The Brotherhood’s Istanbul conference: Turkey’s message to Egypt?

Egypt’s government was slammed for its clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood during the past two years

Sonia Farid
Sonia Farid - Special to Al Arabiya News
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The Conference for Countering Despotism and Bloodshed, held on Aug. 8-9 in Istanbul, slammed Egypt’s government - referred to as “the coup” - for its clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood during the past two years. It was organized by the Union for Sunni Scholars, an association known to be pro-Brotherhood, and hosted affiliated Islamic associations.

The closing statement, read out by a number of leading preachers, said Egypt’s government was illegitimate, so “people should not abide by any of the state’s decrees and should, instead, strive to rise against them.” The statement, which accused the government of state terrorism and crimes against humanity, specifically slammed death sentences against Brotherhood leaders, including former President Mohammad Mursi.

“These are politicized sentences and if they are executed the consequences are bound to be grave on the domestic, regional, and international levels,” said the statement. “Stopping the execution of those sentences is a legitimate, moral, and human right.” The statement argued that by “waging a war against Islam,” the state drove Egyptians to either atheism or extremism.

It said Aug. 14, which marks the second anniversary of the dispersal of protest sit-ins in Cairo, would be a day of “popular uprising against tyranny” under the leadership of Islamic scholars. The statement held the government responsible for the death in jail of Essam Derbala, a former Islamist militant and leading figure in the movement Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya: “When you intentionally stop giving a sick man his medication, then this is pre-meditated murder for which you will burn in hell.”

The statement delivered “a message for the apostate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi [Egypt’s president]: You are a criminal and a murderer… you and all your thugs from ministers of interior all the way down to prison wardens. You are all murderers.”

Egypt’s Dar al-Iftaa, the governmental body in charge of issuing religious edicts, said the conference was another attempt by Islamist factions to legitimize violence and spread chaos across the country. “This is especially clear in the choice of venue. Turkey’s hostility towards Egypt is no secret and so is the role it is trying to play in the region,” said a statement issued by the Fatwa Monitoring Observatory at Dar al-Iftaa.

The statement said the conference “was attended by the most extremist of Islamist preachers who are willing to receive foreign funding to further their goals.” It cited the focus on the Sunni nature of the conference as proof of collaboration between factions of political Islam and external powers. “This rhetoric corresponds to foreign agendas that aim to divide the region along sectarian lines.”

Al-Azhar deputy Abbas Shouman objected to conference participants presenting themselves as representatives of Sunni scholars: “Who gave them the right to claim this? Isn’t Al-Azhar the world’s biggest Sunni institution?” Shouman said what was common among participants was not that they were Sunni scholars, but that they were all members or supporters of the Brotherhood. “Was there one single scholar there who wasn’t tied to the Brotherhood?”

Emirati writer Mariam al-Kaabi said the conference was one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tools to achieve his regional ambitions under the pretext of religion. “Turkey hosted a conference whose main purpose is inciting violence against Egypt and its leaders because Erdogan cannot let go of his dream of restoring the Islamic caliphate under his leadership and is using religion and sectarianism to achieve this goal,” she wrote. Kaabi adding that the Brotherhood was Turkey’s main agent in weakening Egypt’s regional influence. “Turkey has been helping the Muslim Brotherhood in every possible way.”

Former Brotherhood leader Tarek al-Bishbishi said the group “wants to ward off the charge of terrorism by holding conferences in which members and supporters of the group condemn extremism and highlight the difference between the Brotherhood and other militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS].”

The Brotherhood, Bishbishi added, was now fighting for survival. “In addition to proving it isn’t a terrorist group, the Brotherhood is also desperate to seek help from sympathetic countries so it can guarantee it won’t be eliminated,” he said. “This shows the group is starting to realize that its end is near.”

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