Turkey becomes biggest Muslim Brotherhood backer in the world

Lorenzo Vidino’s interest in Islamism started in Milan, when he was playing football in the streets and watched local Muslims heading off for jihad in the Bosnian war.

More than a decade ago, Vidino brought his knowledge to Washington to teach at George Washington University and speak to universities, media outlets and federal institutions, hoping they appreciate and possibly adopt his views on the world’s leading Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Vidino was chosen to head the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security’s Program on Extremism which launched in June 2015 and still the director of the programme.

In an interview with Ahval at a D.C. cafe, Vidino said Turkey’s ruling Islamists in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Ikhwan in Arabic. The Ikhwan is international and its strategies and tactics are different in each country, he said, though the various national chapters often communicate and cooperate with each other.

Erdoğan’s ties to the Brotherhood go back to the 1970s, when he was one of the more trusted political pupils of Necmettin Erbakan, the father of Islamism in Turkey. According to Vidino, Muslim Brotherhood branches in the Gulf helped support Erbakan and Turkey’s Islamists in this era when they faced repression from the secular establishment.

“The historical roots are the same, as well as the ideological closeness in political and religious interpretation, and finally, self-interest as political opportunism,” said Vidino.

Since soon after the AKP’s founding in 2001, Muslim Brotherhood groups around the world have handed it a leading position in the movement, due to the success of Erdoğan and his party, which has not lost a national vote since.

“If we were to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood family found throughout the world, the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey (the Erdoğan administration) is the only group in charge of a country in this big family,” said Vidino. “They lead a large, prosperous country and help their other relatives. They play the role of the rich uncle who is so powerful, and all the nephews are looking to him, seeking praise.”

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