The VIP treatment recently accorded to visiting Muslim Brotherhood figure Ousama Jammal and his entourage in Turkey signals that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not ready to give up on the Muslim Brotherhood as his government tries to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel amid diplomatic isolation and domestic economic woes.
Jammal, secretary-general of the United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), led a delegation of Muslims from the US and Canada to Turkey, meeting with President Erdoğan and a number of government officials. On May 25, 2022 the delegation was hosted in the lavish palace Erdoğan had built in one of the rare open spaces left in Ankara amid a huge outcry and criticism.
Photographs from the closed-door meeting show that Jammal was seated on Erdoğan's right, across from Vice President Fuat Oktay, another Islamist. Efkan Ala, who runs foreign operations on behalf of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a former interior minister, as well as Presidential Special Envoy to Libya Emrullah İşler, who harbors sympathetic views of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), were also present at the meeting.
Jammal and his delegation were later received by Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), and traveled to Konya, where they were greeted by local officials.
In his reported remarks, Erbaş asked the delegation to hold their meetings in the religious compound built by Turkey in Lanham, Maryland, in 2016 at a cost of $110 million. The center is run by the Diyanet and functions as the Erdoğan government's proselytizing arm in exporting political Islam abroad. He asked them to be more vocal and effective in the US and Canada, saying they need to fight hostility towards Islam.
The venue, officially called the Diyanet Center, frequently hosts members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jammal concurred with Erbaş on how to use the Diyanet Center, saying they had already held a number of events there. "The Diyanet Center has become a place for us to conduct our activities and meet with our leadership," Jammal said, adding that the help provided them reflects the approach of Turkish leadership.
Erdoğan met with Jammal several times during a visit to the US, and the Muslim Brotherhood figure is on the VIP list for invitations to events organized by the Turkish Embassy and consulates in the US.
The visit of Jammal and his delegation comes at a time when Erdoğan is taking steps to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel. The reports that his government has been clamping down on Muslim Brotherhood activities in Turkey appears to be more tactical than a strategic realignment in order to curry favor in Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
While he was president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Chicago, in 2004 Jammal ran a fundraising campaign for Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian, who was charged with terrorism and accused of being the US leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. After a long legal battle, a plea bargain and house arrest, Al-Arian was deported to Turkey in February 2015.
Erdoğan helped him settle in Turkey, secured a position for him at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University (IZU) in Istanbul, an institution that was set up by Islamist foundation İlim Yayma Vakfı. In 2017 Al-Arian established the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (İslam ve Küresel İlişkiler Merkezi, CIGA) at the university and works as its coordinator.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.