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The Muslim Brotherhood’s future in Egypt following Sisi-Erdogan summit

February 27, 2024 at 10:10 am

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) as he arrives in Egypt for an official visit in Cairo, Egypt on 14 February, 2024 [UR Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Anadolu Agency]

It must have been difficult for members of the Muslim Brotherhood to watch Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting the movement’s sworn enemy, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in a bilateral summit in Cairo two weeks ago. The summit was a pivotal step towards Turkiye-Egypt reconciliation. It followed a decade of estrangement since the July 2013 coup led by Sisi, who was Egypt’s Defence Minister at the time. He overthrew the late President Mohamed Morsi and launched the most brutal repression against members of the Brotherhood since its founding in 1928.

Despite the generous support provided by Erdogan to the movement — offering refuge to its leaders on Turkish soil, granting hundreds of its members Turkish citizenship, and hosting their media channels — recent efforts to restore relations between Ankara and Cairo aren’t particularly welcome.

Drawing conclusions about what’s going on reveals variables that were certainly not in favour of the Brotherhood. It is currently suffering from internal divisions and has received painful blows with the arrest of its guide, Mohamed Badie, and his two deputies, Khairat Al-Shater and Mahmoud Ezzat, along with thousands of its cadres, parliamentary deputies and prominent individuals all over Egypt.

With the end of the political rift between Turkey and Egypt, and the rift being mended between Doha and Cairo in 2021, the movement is facing a regional weakening. This increases the pressure on it, exacerbates its predicament, and poses an existential threat, as it is left with limited options and allies.

The shifts in Turkish policy towards Egypt create a crisis for the Brotherhood, as it raises the issue of citizenship granted to several of its leaders, with talks of violations, as well as reviews by the Turkish authorities. Observers believe that there’s going to be a reduction in the Brotherhood’s presence in Turkiye, or perhaps pressure for the transfer of some of their leaders, who are wanted by the Egyptian authorities, to European capitals. Steps could also include restricting members’ activities, and refusing to renew the residency of some of them, while prohibiting any media or political activity hostile to Cairo.

Things may escalate to the point of stripping some Brotherhood leaders of their Turkish citizenship against the backdrop of alleged legal violations in the procedures for granting them it in the first place. This is a sensitive issue supervised by new Interior Minister Ali Yerli Kaya, who pledged after assuming his position last June to combat illegal immigration, deport illegal immigrants, and control the file of refugees and foreign residents on Turkish territory.

Since July last year, an expanded campaign, especially in Istanbul, has targeted all immigrants who entered the country illegally or through smuggling networks. However, according to Kaya, it does not target a specific group or nationality.

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According to one senior Brotherhood official who spoke to Middle East Monitor on condition of anonymity, the issue of stripping the movement’s acting guide Mahmoud Hussein of his citizenship — he lives in Istanbul — was raised prior to Erdogan’s visit to Egypt. However, media outlets affiliated with the UAE and Saudi Arabia raised the issue at a sensitive time, in an attempt to link the visit to new measures being put in place. He pointed out that the immigration file in general is at the top of the Turkish government’s agenda and is not intended only for Brotherhood officials.

“It is true that some have lost their citizenship, but not because they are in the Muslim Brotherhood,” explained the source. “It was because there were legal loopholes in their cases and incomplete documents. No one was deported from Turkey except for the case of Muhammad Abdel Hafeez, the young man who was sentenced to death and deported to Egypt in February 2019. The incident was investigated by the Turks.”

A member of the Brotherhood’s Shura Council, Medhat Al-Haddad, denied that Hussein had been stripped of his Turkish citizenship after Erdogan’s return from Egypt. He claimed that there had been a technical error regarding the information and details that were supposed to be provided.

The more likely scenario would include requests to transfer some of the movement’s senior officials to other parts of Europe without handing any of them over to Egypt. Others may have their status legalised, and the political and media space granted to the Brotherhood may be cut, limiting its activities, while giving priority to reducing problems with Egypt.

Two channels representing the Egyptian opposition, Al-Sharq and Watan, broadcast from Turkiye, while Mekamelin channel was forced to close its office there. The Turkish authorities have asked media figures Moataz Matar and Mohamed Nasser not to attack Al-Sisi and his family, which prompted them to move their programmes out of Turkiye, according to sources at all three channels.

We can be sure that the way that Turkiye will deal with the Brotherhood file will consider the progress made in the relationship between Ankara and Cairo, and will not allow any expansion of the movement, which is opposed to the Sisi regime and has been designated by Egypt as a “terrorist” group since December 2013.

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The results of Erdogan’s visit to Cairo, Al-Sisi’s scheduled visit to Ankara in April and the convening of the high-level Turkish-Egyptian Strategic Cooperation Council will put pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps leading to further isolation and political decline. However, it may push it to become more flexible and adopt a pragmatic approach and express new understandings that allow Turkiye to resolve its issue with Egypt, especially since it no longer has any pressure on the Egyptian streets. It is also suffering from internal divisions and the collapse of its political project in Egypt and neighbouring countries.

Ankara may instruct the Brotherhood to deal with the status quo without questioning its legitimacy, while accepting a bitter deal that involves concessions to return to the political scene in Egypt, on terms that will certainly be in the best interests of the Sisi regime.

Egyptian political researcher Mohamed Shehab has presented his vision for a future that can be built upon to resolve the crisis. It includes the group’s withdrawal from politics; not standing candidates in any presidential or parliamentary elections for a specific period; placing its assets and resources under the supervision of concerned agencies; and approving the legitimacy of Egyptian state institutions.

In return, suggests Shehab, the Egyptian regime could release thousands of detainees, annul death sentences and life sentences, and retry the group’s leaders before civilian courts that meet international standards, paving the way for the adoption of a comprehensive national reconciliation. All of this is provided that the recommendations of the National Council for Human Rights, issued in March 2014, are implemented.

In its report on the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda protest sit-ins of Morsi and Brotherhood supporters on 14 August, 2013, the Council called for an independent judicial investigation to be conducted, and compensation for all victims of the armed clashes whose involvement in acts of violence was not proven. It also called on all political and government forces to stop and reject acts of violence and counter-violence, and to respect human rights and the rule of law.

It is logical for some to doubt the possibility of this scenario becoming reality, but interests may prevail. It can be done if Turkey succeeds in convincing Egypt to adopt a policy of zeroing problems, or if it succeeds in pushing the Brotherhood to show greater political flexibility that takes the reality into account, especially as the group is losing its political weight and influence networks internally and externally.

An Egyptian human rights activist believes that what has happened so far is rapprochement and the prioritisation of interests over differences in a way that achieves the goals of both Egypt and Turkiye alike. He ruled out the handing over of the group’s leaders to Egypt or stripping them of their citizenship. “The ball is now in the Brotherhood’s court if it wants to regain influence in the political equation,” he added, calling upon the movement to address the issue of internal divisions and end them, restore its political balance, and renew the media discourse.

The Egyptian state is not only Al-Sisi, and it is now besieged and weakened, and its people and currency are suffering. So, will the Brotherhood agree to assume power in a weak, exhausted and dependent state?

Realistically speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood presence, whether at home or abroad, no longer represents a threat to the Egyptian regime, compared with the first few years after the military coup. It is also realistic that Egypt, in light of a third presidential term for Al-Sisi taking him as president through to 2030, and a worsening economic crisis, is more in need of zeroing out problems both at home and abroad.

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