Erdogan’s Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood in Africa

Sami Moubayed

An underground cell of the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was uncovered in Sudan in mid-February 2020, planning to carry out terrorist operations in the country’s capital, Khartoum, and in the capital of Egypt, Cairo. One Egyptian admitted that he had entered Sudan using fake Syrian passports, provided by the Turkish government.[1] The terrorists were linked to former Egyptian parliamentarians from the Muslim Brotherhood, including Gamal Hanafi, Yasser Hasanein, and Abdul Hadi Shalabi, who had been part of the Egyptian government that was toppled in 2013. According to Sudanese authorities, Egyptian members of the Brotherhood had reached Sudan coming from Turkey. The masterminds of their operations were Mohammad Abdul Malik al-Halouji, who died in Turkey last November, and Mohammad al-Buhairi, the Egyptian director of Brotherhood operations in Africa.[2]

The Buhairi Network in Sudan

Buhairi is a 77-year old pivotal character in the global Brotherhood organization, wanted by Egyptian security since the days of Gamal Abdul Nasser (ruler from 1952-70). He entered Sudan back in the 1990s and returned briefly to Egypt after the 2011 ouster of Husni Mubarak, only to return to Khartoum in 2013, where he was charged with smuggling Egyptian members of the Brotherhood out of Egypt, either to Somalia and Sudan, or to Turkey.[3] He also was tasked with laying the groundwork for underground Brotherhood cells in Egypt, Sudan, and Libya. Buhairi helped members of Omar al-Bashir’s Sudanese regime flee Sudan to Turkey after Bashir fell from power in April 2019. The long list of names includes al-Abbas al-Bashir and Abdullah Hasan al-Bashir, two brothers of the ex-president, who are both affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.[4]

The Muslim Brotherhood has been active in Sudan since 1949, advocating an Islamic regime ruled by the shari’a (Islamic Holy Law). Forty years later, it joined forces with Bashir, overrunning the state through the Brotherhood-affiliated National Islamic Front (NIF), formerly known as the Islamic Charter Front (ICM). Its main objective was to Islamize society “from above” and to institutionalize the Brotherhood at all main junctures of government, schools, and the judiciary. They were stripped of all influence and immunity after Bashir’s overthrow last year, forcing them to snuggle up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who generously provided them with sanctuary, passports, money, explosives, and arms. Additionally, Erdogan’s ambassador to Khartoum, Irfan Neziroğlu, is a member of the Brotherhood, while Erdogan’s ambassador to Senegal, Ahmet Kavas, has links to Al-Qaeda, EER was told by Abdullah Bozkurt, a prominent Turkish journalist and member of the anti-Erdogan Gülenist movement that is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.

Sudan’s post-Bashir rulers have deported hundreds of Egyptian members of the Brotherhood, all residing in Sudan since 2013. They also closed the office of Al-Jazeera TV, the Doha-based Brotherhood outlet, after recalling Sudan’s ambassador from Qatar.[5] Erdogan was visibly unhappy with the Sudanese coup in 2019, which was as painful as the 2013 one that toppled Mursi, shattering his North African ambitions with the Brotherhood. And Erdogan’s ambitions in Khartoum were not small.

Erdogan had invested heavily in Bashir since signing military and intelligence agreements with Sudan in May 2011. The two countries were committed to cooperation in military training, intelligence sharing, communications, and technology research. In December 2017, the Turkish president visited Sudan, creating the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which resulted in the signing of twelve additional agreements, including that the controversial one to lease the Sudanese island of Suakin to Turkey. A former Ottoman port neglected for an entire century, Erdogan hoped to revamp it and create a military base for Turkish vessels and officers.[6]

All of these ambitions evaporated into thin air after April 2019, prompting Erdogan to turn to the Sudanese underground opposition that was riddled with members of the Brotherhood. Just like in Egypt and Syria, Erdogan decided that if he couldn’t take control of the state in Sudan, then he would move heaven and earth to bring it down and shatter the country to pieces.

Leaks from Erdogan’s Inner Circle

According to recent leaks, Erdogan grew frustrated with the Brotherhood after it failed to maintain its grip on power in Cairo. Those leaks came through a classified wiretap revealing a private 2013 conversation between Ibrahim Kalin, a top Erdogan adviser, and Turkish businessman Abdullah Tivnikli, who was close to the Turkish President. Kalin lamented the fact that Brotherhood demonstrators were winding down in Egypt, while Tivnikli expressed worry that the Hamas movement in Gaza, another Erdogan ally, could be the next Brotherhood casualty in the Arab World. Asked whether Turkey had lost its influence in Egypt, the Erdogan advisor said they still had leverage over the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Tivnikli suggested that the matter be handled under the guise of shoring up democracy in Egypt.[7]

Turkey’s Support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

Erdogan’s ties to the Egyptian and Libyan branches of the Brotherhood are more obvious than Sudan. In Egypt, he warmly embraced the Mursi regime and lamented its downfall in 2013. Under Brotherhood rule, Erdogan promised to triple Turkish investment in Egypt to $5 billion USD, describing Cairo and Ankara as the “Axis of Democracy.” Egyptian authorities accuse him of staging the sit-ins by the Brotherhood in Cairo after the coup that led to a confrontation in August 2013 that killed 43 police officers and 1,000 Brotherhood supporters.

Relations between Egypt and Turkey have only gotten more bitter. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after Mursi fell and suspended security cooperation. Egypt’s new government under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says that the outlawed Brotherhood and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) are two sides of the same coin, and both are blamed for creating havoc throughout the Arab World.[8] When Mursi died in custody last year, Erdogan lamented the loss of a “martyr” and ordered a prayer on his behalf at Istanbul mosques.[9] In 2017, twenty-nine people were detained in Egypt, charged with espionage on behalf of Turkey.[10] As recently as January 2020, Erdogan’s top adviser, Yasin Aktay, released a book glorifying Sayyid Qutb, the chief Brotherhood ideologue who was executed by Nasser back in 1966.[11]

Supporting Fayez al-Sarraj in Libya

After losing the Brotherhood regimes in Cairo and Khartoum, Erdogan put his full weight behind Fayez al-Sarraj, the UN-backed prime minister of Libya, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, fighting an uphill battle against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.[12] Similarly to Sudan, the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was established by Egyptian preachers back in 1949. Long persecuted under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, they re-emerged as active players in 2011 when Gaddafi was removed by a NATO intervention, through the Justice and Construction Party, which won 34 out of 200 seats in the first post-Gaddafi parliamentary elections. Salafi parties won another 27 seats—a total of 61 seats for Islamists.[13]

Fayez al-Sarraj is also allied to the Watan (National) Party, headed by Abdulhakim Belhaj, a one-time associate of Osama Bin Laden and self-appointed “emir” of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).[14] According to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), “Abdulhakim Belhadj seized from the inside of Gaddafi’s house 50 kilos of gold, €80 million, $75 million and 80 kilograms of Gaddafi’s jewelry.” The accusation was based on an intercepted phone call between Belhdaj and ally Mahdi al-Herati, a Libyan jihadist who set up a Salafist rebel group in Syria using Turkish funds.

The Turkish President has already sent Turkish troops to Libya to bolster Sarraj, along with drones, military vehicles, and thousands of Syrian mercenaries from Faylak al-Sham (The Syrian Legion), a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and Sultan Murad Division, a Turkman rebel unit.[15] Haftar has accused the Central Bank of Libya of funneling oil money to the Muslim Brotherhood.[16] According to Ahmed Mismari, spokesman of LNA, the governor of the central bank of Libya, Sadik al-Kebir, has funded other groups with links to Al-Qaeda with 11 million dinars, through his relationship with Ali Sallabi, the Qatar-based leader of the Libyan branch of the Brotherhood, who is close to the Egyptian spiritual godfather of the organization, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.[17]

The legal adviser to the Central Bank of Libya, Mustapha al-Manea, is an official member of the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and serves as a trustee at the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA).[18] Another Brotherhood chief, Suleiman Abdul Ghader currently serves as managing director of the Institute of Banking Studies (IBS) in Libya, also affiliated with Sarraj.[19] The Libyan Central Bank has deposited $1.5 billion USD at the Turkish Ziraat Bankasi Bank, which is used to pay for the Brotherhood activities in Libya.[20]

“As long as the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Turkish equivalent of Muslim Brotherhood, continues to support the [Brotherhood] network, along with Qatar, they will remain a viable structure in Africa”, said Bozkurt. “Many of [Brotherhood] leaders operate out of Turkey and coordinate their planning … of plots from there. Libya is an example how far Erdogan and his associates are willing to go [in supporting the Brothers] by pouring in arms, sending fighters, and providing logistics to prop up the network in Libya.”

European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.

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REFERENCES

[1] Abdulhamid, Ashraf. “Jadid Khaliyat al-Ikhawn Misri fi al-Soudan,” al-Arabiya (February 16, 2020): https://tinyurl.com/r9phd4f

[2] Abdulhamid, “Jadid Khaliyat al-Ikhawn Misri fi al-Soudan”.

[3] Abdulhamid, Ashraf. “Man Huwa Mohammad al-Buhairi,” al-Arabiya (July 27, 2019): https://tinyurl.com/w3nhaz7

[4] Habta, Majid. “Ikhwan Misr fi al-Soudan,” Al-Dustor (February 14, 2020): https://www.dostor.org/3001848

[5] Emam, Amr. “Sudan likely to hand over Muslim Brotherhood members to Egypt,” Arab Weekly (June 9, 2019): https://thearabweekly.com/sudan-likely-hand-over-muslim-brotherhood-members-egypt

[6] Bozkurt, Abdullah. “Turkey’s deal with Sudan on intelligence and military affairs in limbo,” Nordic Monitor (May 3, 2019): https://www.nordicmonitor.com/2019/05/turkeys-deal-with-sudan-on-intelligence-and-military-affairs-in-limbo/

[7] Bozkurt, Abdullah. “Secret wiretap reveals Erdogan governments clandestine links to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” Nordic Monitor (February 19, 2020): https://www.nordicmonitor.com/2020/02/secret-wiretap-reveals-erdogan-govt-clandestine-links-to-egypts-muslim-brotherhood/

[8] Maher, Mohamed & Tsukerman, Irina. “Tensions between Egypt and Turkey are on the rise,” The Washington Institute (July 17, 2019): https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/tensions-between-egypt-and-turkey-are-on-the-rise

[9] Alyanak, Cigdem & Mutlu, Sefa. “Morsi is martyr for his cause: Turkish President,” Anadolu Agency (June 18, 2019): https://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkey/morsi-is-martyr-for-his-cause-turkish-president/1507166

[10] “Egypt detains 25 people on suspicion of espionage for Turkey,” Reuters (November 22, 2017): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-court/egypt-detains-29-people-on-suspicion-of-espionage-for-turkey-idUSKBN1DM1AN

[11] “Erdogan’s adviser Aktay releases book highlighting MB’s Qutb,” Egypt Today (February 6, 2020): https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/2/81350/Erdo%C4%9Fan-s-adviser-Aktay-releases-book-highlighting-MB-s-Qutb

[12] Sbai, Souad. “Haftar is against the Muslim Brotherhood, not against Tripoli,” AlMaghrebiya Global Press Monitor (April 8, 2019): https://almaghrebiya.it/2019/04/08/libya-haftar-is-against-the-muslim-brotherhood-not-against-tripoli/

[13] Glen, Cameron. “Libya’s Islamists: Who they are and what they want,” Wilson Center (August 8, 2017): https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want

[14] Coughlin, Con. “Erdogan’s bold plan for a new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Libya,” Gatestone Institute (January 23, 2020): https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/15474/libya-erdogan-muslim-brotherhood

[15] “Jihadi exodus from Syria to Libya is underway,” Voltaire Network (December 31, 2019): https://tinyurl.com/u2b7qhh

[16] Prentis, Jamie. “Libya’s Haftar accuses Tripoli of funding Muslim Brotherhood militias,” The National (October 28, 2018): https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/libya-s-haftar-accuses-tripoli-of-funding-muslim-brotherhood-militias-1.754362

[17] Batakoushi, Asmaa. “Sallabi and Qaradawi: Two sides of the same terrorist coin” The Portal (October 23, 2019): https://www.theportal-center.com/2019/10/sallabi-and-qaradawi-two-sides-of-the-same-terrorism-coin/

[18] “The Muslim Brotherhood Grip on Libyan Financial Institutions,” Al-Masdar (June 28, 2019: https://almarsad.co/en/2019/06/28/the-muslim-brotherhood-grips-on-libyan-financial-institutions-the-case-of-mustapha-al-manea/

[19] “The Muslim Brotherhood Grip on Libyan Financial Institutions,” Al-Masdar (June 28, 2019: https://almarsad.co/en/2019/06/28/the-muslim-brotherhood-grips-on-libyan-financial-institutions-the-case-of-mustapha-al-manea/

[20] “The Muslim Brotherhood Grip on Libyan Financial Institutions,” Al-Masdar (June 28, 2019: https://almarsad.co/en/2019/06/28/the-muslim-brotherhood-grips-on-libyan-financial-institutions-the-case-of-mustapha-al-manea/