Turkey, The Global Muslim brotherhood, and The Gaza Flotilla

Turkey, The Global MusliM broTherhood, and The Gaza Flotilla

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Steven G. Merley

Abstract: This report presents the results of an investigation into the role played by the
Global Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish allies in the May 2010 Gaza flotilla which involved
a violent altercation between passengers on one of the ships and Israeli naval forces................

1. The Gaza Flotilla Was Supported by the Turkish Government
There is strong evidence for Turkish governmental involvement in the Gaza flotilla
incident, including the office of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. As this report
demonstrates, Turkish government support for the flotilla was channeled through
the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network. It included the attendance of officials from
Turkey’s ruling AKP party at many important Turkish/MB network events in support
of the flotilla, a meeting by Erdogan himself with a delegation of Global Muslim
Brotherhood and flotilla movement leaders from Britain and France shortly before
the flotilla, and a message of support from Erdogan to an IUMS meeting held shortly
after the flotilla incident. In addition, in a March 2010 speech, IHH leader Bulent
Yildirim implied that the flotilla had official Turkish backing by incorrectly asserting
that the flotilla as a whole was “sailing under the Turkish flag” and that Israel would
never attack it since that would be “the same as attacking a Turkish consulate.”
Turkish government administrators facilitated the purchase of the lead ship, the Mavi
Marmara, from the Istanbul municipality, which was controlled by the AKP, as well
as its departure from Turkish ports.
The Israeli Intelligence and Information Center has also reported the finding of a laptop computer aboard the Marmara containing the minutes of a meeting held by the flotilla organizers on May 16, 2010. The laptop document reportedly revealed claims by the IHH vice-president, who chaired the
meeting, that over the last few days the flotilla had received support from Erdogan
and other ministers and that if the flotilla should run into difficulties, “gov[ernment]
will extend what support they can.”
The support given by the Turkish government to the Gaza flotilla is not surprising,
given the increasingly Islamist nature of AKP foreign and domestic policy in recent
years. Recently disclosed U.S. State Department cables reveal concern over Turkey’s
“new, highly activist foreign policy” ascribed in part to the influence of Foreign Minister
Ahmet Davutoglu, said to be laboring under “neo-Ottoman fantasies” of regaining
lost Muslim lands and avenging Muslim defeats. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, which
envisions a restoration of Islamic rule, at an initial stage, in parts of Europe that were
once under the banner of Islam, a participant at an AKP think tank meeting expressed
the reportedly widespread belief that a neo-Ottoman Turkey would want to “take back
Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.” The same cable also
asserts that many in the AKP believe that it is Turkey’s role to spread Islam in Europe.
The recently disclosed U.S. diplomatic material provides a context for understanding 8
Erdogan’s ideological ties to the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, ties which this
report has documented date back to Erdogan’s affiliation in the 1970s with the World
Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi Wahhabi charity with known connections
to extremist and terrorist groups. It should further be noted that the Gaza flotilla was
also supported by leaders of the Grand Union and Saadet parties who participated in
Turkish/MB network events. State Department cables expressed the view that Erdogan
was trying to avoid being “outflanked” on Israel by politicians from these other Islamist
parties, providing additional insight into his support of the flotilla. It should also be
noted that a personal representative of Erdogan was reported to have intervened with
Egyptian authorities during the December 2009 Viva Palestina land convoy, which also
included five AKP deputies and 200 Turkish citizens. In another speech during a convoy
welcoming ceremony in the Syrian port city of Latakiyah, IHH leader Bulent Yildirim
thanked both Bashar Assad and Erdogan for “their stances, the ongoing support to the
Palestinian people and their efforts to end the siege on Gaza.”

2. IHH Was Not Acting Alone – The Role of the Global Muslim Brotherhood Network
The Gaza flotilla incident brought into sharp focus an even more significant long-
term development: the growing relationship between the Erdogan government and
the Global Muslim Brotherhood, which has given rise to some of the most notorious
Islamist terrorist groups – from al-Qaeda to Hamas. Since 2006, Turkey has become
a new center for the Global Muslim Brotherhood, while the Hamas regime in the
Gaza Strip acted as the main axis for this activity. The AKP allowed key elements of
the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and above all the International Union of Muslim
Scholars, led by Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, to operate freely on Turkish territory,
with its active support, as witnessed by the large number of conferences held
recently in Istanbul and sponsored and/or attended by Global Muslim Brotherhood
leaders. The cooperation between the Global Muslim Brotherhood and the Erdogan
government appears to have been based on mutual interests. Erdogan and the AKP were
able to indulge the “neo-Ottoman” goals of reasserting a sphere of influence in former
Islamic areas, while at the same time outmaneuvering the other Islamist parties and,
as a bonus, satisfying Erdogan’s reported hatred of Israel. For their part, the Global
Muslim Brotherhood was able to begin operating out of a major state without any of
the interference that it normally encountered elsewhere in the Arab world.
Erdogan chose not to rely on the official organs of the Turkish state alone, but rather on
non-governmental organizations with which he and the AKP had close ties. Prominent
among those Turkish NGOs was IHH which subsequently became the focus of attention
in the aftermath of the flotilla. However, as this report demonstrates, the IHH was
not acting alone but rather was an integral part of a Turkish Muslim Brotherhood
network comprised of seven NGOs with strong links to each other, to the Global
Muslim Brotherhood, and to the Turkish political establishment. Taken together,
the network possesses a business, a charity, and legal, organizational, and Palestinian
advocacy capacity; two of its most important leaders are Turks of Arab ethnic origin
who are associated with European Muslim Brotherhood organizations.
The Turkish/MB network has been supported by nearly the whole of the Global Muslim
Brotherhood, whose affiliates, from a number of Middle Eastern countries, provided
passengers for the Mavi Marmara. In addition, the Global Muslim Brotherhood frequently 9
held press conferences and demonstrations to demonize Israel, initiated legal actions
against Israeli leaders, and delivered aid to those in conflict with Israel. The Turkish/
MB network played a major role in supporting the Gaza flotilla prior to its launching
through statements and press conferences, and one of its most important leaders,
MAZLUMDER Chairman Ahmet Unsal, was on board the flotilla. In the aftermath of the
flotilla, the Turkish/MB network continued its support in more official statements, and
at a post-flotilla event in Kuwait, Turkish/MB network leader Gazi Misirli revealed that
MUSIAD had played a major role in funding the flotilla by “coordinating” donations.
In addition, the Turkish/MB network was in ongoing contact with Hamas leaders as
well as with the Union of Good, the coalition of charities headed by Youssef Qaradawi
that raises funds for Hamas. These conclusions raise three further important issues..........