Already ostracized abroad, Ankara’s latest move of stating that it would welcome leading figures from the Muslim Brotherhood is, I believe, poised to stand as another strategic mistake that deeply runs against the national interests of Turkey.
Turkey’s newly-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautiously welcomed on Tuesday the possibility that several leading figures from the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, including the Islamist movement’s Foreign Affairs officer Amr Darragh, could move to Turkey.
“If they file a request to move to Turkey, we will assess their situation and they can move to Turkey if there is no reason to prevent their entry,” Erdogan told reporters, when asked about reports that the Muslim Brotherhood officials were considering moving to Turkey. Former Deputy Chief of the Egypt’s Directorate of Religious Affairs Jamal Abdul Sattar told Al-Jazeera Turk that Darragh, one of seven Muslim Brotherhood figures expected to leave Qatar, is already in Turkey and that he is also considering moving to Istanbul.
Hosting opposition figures of other states in Turkey is a new practice for the country - a policy that seems to have contributed to its isolation by nations in its vicinity. The Turkish government’s open-door policy with respect to Syria since 2011 has not only welcomed Syrian refugees, but also more than 50 Syrian generals, along with hundreds of military officers, who defected from the army loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad,according to Toda'y Zaman.
Ankara reportedly set up the Apaydin camp for military officers and hosted commanders that coordinated battles in Syria. This policy drew the ire of Assad, burying any possibility that Ankara could play a role in mediating a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Ankara’s apparent asylum policy doesn’t end here. It also welcomed former Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni politician who reportedly hailed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s advance in Iraq at the expense of relations with Baghdad. Turkey’s $12 billion trade volume partially continued with Iraq due to blossoming ties with Kurdistan. Turkey denied to hand over Hashemi to Iraq and reportedly refused to force the Iraqi politician to leave for a Western country to seek asylum.
In addition, Turkey also agreed to host Palestinian prisoners freed after a hostage-exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. The plan initially seemed fine, but senior Hamas officials in Turkey reportedly orchestrated the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and a coup attempt against the administration of Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank. According to my understanding, Ankara did little in curbing these activities.
Issuing asylum to those in need could only be appreciated and Turkey has a tradition of welcoming disadvantaged people, from Bosnians to Meskheti Turks. But Turkey is located in a hostile and troubled neighborhood, with complex foreign policy matters that need to be pragmatically reassessed and calculated before making a move.
Turkey’s senior opposition lawmaker Faruk Logoglu says Turkey is certainly a country with a tradition of “extending our hand to those in need.”
“However, national interests should prevail over other considerations in the case of political personalities,” Logoglu said. “Turkey cannot and should not be the protector of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.”
Ankara is not, in fact, a country that gives a Norway-style free pass to every politician seeking asylum, and hosting controversial figures from Middle Eastern countries may be an easy sell on the campaign stump. Uighur Turkic leader Rebiya Kadeer, for instance, has not been allowed to enter into Turkey for years. She repeatedly filed for a Turkish visa, but her requests were denied each time, perhaps over fears that Beijing could reciprocate. During clashes in Xinjiang in 2009, Erdogan promised that Kadeer will be allowed to enter Turkey, but this promise has never been upheld.
Perhaps unable to find policy items to debate in Turkey, Erdogan and his puppet government are now seeking ways to keep their electorate intact and consolidated, mostly through exploiting conflicts in the Middle East.
Egypt’s ousted President Mohaammad Mursi’s Islamist identity came before his Egyptian identity, alienating many Egyptians at a time of political turmoil and financial meltdown. For Turkey’s leadership, however, Islamist identity offers profitable political gains, both at home and abroad. In this regard, hosting Muslim Brotherhood leaders is, in my view, tantamount to cocking a snook at Egypt rather than a humanitarian gesture to politicians under pressure.
Muslim Brotherhood official Sattar’s remarks prove this point: “We, as the Muslim Brotherhood, do not only seek a safe haven, but also a place from where we can wage our fight against bloody and despotic military coup against us in Egypt and run our affairs without any pressure.”
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