The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has set their sights on tapping multibillion-dollar earthquake relief funds that have poured in from domestic and foreign donors for victims of devastating February earthquakes in Turkey in order to construct buildings that would help promote the militant and politicized Islamist ideology.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which is rooted in political Islam and pursues pro-MB policies, has welcomed the MB's overtures to establish itself in about a dozen provinces. A high-level MB delegation has held a series of talks with government officials, some at the cabinet level, in recent weeks, even visiting the quake zone and posing for pictures with locals.
A leading MB organization, the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), has been the public face in pitching projects developed by the MB to Turkish officials. The MB's main goal is to set up an Islamic center, with mosques and schools, that would help promote its ideology in Turkey's provinces in the south and southeast under the pretext of humanitarian relief and aid work.
The top leadership of the IUMS, which includes Sheikh Habib Salem Al-Saqqaf Al-Jifri, the IUMS president; Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi, the IUMS secretary-general; board member Sheikh Osama Al-Rifai; and Syrian opposition Grand Mufti Sheikh Wasef Ashour, also a board member, toured several provinces in the earthquake zone last week.
They were accompanied by the Turkish board members of the IUMS, Abdulvahap Ekinci and Ömer Faruk Korkmaz, who function as intermediaries between Turkish government officials and the MB global network. Ekinci works as Turkey representative of the IUMS and runs a Turkish version of the organization under the name Uluslararası Müslüman Alimler Derneği (UMAD), which is registered with Turkey's Interior Ministry.
Korkmaz, also a board member for the al-Qaeda-linked Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), serves as spokesperson of the the IUMS in Turkey. The IUMS's main point man in Turkey is al-Qaradaghi, also known by the Turkified version of his name, Ali Karadaği. He has been awarded VIP protocol credentials by the Erdoğan government and often shows up at various government events, posing with Erdoğan and cabinet ministers.
The MB's peddling of political Islamist ideology in Turkey benefits Erdoğan, who has based his upcoming election campaign on a religious narrative, distinctly hostile to the West and deeply hateful of non-Muslims. President Erdoğan has framed the critical election on May 14 as the survival of Muslims not only in Turkey but around the world. His campaign staff often portray him as the leader of entire Ummah who challenges the West and other major powers in the name of Islam.
The IUMS's endorsement of Erdoğan lends credibility to such claims in the eyes of Turkish Islamists, who have worked hard to keep him in power for fear of losing the perks and privileges awarded to them by the Erdoğan government over the last two decades. The IUMS's late chairman, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a 2018 meeting called Erdoğan the leader of the Muslim Ummah, asking everyone to support and pray for him. He gave his blessing to Erdoğan's ambitions to claim the leadership of the Islamic world and said Erdoğan and his associates in the government would shake up the Islamic world, rush to the aid of Muslims around the globe and put a stop to attacks on Muslims. He lashed out at Saudi Arabia, bashing the Saudi leadership for targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, including himself, and maintained that the country's behavior has nothing to do with Islam.
In exchange for the endorsement of Erdoğan, a brutal and authoritarian leader who oppresses his own citizens, the MB is being allowed to establish schools, foundations, companies and other institutions in Turkey. The IUMS officials' pubic statements whitewashed the Erdoğan government's massive failures in managing the post-quake response, with a lack of coordination in search and rescue efforts that contributed to the death of more than 50,000 people.
During their visits to quake zone, the IUMS officials praised the Erdoğan government. They visited the city of Kahramanmaraş on March 5 and were hosted by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chairman and spokesperson Mahir Unal. At the meeting the group expressed their desire to build mosques and schools in provinces affected by the earthquakes.
The IUMS also works closely with the Turkish government's religious directorate, the Diyanet, which controls some 80,000 mosques in Turkey and abroad with some 140.000 personnel, all on the government payroll. In fact before visiting the disaster area, al-Qaradaghi was hosted by Diyanet President Ali Ali Erbaş on March 1 in Ankara. During the meeting Erbaş said they would be working to provide guidance and moral support in the provinces worst hit by the quakes. Al-Qaradaghi also expressed the IUMS's desire to build an Islamic center in the region.
The IUMS, designated a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2018, enjoys political protection, diplomatic support and financial aid from Turkey as well as Qatar.
It is expected that the IUMS will receive an unspecified amount of money from the earthquake aid provided to Turkey by domestic and international donors. The Erdoğan government has not been forthcoming as to how it would distribute the funds, but President Erdoğan said all the funds would be channelled through the government's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). The IUMS delegation also held a meeting with AFAD in the region to coordinate its work.
There is no exact figure on how much money Turkey collected to help rebuild the areas devastated by quakes, and the Erdoğan government has not yet announced a total figure it plans to spend from taxpayers' money.
According to the Devex funding tracker, $2.5 billion was pledged to help Turkey and Syria for quake relief, with the World Bank committing the largest chunk, at $1.8 billion. Although the list is missing many countries that pledged financial aid to Turkey, it nevertheless provides an indication that the funding would be in the range of billions of dollars.
The money from donors certainly falls short of what Turkey needs to rebuild its devastated provinces.
There have, however, been various estimates on the cost. The Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation has put the cost of the earthquakes at $84 billion, of which some $70.8 billion constitutes damage to homes, $10.4 billion a loss of national income and $2.9 billion represents a loss of workdays.
The World Bank estimated a cost of $34.2 billion in direct physical damage, while US data analytics firm Verisk put the economic loss at a minimum of $20 billion. US investment bank Morgan Stanley put the housing costs alone at around $38 billion, while JPMorgan said the cost of rebuilding houses and infrastructure would be around $25 billion.
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.