The Islamist-run Turkish government is often heralded, within Islamist circles in both the West and across the globe, as a leading voice for the Muslim world. In the U.S, Kyle Shideler has noted, Islamist groups in particular have certainly been quick to accept the regime's patronage and directives. And indeed, Turkey's efforts to advance its influence through Islamist proxies and front groups in the West have been extensively documented.
However, there are signs among Western Islamists that such admiration is beginning to fade, with some turning against its would-be caliph, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The most recent appearance of dissent has accompanied the decision the Turkish president to pursue détente with Israel, with Isaac Herzog being the first Israeli President to visit Turkey since 2007.
The loudest and most consistent voice of anger has been the "central media office" of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a global Islamist network with branches in over 40 countries.
Publishing on its websites and on Facebook, on March 21, an HT statement attacked "Erdogan's slippery words and duplicitous game" and asked "how can we seek Victory, if we are loyal and intimate to the kuffar, making alliances with them, negotiating with them over our opinions rather than referring to the Quran and Sunnah, extending them pacts and alliances as well as sharing military secrets, despite their enmity and disbelief?"
A more recent post by HT even accused Erdoğan of "acts and actions against Islam."
In a report for the Centre for Social Cohesion, Houriya Ahmed and Hannah Stuart describe HT as a "revolutionary Islamist party that works to establish an expansionist super-state," noting that "a number of militant Islamist groups emerged in the Middle East as a result of being radicalised by HT's sectarian ideology, and former members have since participated in terrorism."
Admittedly, HT has long been obsessed with Turkey; or rather, the defunct Ottoman Caliphate, from which the modern Turkish state was born. In the 1990s (a period during which HT was among the most popular Islamist movements in the West) many of HT's youth organizations were named '1924 Committees' – a reference to the year the Ottoman Caliphate was dissolved.
And indeed, HT has previously expressed its contempt for the Erdoğan regime, considering it little better than secular Turkish governments that preceded it. A post published by HT's America branch in 2015, for instance, announced the launch of a campaign titled "Beware of the Turkish-American Alliance." The campaign condemns the "Kafir West conspiring against" violent Syrian Islamists attempting to build a caliphate, and laments the "Turkish regime openly declaring its alliance with America" and the "enemies of Islam."
But while HT may have been complaining for some time, other voices are only more recently turning against Erdoğan.
Roshan Salih, editor of the popular British Islamist news website 5Pillars, despaired that there is not "one sincere leader who would rather lose his throne instead of compromise his Islam" and claimed Erdoğan was guilty of a "betrayal."
Turkey is warming relations with Israel. No matter how Erdogan fans try to spin this, this is a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.— Roshan M Salih (@RmSalih) January 29, 2022
Shaik Ubaid, former president of the radical, anti-Hindu Indian American Muslim Council, has blamed Turkey's outreach to Israel on "economic pressure" and "declining public support [for Erdoğan]," and called on "Muslims in the US [to] become powerful" if "freedom movements in Muslim nations" are to survive.
Under economic pressure & bec of declining public support Erdogan is involved in decreasing tensions with UAE Egypt Israel & Saudi Arabia in return 4 economic benefits. Unless Muslims in US become powerful there wont B any dependable backing 4 freedom movements in Muslim nations— Shaik Ubaid (@shaikubaid) December 9, 2021
Within the Shia Islamist world, Mohammad Marandi – an American Islamist currently based in Iran, and son of a former Iranian regime government minister – denounced the Turkish leader as a "loyal subordinate to the US & NATO," who merely "pretends to be a champion for the Palestinian cause."
A troubled Erdogan talks nonsense in order to strengthen relations with Israel.
He pretends to be a champion for the Palestinian cause, but he's a loyal subordinate to the US & NATO.
If the apartheid regime uses Baku to target Iran, Aliyev will be swiftly removed from power. pic.twitter.com/XJHlpuVaTh— Seyed Mohammad Marandi (@s_m_marandi) October 22, 2021
Western Islamist partners, such as leading Palestinian activists, were also furious. Hanna Kawas, chair of the Canada Palestine Association, attacked the Turkish regime for its decision to "reward Israel diplomatically while it continues to maim and murder Palestinians."
Meanwhile, the silence from mainstream American Islamist groups – usually willing to comment on every single world event involving Turkey or Israel – has been rather noticeable.
Perhaps the best example is Hussam Ayloush, leader of the Greater Los Angeles chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Ayloush has long served as a strong pro-Turkey voice, and appears to work closely with various regime entities and its consulates.
Dozens of posts on Ayloush's social media praise Erdoğan's refusal to pursue "normalization" with Israel, and denounce countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Morocco for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel – an act he refers to as "lipstick on a pig."
We contacted Hussam Ayloush, to ask if the Turkish regime is now also guilty of "selling out Palestinian rights." We have not yet received a response.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.