Turkey's Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood network in the US, where his wife Emine Erdoğan was recognized with a reward bestowed by the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) this week.
The reward was personally delivered in New York City by Ousama Jammal, a key Muslim Brotherhood figure in the US and secretary-general of the USCMO.
Emine Erdoğan, accompanying her husband, who was attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), accepted the Muslim Women Achievements Award at the awards' inaugural ceremony. The timing conveniently coincided with the planned visit of President Erdoğan and his entourage to the US, and the venue was in New York rather than DC, where the USCMO is headquartered.
In her acceptance speech, Turkey's first lady lamented that Palestinians' sufferings were excluded when human rights issues were debated but ignored the fact that her husband has been imprisoning tens of thousands of fellow Muslims in Turkey for peaceful criticism, opposition and dissent.
Following Erdoğan's lead, USMCO leadership has also been reticent to criticize Turkey's terrible track record in human rights, instead lending support to the repressive regime of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been brutally cracking down on opposition groups in the country.
In his introductory speech Jammal kept praising the Erdoğan government while slamming rich and developed nations for ignoring the plight and suffering of people around the world.
Although the banner posted by the USMCO on its website and distributed on social media states that the award was launched to recognize American Muslim Women, Emine Erdoğan, who does not hold US citizenship, was honored with the award.
Jammal has cultivated closer ties with the Turkish president in recent years, with Turkey supporting and funding the Muslim Brotherhood network in the US and other countries. He receives VIP treatment whenever he goes to Turkey and enjoys private audiences with Erdoğan.
Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), a huge state-funded organization with control of some 80,000 mosques in Turkey and abroad and a staff of close to 150,000, was ordered by the Turkish president to support Jammal and global MB networks.
Over the years Jammal has met with Ali Erbaş, head of the Diyanet, in both Turkey and the US and received a commitment from the Diyanet allowing it to use a religious compound built by Turkey in Lanham, Maryland, as a venue for activities and leadership meetings.
In September of last year Erdoğan also described a multi-million dollar high rise built by Turkey across from UN headquarters in New York City as a hub for American Muslims. "This monument of glory will serve as a home not only for our citizens but also for the US Muslim community. God willing, your new and united address will be this building," Erdoğan said.
Jammal in May 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 criticism and a huge outcry.
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, a former interior minister who runs foreign operations on behalf of the ruling AKP, as well as Special Presidential Envoy to Libya Emrullah İşler, who harbors sympathetic views of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), were also present at the meeting.
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 the 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 currently works as its coordinator.
Many Muslim Brotherhood figures including Hamas members have settled in Turkey in the last decade, establishing foundations, schools and companies and building networks. The Erdoğan government has facilitated the fast track approval of residency and immigration status for them, and many later acquired Turkish citizenship and adopted new names.
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.