Turkey’s schemes in Yemen follow a familiar pattern
ADEN – In early 2011, Turkey began to set its eyes on Yemen. This was evident when a memorial was built in the heart of the capital Sana’a few meters away from the headquarters of the defence ministry to commemorate fallen Turkish soldiers of the Seventh Corps who lost their lives during the era of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara’s role in the Arab country became more discernible two years later, when arms shipments began pouring into Yemeni cities. Security authorities announced the seizure of many of such shipments beginning in 2013, including silencer pistols that were believed to have been used in assassinations.
That situation prompted security officials to appear on state television to display the seized arms shipments, suggesting there was a political agenda behind the systematic smuggling of Turkish weapons into Yemen.
The claws of the Turkish cat
To implement its agenda in Yemen, Ankara used Yemeni political figures from the Muslim Brotherhood and others ensnared by their own personal interests with the Islamist movement and Qatar as a means to support their interventionist efforts.
The use of these figures was part of Turkish ambitions to restore their influence over areas previously controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
Among the most prominent figures to play a role in promoting Ankara’s ambitions in Yemen was tribal sheikh, businessman and Muslim Brotherhood leader Hamid al-Ahmar, who was closely associated with Turkey and among the first to leave for Istanbul after the Houthi coup in September 2014.
Ahmar transferred his money and commercial and political activities to Turkey, and repeatedly expressed his support for Turkey’s expansionist agenda and hopes of restoring the glory of the bygone Ottoman Empire.
He also supervised the organisation of an international event in Istanbul under the title “Thank you Turkey” in which leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood from different countries of the world participated.
Ahmar also created a prize for the most beautiful poem in praise of Turkey and Erdogan at a time when famine was killing Yemenis.
In addition to Ahmar, Yemeni activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, who was granted Turkish citizenship after receiving the Nobel Prize in 2011, also played a role in promoting Turkey’s agenda.
Karman met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time and presented him with details of her Muslim Brotherhood party’s (Al-Islah) plans in Yemen as well as the party’s hidden and announced goals.
Karman also transferred her media and political activities that are hostile to the Arab coalition to Istanbul, including the Bilqees TV channel funded by Qatar.
The role played by the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood in serving the Turkish project is not limited to a few leaders. Hundreds of them are now based in Turkey, notably Muslim Brotherhood leader and member of the Reform Shura Council Salah Batis, who established an institution under the name “Awais Al-Qarni Endowment for Yemen” in Turkey that is believed to serve as a cover for laundering the Brotherhood’s money and delivering Turkish financial support to the group in Yemen.
Activities promoting Turkey’s agenda in Yemen go beyond the political and media spheres. There is also an ideological battle being waged by figures such as Brotherhood leader Sheikh Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani.
Zindani, who is sanctioned on the US terror list, appeared in a video clip crying after the military coup that almost toppled Erdogan.
During the 2011 protests in Yemen and other Arab countries that became known as the “Arab Spring,” Zindani began preaching about the need to return to an Islamic caliphate, which had turned into a front for modern Turkish ambitions driven by a desire to restore the influence of the sick man (the Ottoman Caliphate).
In addition to the role of ideological leaders in the Yemeni branch of the Brotherhood organisation, Qatari funds played a major part in recruiting Yemeni politicians to serve Turkey’s project from outside the circle of Islamist currents.
This step aims to diversify the political background of loyalists of the Qatari and Turkish project in Yemen. One of the most prominent figures to have played this role was resigned Transport Minister Saleh al-Jabwani, who is usually described as an opportunistic politician, given his history of political shifts.
Jabwani sparked controversy during his tenure when he visited Turkey and signed an agreement with Ankara on maritime transport and the management of ports and airports, which the Yemeni government later disavowed.
He was also famous for his anti-Arab coalition statements and his open demand for Turkish intervention in Yemen and the rejection of the Riyadh Agreement signed between the government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC).
The Arab Weekly revealed in previous reports the existence of recruitment camps in the Shabwa governorate with Qatari funding.
In addition to Jabwani, other Yemeni politicians, media professionals and activists have appeared on social media espousing extremist ideas and calling for Turkey to intervene in the Yemeni conflict.
Among them is Ali Al-Bujairi, a Yemeni politician and member of the Shura Council who is also known for his fluctuating loyalties and positions.
Dozens of journalists and activists known to be affiliated with Al Islah Party in Yemen have also participated in a systematic media campaign demanding that Turkey intervene in Yemen as it has in Libya.
Calls for Turkish intervention in Yemen have not only been issued by Yemeni Brotherhood figures, but by other Arab Islamist politicians, such as Kuwaiti Brotherhood member Nasser al-Duwailah.
On the Turkish side, writers and journalists close to the Turkish government have made no effort to conceal Turkey’s ambitions in Yemen. Turkish writer Ismail Yasha even published an article in the Turkish newspaper Derlich Postasi entitled “Yemen awaits us” calling for Erdogan’s government to intervene in Yemen.
Despite the presence of some leaders of the legitimate Yemeni government in Arab coalition countries, many leaders of the Yemeni Brotherhood have moved in the last two years to Turkey, according to a report published by Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.
According to the report, the purchase of real estate in Turkey by Yemenis increased five times during this period. The report also notes that the number of homes purchased by Yemenis in Turkey increased 536% during the first nine months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2015.
Yemenis ranked 15th among foreigners buying homes in Turkey in 2017, 11th in 2018 and ninth last year, according to the same report.
Anadolu previously quoted the head of American real estate company Coldwell Banker in Turkey, Gokhan Tash, as saying that “the most striking issue in the sale of homes to foreigners, is the increase in the number of properties purchased by Yemenis in Turkey… For the first time in history, Yemen is among the top 10 in the list of most foreign countries buying properties in a country. ”
The Brotherhood’s influence does not only depend on the presence of Yemeni Brotherhood leaders and some leaders of the Yemeni government in Turkey.
Through a simple search on Facebook, one can discover that the pages of the Yemeni Brotherhood’s centres and organisations are all run from Turkey
In addition, most Yemeni Brotherhood channels and media outlets critical of the Arab coalition are based in Istanbul, notably the Bilqees TV channel, Yemen Shabab, Al-Mahri and others.
The pursuit of a Yemeni Misrata
Turkish intervention in Libya emboldened the Muslim Brotherhood and Ankara to search for a similar foothold in Yemen. Sources indicate that the Libyan coastal city of Misrata, controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, was its model gateway.
It was that city that the Brotherhood began looking to model in Yemen, pinpointing the coastal cities of Socotra, Mokha and Shabwa as potential options, according to Yemeni experts and media sources.
To achieve its goal, Ankara began studying Yemen’s geopolitical map, waiting for the right moment to engage in the conflict.
This information was revealed by French newspaper Intelligence, which specialises in global intelligence news, confirming previous reports by The Arab Weekly about Ankara’s use of Turkish and Yemeni charitable organisations affiliated with the Brotherhood as a way to send Turkish spies into Yemen.
A leaked document previously revealed a request submitted by the Islah Charitable Society allowing Turkish intelligence officers to visit liberated areas in their capacity as employees of the Turkish Relief Organisation.
There were also recordings and photos that showed Turkish officers meeting on various occasions with prominent Brotherhood leaders and some local authority officials in liberated areas and provinces.
Among the most prominent Turkish and Qatari organisations operating in Yemen are the Turkish Rabat Association, the Turkish Relief Commission, the Al-Haq Relief Association, the Turkish TIKA Organisation, the Turkish Red Crescent, the Turkish AFAD Organisation and its representative, Mustafa Diaz, and the Turkish Relief Organisation.
However, Turkey’s plan, funded by Qatar and carried out by the Brotherhood’s arms, failed to secure a Turkish foothold in Socotra after the STC took control of the island.
Following the STC’s control of Socotra, Governor Ramzi Mahrous fled and escalated his activities against the Arab coalition following a visit to Turkey, where he appeared accompanied by hardline Brotherhood leaders.
The presence of the joint Yemeni resistance forces on the western coast also impeded a Turkish plan implemented by Hammoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi to control the port of Mocha so that the Brotherhood could later focus on the Yemeni governorate of Shabwa, which is located on the Arabian Sea nearby Turkish military bases on the Somali coast.
The Yemeni Brothers intensified their efforts to gain control of Shabwa governorate through a systematic plan to replace non-Brotherhood leaders.
The Brotherhood’s focus on controlling Yemeni coastal cities emerged when all military and civilian leaders were dismissed and later replaced with Brotherhood members.
The new appointments included the heads of the Coast Guard, the Marine Fishing Authority and the Port of Balhaf. New camps were also established with Qatari funding supervised by Jabwani, who increasingly took on an anti-coalition stance supported by Qatar and Turkey.
This all took place in parallel with the launch of a media campaign against the Arab coalition forces in Balhaf and Sahel Shabwani. In some cases, the media campaigns were followed by military attacks.
The governor of Shabwa recently announced the inauguration of a tourist resort in Bir Ali, an area that was known for being the largest gateway for arms smuggling to the Houthis between 2016 and 2018.
Observers fear that the move is simply a cover for smuggling new arms shipments from Iran.
These fears were exacerbated after the emergence of a leaked recording in which the Brotherhood’s military commander in Taiz, Abdo Al-Mikhlafi, known as “Salem,” speaks about Turkish promises to provide weapons and vehicles.
The ambitions of Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood
The Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood has never hidden its desire to search for a regional ally that would serve their ideological and political ambitions, something they were unable to find in the Arab coalition.
Statements by some Brotherhood leaders in Yemen and media leaks reveal that the group is seriously thinking about looking for new allies for Al-Islah party in Yemen. The supposed ally would be Turkey, which has become a regional and international incubator for the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities around the world.
On the other hand, Ankara infiltrated branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it used as tools to achieve its political and economic interests in the same Iranian style.
While Ankara’s desire is most evident in its economic gains through intervention in Libya, its attempt to secure a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula has also clearly become part of its plan to expand its presence in waterways and open seas as it attempts to become a new international power. Erdogan has frequently expressed such ambitions in recent years.
Studies on the nature of Turkish activity in the region indicate it is part of a deployment plan initiated by Ankara through its intervention in northern Syria and Iraq, presence in Libya, Qatar and Somalia and attempts to gain a military base on the Sudanese island of Suakin before the fall of longtime Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir’s regime.
In the short term, Ankara’s moves in Yemen appear to be an attempt to blackmail the region and the world on other issues related to Syria and Libya, as part of Erdogan’s aggressive approach aimed at coercing Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.
In doing so, Erdogan hopes to intimidate those countries for fear they might hinder his expansionist project and Ottoman dreams for the region.