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Tuesday 20th March 2018

The Changing Face of Turkey’s Relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood


Selam Ramadan

Fri, 08 Feb 2019 22:24 GMT

Turkey’s extradition of a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, accused of assassinating a senior Egyptian judge, is considered a unique incident for a country known for hosting a variety of the Brotherhood’s activities. Despite the uproar surrounding the process that forced Turkish authorities to announce the opening of an investigation, the facts indicate that the authorities have a systematic way of dealing with members of the Brotherhood, based on reward and punishment and their ability to serve Turkey’s agenda.

The extradition of Mohammed Abdelhafiz, the Egyptian man belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, is still causing a reaction in Turkey to the point where the authorities in Istanbul were forced to form a committee to investigate the young man’s extradition, saying that eight police officers have been fired from their posts due to their involvement with the incident.

This incident, that has occupied Turkish social networking sites claiming that Turkey is abandoning the Brotherhood, goes back to January 16th, when Abdelhafiz landed in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport from Somalia.

During the completion of his e-visa procedure, he was found to be on Egypt’s list of wanted men with a death sentence charge for the murder of former Egyptian Attorney General, Hisham Barakat. Sources from within the Brotherhood confirm that the young man sought political asylum upon arrival, but the Turkish authorities rejected his request and sent him back to Egypt aboard a Turkish Airlines flight bound for Cairo on the 18th of the same month. According to Yasin Aktay, advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Abdelhafiz did not ask for political asylum.

This incident was followed by another “mysterious” disappearance, confirmed Turkish sources to 7DNews. This time, another Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member, Nabil Saad, was arrested last Tuesday at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on his way in from Sudan. The source also reported that a third member, Hisham Abdullah, was arrested in August for several days in the exact same way. The Brotherhood’s spokesman in Syria, Zuhair Salem, was also detained for three days at Istanbul before being released following high-level Brotherhood interventions.

The Egyptian Brotherhood member’s extradition was discovered by Egyptian journalist and pro-Brotherhood activist, Haitham Abukhaleel, who described the incident as “a first of its kind” that opened the door to questions regarding its meaning, especially with regards to Turkey’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Dr. Mohammad Nur al-Din, an academic and researcher on Turkey’s affairs and the Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Beirut, Turkey’s behaviour during the last few years shows no distinction between members of the Brotherhood and others. To him, Turkey “worked simultaneously in different Arab countries under the framework of the Arab Spring, and even after, to replace existing regimes by ones loyal to Turkey”.

One reason for Turkey’s anti-Damascus stance stems from Ankara’s desire to have Syria’s Brothers as members of the new Syrian government. In Egypt, Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood was reported to be so prominent that it engineered Mohamed Morsi’s electoral campaign. In Tunisia, Turkey was one of the biggest supporters of Rached Ghannouchi and the Ennahdha Party. Dr. Nur al-Din considers that the extradition of the Egyptian Brother “is very strange”. In his interview with 7DNews, he added that “the Brotherhood is the only remaining source of influence for Turkey”.

A former Turkish official, who wishes to remain anonymous, told 7DNews that the Turkish authorities classify the Brotherhood as a “strategic and tactical advantage”, revealing that there is a serious debate within the administration of President Erdogan regarding the feasibility of supporting the movements that have failed. The source clarified his point by saying that while the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia has managed to make it to the top of the chain of command, Syria’s Brotherhood has barely done much and Egypt’s Brotherhood hasn’t been able to accomplish much, despite the huge Turkish support afforded to them.

After the extradition, a report by the American Media Institute revealed strong pressure from the administration of US President Trump on Turkey to change its policy towards the Brotherhood and the Brothers found on Turkish soil. The report spoke of a deal between the two countries that could change Turkey’s attitude towards the Brotherhood and the factions that came out of it in the region. The report also pointed out that extraditing a wanted Egyptian citizen back to his country suggests that Turkey might have grown tired of hosing the Brotherhood and that this is a new step that allows Ankara to reject the presence of Brothers in its territories.

Nur el-Din says that the oil and gas war in the eastern Mediterranean region is currently at its peak and that the countries in the “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum”, which include Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Jordan, are in disagreement with Turkey and will not allow it to join the organization. On the contrary, there is an attempt to marginalise Turkey’s role in the eastern Mediterranean energy industry, affecting its position in the European and Global market as well.

As for the extent to which this step can be linked to Turkey’s attempts to open up to Syria after the Turkish president said that Turkey continues to maintains a low-level relationship with the Syrian regime, Nur al-Din explains that “all this talk of high-level contacts between the Turks and Syria is not logical; Turkey’s content with only maintaining intelligence connections, which is something usually found between enemies. Turkey is not yet prepared to recognize the authority of the Syrian regime, at least not for the foreseeable future”.

Middle East