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Turkey’s opposition slams Erdoğan for change of stance on Egypt’s El-Sisi

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Turkish opposition parties have criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his change of stance on his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and for meeting him on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar on Sunday, local media reported on Monday.

Erdoğan and Sisi, who have been sparring since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was strongly supported by Erdoğan due to his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, gave each other a warm handshake and had a conversation on the sidelines of the World Cup opening ceremony in Doha, a photo from Turkey’s presidency showed.

The two countries have been trying to improve relations and started consultations between senior foreign ministry officials last year.

The latest sign of a thaw between the two countries, which came after almost a decade of tension and after Erdoğan said in early 2019 that he wouldn’t meet with Sisi until Egypt’s political prisoners –- 65,000 people, according to human rights groups — had been released, drew criticism from opposition politicians in Turkey, who interpreted it as a strategic move by the Turkish president ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections set for June of next year.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Özgür Özel on Monday commented on Erdoğan’s handshake with Sisi during a program on Halk TV, saying that the president “ate his own words” and “held the hand he had pushed.”

“It’s best not to cut our relations with any country so as to protect our interests and reputation. But what’s more important is not to let our country’s dignity fall through the floor like this,” Future Party (GP) spokesman Serkan Özcan said, adding that it was an “insult” to the honor of the nation to shake Sisi’s hand with a smile after having repeatedly called him a “murderer.”

“From Rabia to the handshake. From the ‘putschist Sisi’ to ‘my friend Sisi’,” Homeland Party (MP) leader Muharrem İnce said in a tweet in which he shared two photos, one showing Erdoğan raising a four-finger salute seen as a tribute to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed by security forces in Cairo following Morsi’s ouster and the other his handshake with Sisi.

After the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in several Middle Eastern countries, İstanbul became a refuge for Islamist opposition activists, especially for Egyptians linked to Morsi’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Last year, Erdoğan’s government demanded popular Egyptian exiled talk show hosts, such as Moataz Matar and Mohamed Nasser, tone down their criticism of Egypt’s leader.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights defender, tweeted, “It’s quite thought-provoking to see Erdoğan, who once accused Turkey’s opposition of supporting Sisi and the coup in Egypt, shaking hands with Sisi.”

Although Erdoğan said in July there was no reason high-level talks should not take place, Egyptian officials had expressed caution over any rapprochement, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry saying late last month that normalization talks hadn’t resumed because “there were no changes in Turkey’s practices” in Libya.

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