factor that has left a lasting stain on relations.
But last year, the Turkish officials showed signs of mending the ties in a move to end Turkey’s increasing isolation in the region before securing a rapprochement with Russia and Israel.
Whether the latest public remarks to condemn ISIS terror, a threat that also menaced Turkey, will herald a new chapter in diplomatic communication, and rapprochement if possible, remains an open question. Earlier expectations for a thaw turned out to be premature and misplaced given the style of two strongmen ruling Turkey and Egypt.
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