Egyptian lawsuit against Erdogan shines light on alleged war crimes, terror support

Despite the legal hurdle, the case against Erdogan is sure to have a political impact.
Sunday 01/12/2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, October 22. (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, October 22. (Reuters)

CAIRO - An Egyptian resident’s lawsuit against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argues he should be blacklisted in the country for his alleged war crimes and terror support.

The lawsuit, filed by Majdi al-Kurdi, an Egyptian resident who heads the World Federation of Kurdish Diaspora, singles out the Turkish president for his alleged support for designated terror groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front and his military use of weapons containing white phosphorous against Kurdish civilians in north-eastern Syria during October raids.

The lawsuit calls for Erdogan to be included on an Egyptian access watchlist that would effectively make him persona non grata in the country.

The Court of Urgent Matters is scheduled to begin reviewing the lawsuit December 14.

Situations in which a person can be put on the watchlist are specified by The Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedures and include being sentenced to prison, being required for the necessity of prosecution, the proper conduct of trials or ensuring that the sentences would be carried out.

Egypt’s ‘”Terrorist Entities Act of 2015” (an updated version of Egypt’s access watchlist) states that “any person who commits, attempts, instigates, threatens or plans, at home or abroad, a terrorist crime, either individually or in partnership with an organisation, or whoever knowingly leads, establishes, joins or contributes to any terrorist group” should be included.

Legal expert Mohammad Jibril believes that the lawsuit against Erdogan won’t bring forward enough direct evidence against him to have him included on the list, whether the traditional one or the terrorist list, but it could increase scrutiny on the Turkish leader.

“What is common in the Egyptian judicial system is that the judge considers only the irrefutable evidence such as fingerprints, recordings, documents or matching testimonies after assuring them, but human rights reports on Erdogan’s alleged crimes in Syria can’t be evidence,” Jibril said.

He added: “It is difficult to verify the crimes since these occurred in another country. It is also difficult to document Erdogan’s support for terrorist groups, as these procedures are conducted in closed confidential circles in any country and are always difficult to involve the political leadership of that country directly.”

Despite the legal hurdle, the case against Erdogan is sure to have a political impact.

One benefit, political science Professor Ahmed Helmy said, is “encouraging more Kurdish associations in other countries to prosecute Erdogan, especially in countries with troubled relations with Turkey, like some countries of the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.”

Such lawsuits are also increasing international pressure on Erdogan and exposing his alleged violations against minority groups in Turkey.

Turkey has been on the defensive since the US House of Representatives passed a resolution in October recognising the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century and affirming Armenians’ right to fair compensation.

Egypt hosts several Armenian associations that are attempting to sue the Turkish government for denying the genocide.

Apart from exerting pressure on Erdogan, the Egyptian regime’s pro-Armenian/Kurdish stance could also serve as a way to make inroads with its critics in the US’s Democratic Party, many of whom are strong supporters of the Armenians and Kurds.

US Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, of California, for example, is the author of two resolutions condemning Turkey for the Armenian massacres and Turkey’s operations in northern Syria against Kurds. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is the author of aborted pro-Armenian resolutions in the Senate. Both US lawmakers are frequent critics of the Egyptian regime.

By championing Kurdish issues, Egypt could also strengthen its relationship with the minority group’s associations and communities.

This relationship is especially important to Cairo given Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria that reportedly led to the escape of ISIS fighters held in Kurdish jails, which contain many Egyptians, stated a report from El-Watan newspaper in 2017.

The Kurdish associations can be a mediator between the Egyptian regime and the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Syria to share information about the Egyptian ISIS fighters that had been held at the Kurdish camps, as Egypt may have concerns that direct negotiations with Kurdistan government would be an implicit recognition of the division of Syria into two regions and governments.