Egypt announced Saturday that it was downgrading its diplomatic relations with Turkey and expelled the Turkish ambassador because of “provocative” criticisms of Cairo by Turkey’s prime minister, a spokesman for Egypt’s foreign minister said.

Egypt also said that its ambassador to Turkey, who was withdrawn in August, would be permanently recalled, all but severing relations with a regional heavyweight that had been one of Egypt’s most prominent allies before the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in July.

In retaliation, Turkey declared the absent Egyptian ambassador “persona non grata” and also downgraded diplomatic relations. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was unapologetic, calling Egypt’s government a “pro-coup administration” and saying “we never respect those who do not respect people’s right to sovereignty.”

Ties between the two countries had been fraying for months. Erdogan had cultivated a strong relationship with Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of Erdogan’s wider bid for regional leadership anchored by support for Islamist allies. After Morsi’s ouster and arrest by the military, Erdogan became one of the most vocal foreign critics of the crackdown on the Brotherhood, angering Egyptian officials by expressing solidarity with protesters and criticizing the arrests of senior Brotherhood leaders.

Erdogan’s comments Thursday were the last straw, said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Aty, citing statements in support of Morsi and his criticism of the former president’s trial on murder charges. Egypt said it was not completely severing ties between the countries, but downgrading the relationship to the level of chargé d’affaires. It was a further sign of the country’s rapidly shifting foreign policy since the military takeover, as officials have pursued new alliances and lashed out at old friends who have voiced any criticism.


Syria: rebels seize oil and gas fields

A group of rebel brigades, including an affiliate of Al-Qaida, seized one of Syria’s largest oil and gas fields from government forces Saturday, opposition activists said, further depriving the government of President Bashar Assad of the resources it needs to remain solvent.

Videos posted online showed scores of black-clad rebels walking through a large arch over an entrance to the Omar oil field, rummaging through its buildings and standing atop tanks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a number of rebel brigades had seized the area after an overnight battle and the withdrawal of government troops. Among the groups that participated were the Islam Army, which was formed east of Damascus, and the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al-Qaida.

Meanwhile, a string of government airstrikes on rebel-held areas in northern Syria killed at least 44 people Saturday, activists said.

news services