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Turkey's Erdogan tells Egypt to release Morsi and free political prisoners

Erdogan has criticised the Sisi presidency in Egypt and urged authorities there to cancel mass death sentences against political detainees
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on an official visit to Iran (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Egypt should release ousted president Mohammed Morsi from prison before he would consider improving ties with Cairo.

“Mr Morsi is a president elected by 52 percent of the votes,” Erdogan told reporters on a plane while returning from an official trip to Iran, according to local media. “They should give him his freedom.”

Egyptian-Turkish relations have been strained since a 2013 popularly backed military coup deposed Morsi from power – the Muslim Brotherhood leader was subsequently arrested and remains imprisoned by the army.

The AKP party in Turkey - co-founded by Erdogan - has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Erdogan has described former army chief turned president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as a “coup leader”, sparking the ire of the Egyptian leader along with his Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Turkish president recently made an official visit to Riyadh and has supported the Saudi led military intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen. This has prompted speculation of there being space for a thaw in ties between Ankara and Cairo, on the basis that Saudi Arabia has been a key backer of the Sisi presidency.

However, Erdogan, in his comments published on Thursday, made clear he has certain conditions before a rapprochement can take place with Sisi.

“There are 3,000 people there [in Egypt] sentenced to death,” he said, referencing the large number of political prisoners condemned to death in mass trials roundly criticised by human rights groups.

“This should be lifted.”

Erdogan called for a ban to be lifted on some political parties in Egypt and urged Cairo authorities to award retrials to what he said were 18,000 political prisoners.

“They [Egypt] say ‘Turkey should not interfere with our domestic affairs’. We are not interfering. If something happens in a country against freedoms, we should speak up,” he said.

Egyptian authorities have previously rejected Erdogan’s criticisms of Sisi, describing his views as “insulting to the presidency”.