Egyptian policemen keep watch outside the Turkish embassy in Cairo on Saturday. (AMEL PAIN/EPA)

Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey and expelled its ambassador from Cairo on Saturday, a sharp escalation in the tensions between the two countries since Egypt’s Islamist president was ousted in a military coup this summer.

Turkey reciprocated by declaring the Egyptian ambassador “persona non grata” and downgrading relations with Egypt to the same level. Egypt’s ambassador hadn’t been in the country since August because of the turmoil.

Saturday’s decisions, which fall short of closing diplomatic missions in the two countries, are a dramatic reversal of their warming relations in the past year.

Egypt’s interim government has vehemently protested remarks by Turkish leaders criticizing the coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi. Egypt acted Saturday after another critical comment by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters Saturday in the city of Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast, Erdogan appeared unfazed by the diplomatic snub. He said there would be no shift in his position toward Egypt’s new rulers. “I will never have respect for those who come to power through coups,” he said.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said that the Turkish ambassador had been asked to leave the country and that diplomatic relations with Turkey will be scaled back to the level of charge d’affaires.

“This [Turkish] leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests,” the ministry’s statement said.

A Turkish ministry statement said Egypt’s interim government, “which came to power in exceptional circumstances,” was responsible for the deteriorating relations. “The deep-rooted ties and bonds of brotherhood between the people of Turkey and Egypt will remain,” the statement said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters that he hoped relations with Egypt “will be restored soon.”

Since the 2011 uprising against Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Turkey has sought to strengthen ties with Egypt’s new political order.

The Turkish president was the first to visit Egypt after the fall of Mubarak in February 2011. Trade between the two countries increased sharply last year. Turkey also increased its investment in Egypt and currently has more than 20 development projects there.

Turkey’s Islam-rooted ruling party strongly backed Morsi — a leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — as an example for the Arab world of a democratically elected Islamist leader.

— Associated Press