ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Tuesday of having a hand in the Egyptian military’s overthrow of president Mohamed Mursi, making comments likely to further undermine efforts to restore Ankara’s strained ties with Israel.
Erdogan, who has become one of the fiercest critics of the Islamist leader’s removal last month, also said he feared “autocratic regimes” would take root if the West failed to respect election results.
Almost 900 people have died in the past week since the military-backed Egyptian government cracked down on supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, who want the country’s first freely-elected president reinstated.
“What do they say in Egypt? Democracy is not the ballot box. What is behind it? Israel. We have in our hands documentation,” Erdogan told provincial leaders of his AK Party.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to respond to Erdogan’s allegation. “This is a statement well worth not commenting on,” said ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Mursi was the most prominent Islamist to gain power through the ballot box after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and ruled for a year until his removal on July 3. Erdogan’s AK party, which has won the last three Turkish general elections, traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.
Erdogan did not say what documentation he had, but referred to comments he said an Israeli cabinet minister had made before Egyptian parliamentary elections held after a popular uprising pushed President Hosni Mubarak from power.
“Before the 2011 elections, during a session in France, the justice minister and an intellectual from France - he’s Jewish too - they used exactly this comment: ‘Even if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election, they will not win because democracy is not the ballot box’,” Erdogan said.
“That is exactly what happened,” he said in the comments aired live by state broadcaster TRT, without naming either the minister or the French intellectual.
Turkey’s relations with Israel have soured in recent years and hit a low in May 2010 when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists while storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a convoy seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
Earlier this year, Erdogan called Zionism “a crime against humanity”, prompting objections from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. President Barack Obama subsequently orchestrated an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara raid.
At least two senior AK Party officials have suggested there was Jewish involvement in anti-government protests that rocked Turkey in late May and June.
Erdogan repeatedly blamed unnamed foreign circles for those protests, in what he deemed an anti-democratic effort to undo Turkey’s last three elections, in which the AK Party increased its share of the vote each time.
“The West needs to learn the definition of democracy, Erdogan said. “If it cannot ... these clashes will carry the world towards a different place. What is that? It will take it towards autocratic regimes. That is our concern.”
Reporting by Daren Butler, additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Nick Tattersall and David Stamp