Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan used a hand signal to show his support for the Muslim Brotherhood on October 23. This is the second time he has done so since August, not including the time he cried after hearing a pro-Brotherhood poem. His speech also expressed neo-Ottoman aspirations by declaring that Kosovo and Turkey are one.
In his speech, Erdogan told a Kosovar audience, “Do not forget that Kosovo is Turkey and Turkey is Kosovo.” At the same time, he flashed the “Rabia” hand signal that shows solidarity with Muslim Brotherhood protestors that the Egyptian government cracked down on. (Erdogan blames Israel for the Brotherhood’s loss of power.)
In that single move, Erdogan showed that he sees Turkey as reclaiming its place as the guardian of the region’s Muslims. His vision has earned him the admiration of Arab Islamists who desire the resurrection of the Caliphate.
The Islamist Turkish government was openly dismayed at the popularly supported military intervention that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. According to the Arab newspaper Al-Arabiya, Turkey has since “become the regional hub for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization.”
That includes the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing, Hamas, a group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Israeli intelligence has discovered that Hamas has a command post in Turkey.
Hamas is looking to Turkey and Qatar, two U.S. “allies,” for support since the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt and had a falling out with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently met with Erdogan in Turkey at the same time as the group began calling for a new intifada against Israel.
An Arab newspaper reports that Hamas is so dependent upon Turkey that Erdogan exercises significant control over its actions. The Turkish government even had Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh change one of his speeches and stopped the group from trying to reconcile with the new Egyptian government.
Turkey told Hamas that it was not time to make amends with Egypt. Erdogan believes the Muslim Brotherhood can still be victorious in Egypt with help from Turkey, Qatar and the international Brotherhood apparatus.
The Erdogan government’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is motivated by Islamist interests, not just disgust over the Assad regime’s oppression. Anti-Islamist Syrian rebels and Kurds have complained about Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood from the very beginning.
Turkey has even been accused of supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate that fights on the side of the Syrian rebels. The Erdogan government reacted with anger when the U.S. designated Jabhat al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization, even though it says it has never supported the group.
The co-chairman of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, Saleh Muslim, asserts that Turkey helps Islamist fighters by allowing their border crossings to operate and even clearing pathways of mines and barbed wires for them.
“The Brotherhood leads all the decision-making in the [opposition] Coalition … they buy the other members thanks to the money they receive in Doha and Ankara,” says Kamal al-Labwani, a secular Sunni opposition leader.
Even though it is hurting him politically, Erdogan is doubling down on his support for the Islamist cause. This summer, Erdogan faced his largest internal political challenge from largely secular protestors. In 2012, his government’s approval rating fell to 30% in Istanbul and 48% in the rest of the country. Those numbers have surely fallen since this summer.
Earlier this month, the Geza Party was formed in Turkey by supporters of the opposition. It is named in honor of Gezi Park, the location of the protests in Istanbul. One of its founders is a heavy metal guitarist. Needless to say, his ideology isn’t exactly Sharia-compliant.
Embracing Hamas isn’t a political winner for Erdogan, either. Only five percent of Turks view Hamas favorably, while 73% view it unfavorably.
The only explanation for his actions is that Erdogan is a stalwart believer in the Islamist cause. It can no longer be argued that he is just responding to public opinion.
Tellingly, he’s pursuing that cause while Turkey continues to be praised as a U.S. “ally” and member of NATO.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.