Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally involved himself in domestic politics in Egypt in a last-ditch effort to shore up support for embattled President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, a secret wiretap has revealed.
According to the wiretap, obtained by Nordic Monitor, Erdoğan was talking on the phone about how he planned to send aid to make Morsi look good before a possible election. He also praised the approval of the Egyptian constitution, which was backed by Morsi but disputed by the opposition over claims of fraud.
The tape, recorded on April 22, 2013 at 13:53 hours, showed Mustafa Latif Topbaş, a corrupt businessman and long-time family friend of Erdoğan, called then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to talk about developments in Egypt. Topbaş said he had met with Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, at one time listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the UN and the US, and that the two had talked about what was going on in Egypt. Al-Qadi was conducting secret business deals with Topbaş, Erdoğan’s son Bilal and other associates in violation of Turkish laws, and all were under criminal investigation by the Istanbul prosecutor.
“He is going back today … he brought you Zamzam [holy water from Mecca] that I will send to your home … and he said Salam to you,” Topbaş said of his conversation with al-Qadi. Erdoğan returned al-Qadi’s greetings. Then the conversation between Topbaş and Erdoğan turned to Egypt, where the resentment of Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian rule had started to gain strength. A campaign called Tamarod was launched in April, with activists calling for Morsi’s resignation, an early presidential election and a new constitution.
Transcript of the wiretapped conversation between then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his business associate M. Latif Topbaş:Erdogan_Morsi_wiretap
“It is not Morsi but Shater who is actually running the government,” Topbaş quoted al-Qadi as saying in his conversation with Erdoğan. He was referring to Mohammed Khairat Saad el-Shater, a senior figure of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) who was disqualified from running as a candidate for the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party in the 2012 presidential election. Erdoğan said there were some problems there (among the Muslim Brotherhood leadership) and added, “I told them to avoid any resentment among themselves.” Erdoğan was apparently concerned about the internal feud between Morsi and el-Shater, both of whom had privately maintained close ties to Erdoğan, the Turkish equivalent of a Muslim Brotherhood politician.
Erdoğan recalled how he had advised Morsi and other MB leaders to do some work in Cairo to convince Egyptians to vote for them. “[The city of] Cairo is mired in filth, and I said to him [Morsi]: Look, Cairo is filthy, especially the ancient tomb cities, let’s do something like that … outrageous [scenery], there are leather shops there that smell quite bad, filth all over the place … I said I would dispatch a [Turkish] company that would work [in Cairo] until the elections, we’ll give you 100-150 [garbage] trucks that can compress trash.” He was apparently trying to prop up Morsi in anticipation of an early presidential election, which was being called for by the political opposition, clearly in violation of Egyptian laws that bar foreign interference in domestic affairs.
Erdoğan lamented, however, that the Morsi government had yet to send a minister to talk about his plans for Cairo and said he reminded Morsi about it the other night again when he talked to him on the phone. Erdoğan was very happy to see that Morsi managed to secure votes for the new constitution, according to the transcript of the conversation.
Referring to the Spanish company FCC, which had a contract for waste management in Cairo, Erdoğan told Morsi and his people that the Spaniards could not handle the cleanup of the city. “These Spaniards won’t clean up these places,” he had said and conveyed his thoughts to Morsi on the matter.
However, Erdoğan’s ally Morsi was ousted from power amid popular protests on July 3, 2013, backed by the Egyptian military. In a major blow to Turkey’s important ties to Egypt, a major Arab nation, Erdoğan aligned himself with the Muslim Brotherhood and refused to recognize Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his government as legitimate. He offered sanctuary for the MB leadership and turned Turkey into a regional hub for the Brotherhood’s international network.
The Turkish president has even made a habit of using the Rabia sign he borrowed from the MB to demonstrate solidarity with the Brotherhood at almost every opportunity. He has nationalized the four-finger Rabia, with each finger representing one of his “new Turkey” principles: one nation, one flag, one state and one homeland.
In August 2013 Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors after Erdoğan’s clear stand in favor of the Brotherhood. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt declined to have its envoy return to Ankara. In November 2013 Egypt declared Turkish Ambassador Hüseyin Avni Botsalı persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country because of what it described as Ankara’s continued interference in Egyptian affairs, and it scaled back its diplomatic relations with Turkey to the level of chargé d’affaires. Turkey reciprocated within hours by declaring Egyptian Ambassador Abderahman Salah El-Din persona non grata.
Al-Qadi, Topbaş, Erdoğan’s son Bilal and son-in-law Berat Albayrak were all leading suspects in an organized crime investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to not follow the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in their investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates and family members.