CAIRO >> Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey Saturday and ordered its ambassador expelled from Cairo, a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries that have mounted since the Egyptian military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi this summer.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the Turkish envoy has been considered persona non grata and is being asked to leave the country because of what he described as Ankara’s continued "interference" in Egypt affairs.
In reaction to the decision, Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters that he hoped our relations "will be restored soon."
Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party had strongly backed Morsi — a leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — as an example for the Arab world of a democratically elected, pro-Islamic leader. It has criticized his July 3 overthrow by Egypt’s military, while also criticizing the West for what it has deemed a weak response to a military coup.
Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August after Turkey sharply criticized Egypt’s new leaders over the ouster of Morsi. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt had declined to return its envoy to Ankara.
Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders, dismissing the trial of Morsi which opened earlier this month on charges of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, and describing on Thursday the situation in Egypt as a "humanitarian drama."
"This (Turkish) leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and by supporting meetings for groups that seek to create instability in the country and by making statements that can only be described as an offense to the popular will," the foreign ministry statement said.
Egyptian officials and media have repeatedly accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of meeting in Turkey to plan protests and other ways to undermine the new government in Cairo.
AP writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report from Istanbul