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Has the Muslim Brotherhood turned from friend to foe as Turkiye restore ties with Egypt?

August 4, 2023 at 11:30 am

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as they attend reception hosted by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

After almost a decade of diplomatic deadlock, Egypt and Turkiye have agreed to restore diplomatic ties and high-level visits have already taken place between two countries. Recently, Egypt’s commerce minister was in Turkiye and it was agreed the two sides would raise trade levels to $15 billion by 2030.

This rapprochement began in early 2021 but the major breakthrough came during the inaugural ceremony of 2022 Qatar World Cup when both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel fattah Al-Sisi shook hands in the presence of Qatari ruler Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani.

The relationship between the two had soured after Turkiye denounced the removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a coup in July 2013. Erdogan had been the first leader to visit Egypt after Morsi was elected president to showcase the ideological intimacy between the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkiye even submitted an official request to the UNSC to declare President Al-Sisi a war criminal after he orchestrated the coup and both countries expelled the ambassador of the other.

Soon Turkiye became a safe haven for exiled Brotherhood leaders, owners of anti-regime media outlets, and other Islamist patrons after the Brotherhood was declared a terrorist outfit by the Egyptian government in December 2013. The presence of the Brotherhood in Turkiye has been the principal cause of contention between the two, and their deportation has been the principal matter of all the past negotiations between Cairo and Ankara.. According to a report, around 8,000 Brotherhood members and 3,000 other Islamist activists are residing in Turkiye; of those, 2,000 have been granted citizenship, while the rest are residing unofficially and are categorised as illegal immigrants.

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Egypt has insisted that all those who have sought shelter in Turkiye be handed over to it. In recent weeks, Cairo is reported to have handed Turkish authorities a list of those who are wanted in Egypt on terror charges, many of whom have been sentenced to death in absentia.

The Turkiye-Egypt rapprochement exercise has coincided with the toning down of anti-Egypt rhetoric in the Turkish media. In 2021, Ankara instructed many media outlets, particularly those run by Brotherhood veterans who fled to Turkiye, to stop airing anti-Egypt views. In 2021, Turkiye asked many MBH-affiliated channels like El Sharq TV and Watan TV to stop airing political shows critical of the Egyptian regime, like the popular The Streets of Egypt, and pressed them to confine themselves only to non-political shows. Later, the El Sharq TV website was shut down for not abiding by government instructions. Many members of the Brotherhood were also arrested in 2021 for using their social media accounts to call on people to protest against the government in Egypt.

In the early days of backchannel diplomacy, Egypt showed no enthusiasm towards the anti-Brotherhood action the Turkish government was taking, referring to it only as ‘a good gesture’. While Turkiye refused to change its stance and continued to consider the Brotherhood a political movement.

But following the resumption of full diplomatic ties, Turkiye began to crack down on the Brotherhood. Police have now arrested dozens of top Brotherhood leaders, while seven of its members have been deported to neighbouring countries and many are reported to have left for the UK, the US, Indonesia and Malaysia, fearing backlash from the Turkish authorities. Others who have been residing in Turkiye for a decade have been asked to leave the country within five months. It is also reported that many of them have had the renewal of their residency cards denied, and hence they have no option but to leave the country. The AKP has also withdrawn membership to the party for those associated with the Brotherhood in Egypt and who have acquired Turkish residency

These stern measures coincided with the denial of citizenship to many prominent Brotherhood leaders, including preacher Wagdy Ghoneim, who was sentenced to death in 2018 in absentia by an Egyptian court. Ghoneim expressed his disappointment following the Turkish decision. He said that after he was deported from Qatar, he had found refuge in Turkiye; however, he would now have to look for new accommodation. Ghoneim is on the terror list in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and he is banned from entering the UK.

Turkiye is likely to stop the process of naturalisation and humanitarian residency that the government had launched following Morsi’s ouster.

These sudden changes in the political orientations of Turkiye towards the Brotherhood could be attributed to Ankara’s realisation that the movement, as a political force, is no longer relevant in its own country (Egypt) and its presence in Turkiye is no longer required because of the fast changing political and strategic scenarios. It is not possible for Turkiye to influence policy in Egypt by hosting Brotherhood members. Instead, their presence has become a burden on the economy and is likely to be misused by Erdogan’s political opponents.

READ: Relations have resumed between Egypt and Turkiye

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.