The collapse of the Ottoman Empire gave way to a new religious movement embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by the Egyptian Hassan el-Banna. This movement, considered a terrorist group by the Arab Republic of Egypt, came to power in 2012 following the Arab Spring. Turkey supported the movement represented by Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim is the restoration of a caliphate, is an influential movement in the Muslim world. Turkey’s shady dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood muddy the waters and make it difficult to understand Turkey’s relations with its neighbors and allies.
The origins of a new religious era
Dominated by the Ottoman Empire until then, the Muslim world underwent a religious rupture at the beginning of the 20th century. The abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gave way to the creation of a movement to combat “Western secularism and the blind imitation of the European model”.
This was Hassan el-Banna’s aim in 1928 when he founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. The movement experienced strong growth in its first 20 years.1 The movement gained influence during the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis in the mid-40s. In 1945, Saïd Ramadan2 set up a branch of Arab fighters in Palestine to fight against Zionism. As a result, many militants took part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This historic step gave the movement a fundamenal purpose.
Political and religious objectives
The Muslim Brotherhood started spreading a religious, moral, social and political ideology after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The aim was to restore the Caliphate in the Muslim world, in opposition to the secular and progressive values that were beginning to develop in Muslim-majority countries. More concretely, the movement opposes Franco-British influence in the Middle East. It is interesting to acknowledge that the creation of a Jewish state, which the Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to, is also a subject of struggle exploited by the movement. The concept of jihad was thus reemphasized in opposition to pan-Arabism and Western influences. However, rivalries remain between Islamist movements. The Muslim Brotherhood is in direct competition with the Saudi Wahhabi movement, with which it shares a similar doctrine on the strict application of Sharia law for example.
Spreading the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine
In 1948, events in Egypt marked a turning point in the development of the movement. The Brotherhood was banned by Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nokrashi Pasha. In retaliation, he was assassinated by the most radical members of the movement. In 1949, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, was assassinated on the orders of King Farouk. After its dissolution in 1954, the movement was repressed by Nasser’s new Republic. These events caused many of its supporters to flee the country. Many members of the Brotherhood moved to nearby countries such as Palestine, Syria, Iraq and North Yemen, but also took refuge in Europe, in countries such as Great Britain, Germany and France, and went to European universities. Initially Europe was a zone of refuge, but it offered a more lasting foothold to members of the organization with the creation of Islamic aid organizations from the 1960s onwards. Many Al-Qaeda terrorists, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the terrorist organization after Bin Laden’s death, began their career within the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, the Brotherhood is a heterogeneous, multi-faceted nebula with a global scale, considered to be a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Russia.
A source of inspiration in Turkey
The end of the Ottoman Caliphate with the founding Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s new republic was the cause of the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It was not until the early 1970s that an Islamist movement, Millî Görüş, emerged in Turkey. Created by Necmettin Erbakan, this movement was directly inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. As political parties linked to the movement were banned and dissolved, the AKP finds its origins within Millî Görüş.
Its founder, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, began his political carrer in the 1970s within the youth organization of the National Salvation Party (Milli Selamet Partisi) founded by Necmettin Erbakan. The objectives of the two movements are identical and complementary.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unclear game
While the Muslim Brotherhood and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamo-conservative movement are not rivals, the latter plays an unclear game with the Brotherhood. After the fall of Mohamed Morsi3, Erdoğan constantly denounced the “tyranny” of the new president Sissi. He accused Egypt’s leaders of being directly responsible for Mohamed Morsi’s death in prison. Many Egyptian senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood have found refuge in Turkey. Thanks to logistical support and media platforms, Turkey enables Egyptian activists to continue their struggle in complete safety. Being diplomatically isolated today, Erdoğan is seeking to renew ties with enemies such as Syria, the Gulf monarchies and Egypt. In 2021 Ankara did not hesitate to cut off their funding of channels such as Turkey-based El-Sharq TV (owned by the Muslim Brotherhood), Watan TV and Mekameleen, even if it meant letting go of the Muslim Brotherhood. These channels were immediately ordered to stop broadcasting political programs criticizing Egypt. This was aimed particularly at El-Sharq and Mekameleen TV, which are serious propaganda tools for the Brotherhood.
“Erdogan let go of his mentor Erbakan, then his wrestling allies Abdullah Gul and Ahmed Davutoglu. The third to be let go is Ali Babacan, the architect of the economic renaissance. What is strange about him dropping the Muslim Brotherhood and shutting down their TV channels? Hamas may be the next target. only God knows”
1 200 000 activists in 1943.
2 Son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna.
3 Egyptian President from June 30, 2012 to July 3, 2013 affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.