Turkish extradition raises fear among Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood exiles
CAIRO - Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members in exile in Turkey are reconsidering their status after it was revealed that authorities extradited a Brotherhood member wanted in connection with an assassination.
Egyptian national Mohamed Abdel Hafiz Hussein, 25, a known Muslim Brotherhood member sought by Egyptian authorities arrived at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on January 16, from Mogadishu, Somalia. Hussein was reportedly seeking asylum in a country that had previously welcomed high-profile Muslim Brotherhood members since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.
However, Hussein was flown to Cairo, where he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his involvement in the June 2015 assassination of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat.
A photograph of Hussein on an airplane bound for Cairo with his hands handcuffed behind his back went viral and Brotherhood figures in Turkey reportedly were considering their situations.
“I expect all Egyptians in Turkey to be killed, me being the first one,” said Saber Mashhour, a Muslim Brotherhood journalist. “Our information has been given to Egyptian intelligence,” he added in a video posted February 8 on Twitter.
Mashhour’s was one of several postings by Muslim Brotherhood members who fled Egypt for Turkey. Egypt and other Arab countries have outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and designated it as a terrorist organisation.
The Hussein incident was a few weeks before nine Muslim Brotherhood members were executed for their roles in the Barakat assassination. Although Hussein has been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia, he is to be retried.
“The fear among the members of the Brotherhood in Turkey is quite clear,” said Sameh Eid, a former member of the Brotherhood and a specialist in Islamist movements. “Most of these escaped members do not know what the future holds for them.”
Turkey was among several countries, including Malaysia, Sudan and Qatar, that Brotherhood figures escaped following Morsi’s downfall.
Relations between Egypt and Turkey remain strained over the issue. Cairo had requested the extradition of hundreds of figures convicted in court. Turkey is home to several Brotherhood television channels that often criticise the Egyptian government.
Turkey sought to play down the incident, including investigating airport officers responsible for the decision to return Hussein to Egypt.
A senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to calm fears in a February 6 opinion article for the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper. “During the leadership of (Egyptian President Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi, Turkey has not and does not hand over anyone facing the death penalty or any other charges,” Yasin Aktay wrote.
However, Turkish media confirmed that Hussein explicitly asked for asylum and was refused. Many wonder whether this indicates a change in Ankara’s position on accepting Muslim Brotherhood exiles.
Maher Farghaly, an Egyptian expert on Islamist groups, said Turkey was no longer a safe refuge for the Brotherhood.
“Rifts are appearing among Brotherhood leaders and members in Turkey,” Farghaly said. “There is also a possible change of heart in Ankara as far as the Brotherhood is concerned.”
Despite the leverage it enjoys in Syria and the close connections it is developing with Qatar, Turkey has become increasingly isolated in the broader Middle East, analysts said.
The view among political observers in Cairo is that the Muslim Brotherhood could be the first sacrifice if Turkey seeks a return to the regional fold.
Turkey remains gripped by an economic crisis, with Ankara missing out on potentially lucrative plans to use major Mediterranean natural gas discoveries to set up a regional gas market. Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority announced the establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in January, a grouping that Turkey was pointedly not invited to join.
“These regional alterations will eventually force Istanbul to change its regional policies,” said Bashir Abdel Fattah, a researcher at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “If this happens, Turkey will view the Brotherhood as a group that it no longer needs.”