Turkish journalist: Erdogan’s ties with Muslim Brotherhood remain strong

Turkish journalist: Erdogan’s ties with Muslim Brotherhood remain strong, despite deportation of a member to Egypt, by Turkish authorities.

A fugitive Egyptian, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested by the Turkish police and was sent to Cairoin shackles where he would probably be tortured and executed. What happened? Has Erdogan stopped supporting the Muslim Brotherhood? Is he not a fanatical foe of Egyptian President al Sisi who came to power by expelling Islamist Morsi? Is not Ankara freezing relations with Egypt? These are just a few of the questions posed by journalist Burak Berdil, in an article published by the Gatestone Institute.

In August 2013 one month after Morsi’s overthrow by Sisi, Erdogan appeared on television and read a letter from a Muslim Brotherhood member, who had been killed in Cairo incidents, to his 17-year-old daughter.

Erdogan’s tears and 17-year-old Asmaa became a symbol of Turkish Islamists. Erdogan greeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood with the four-finger sign (rabia). Sisi proclaimed elections and won them. Erdogan declared them invalid and illegal.

He vowed to never recognize the Sisi regime, calling him a tyrant and a coupster. Then what happened with Mohammed Abdelhefaz Ahmet Hussein, the member of the Muslim Brotherhood that was extradited to Egypt, where he will probably be executed?

Hussein was born in 1991. He is an agronomist and known for his ties to the Brotherhood since his youth. He is one of 28 convicted for the assassination of the Egyptian Attorney General. He was convicted in absentia. He had managed to escape first to Somalia and then to Sudan.

He planned to flee to Malaysia via Turkey. Through friends, he would pass illegally in the country as the Turkish embassy in Somalia did not grant him a visa. On the evening of January 19, 2019, Hussein arrived in Istanbul with a ticket to Cairo, where he would not be going. Hussein again applied for a visa, but he was not granted despite his appeals that if he returned to Egypt he would be executed.

The Turks responded that they had no proof that he would be executed and refused to help him. They even put him on the plane for Cairo where he was arrested on his arrival. The Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and Turkey, are naturally outraged and accused Erdogan of this big mistake.

The “mistake” was that the Erdoğan administration was not expecting Hussein, so the immigration officers treated him as just another illegal entry. He would not have been arrested and extradited if the Turkish authorities had known he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Müfid Yüksel, an Islamist columnist in Turkey wrote: “Those [officials] who extradited him should be probed.” Another Turkish journalist, Adem Özköse, wrote: “Our brother Hussein has been extradited to the Sisi administration. Those who are responsible should be held to account”.

Kenan Alpay, from the militant Islamist daily Yeni Akit, appealed to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu: “Why are you still silent [on the Hussein affair]?” This, said Rıdvan Kaya, head of an Islamist NGO, Özgür-Der, is providing a bloodthirsty dictator with new blood.

Is this a subtle step taken by the Erdoğan administration to offer an olive branch to his arch-enemy, el-Sisi of Egypt? Is Erdoğan changing course and abandoning his ideological love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood? Is Hussein’s extradition an initial sign of a Turkish plan to normalize ties with Egypt, after six years of explicit hostilities? Why did Erdoğan extradite a 28-year-old member of the Ikhwan to el-Sisi’s Egypt, while knowing that he would likely be executed? Is this a signal that there is a major policy change in Ankara?

To reach any of those conclusions would be a bit naïve. There are a number of reasons to believe that Hussein was not extradited to Egypt as part of a Turkish policy re-calibration or of a decision slowly to distance itself from the Islamist cause.

First, Erdoğan seems too ideologically rigid to make fundamental policy moves away from political Islam — his whole reason for being.

Second, he is heading toward critical municipal elections on March 31 and therefore not in a position to offend his Islamist grassroots supporters. As in every pre-election period, this, for Erdoğan, is the time to bash Israel and tone up pro-Hamas, pro-Ikhwan rhetoric as strongly as possible.

Third, there is Qatar, Erdoğan’s staunchest regional ally and the patron of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Qatari-based nonagenarian cleric wanted in Egypt in connection to the violent protests that followed the ouster of Morsi.

In a 2016 speech, al-Qaradawi praised “Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” as a man “who defends the nation in the name of Islam and the Quran and the Sunnah, and Sharia, and he speaks of standing in front of the tyrant.” The man did not say which tyrant, but in the jihadist lexicon, “the tyrant” usually refers to “infidels”: Christians and Jews as well as secular Muslims.

Fourth, the way Hussein was deported to his home country looks very much like a typical Turkish bureaucratic mishap. He was probably not expected to arrive in Istanbul with the intention of staying. He would most probably have been given preferential treatment by the Turkish embassy in Mogadishu had his friends not thought they could smuggle him into Turkey without a visa. It is most likely that the Turkish immigration officers in Istanbul were confused over whether he was a member of their president’s favorite organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, or if he was an Islamic State jihadist. As Hussein did not have valid papers for entry, they most likely did not want to take the risk.

The Istanbul governor’s office denied that Hussein had requested asylum. On February 5, apparently panicked by the political repercussions of what would normally be a simple deportation, the governor’s office released a new statement saying that eight police officers working for Turkey’s passport control office were suspended, pending an investigation. That confirms that Hussein was not “politically extradited to Egypt“.

Erdoğan has always argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a terror organization, but rather an “ideological organization”. His “ideological” kinship with the Brotherhood remains in place. Early in January, DITIB, the Turkish government-backed Islamic organization operating in Germany, invited two Brotherhood members to its conference in Cologne. Henriette Reker, a spokesperson for Cologne’s mayor, said: “there was no place for radicalism in Cologne“. The Cologne conference confirms that Turkey is still officially supporting the Muslim Brotherhood: a Turkish government agency invited two Brotherhood members to its event in the German city.

Erdoğan’s feud with Egypt’s El-Sisi runs deep. Erdoğan has a kind of emotional, ideological attachment to the Ikhwan which, after having deposed its president, Mohamed Morsi, el-Sisi views as an existential security threat to his country.

Starting in 2015, Turkey provided safe haven to Muslim Brotherhood members, including broadcasting their messages from Turkish territory.

According to a Syrian journalist, the most important members of the Brotherhood live in Turkey. He estimates that 2,000 senior members of the Fraternity live in the country, which also controls 10 television and many radio stations. Erdogan does not seem to change.