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[OPINION] Hamid Abdullah Al-Ahmar: Erdoğan’s errand boy in the Arab world

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by Abdullah Bozkurt

Sheikh Hamid Abdullah Al-Ahmar, an Arab politician and millionaire businessman whose family led the Muslim Brotherhood network in Yemen, has been tapped by Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the go-between to influence politics in Yemen, Palestine, Egypt and other Muslim countries. With political and financial backing from the current Turkish government, Al-Ahmar has not only been sponsoring Islamist networks globally but also helping president Erdoğan groom and radicalize Turkish youth.

Abdullah Bozkurt

Al-Ahmar lives in exile in the de facto Muslim Brotherhood capital of Istanbul after fleeing Yemen during the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in September 2014. He has been quite busy running errands for his boss Erdoğan in Turkey and its neighborhood. He was the head of the organizing committee that mobilized Arab youth and activists in Turkey to shore up support for President Erdoğan under the theme of “Thanks, Turkey,” which was held between April 22 and 24, 2016. Interestingly enough, April 23 is a national holiday in Turkey celebrated by young people to commemorate the establishment of the republic with the inauguration of the parliament. As Erdoğan was dismantling the republic’s main pillars one by one, he was also taking aim at this symbolic week through an Islamist event with a view to creating a new legacy for his Islamist revolution

Announcing the three days of events that were to be held across Turkey, al-Ahmar described the celebrations on March 31, 2016 as a reminder of the years of the caliphate, when the Ottomans claimed the title. That is a sales pitch for the Turkish president, who sees himself as the leader of all Muslims, the caliph to command the allegiance of the Umma. The event took a symbolic start on Friday with a prayer service in the Blue Mosque, across from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square, followed by an inauguration ceremony at Sinan Erdem Hall. Turkey’s then-deputy prime minister, Yalçın Akdoğan, was the keynote speaker, flanked in the front row by Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood who approved of armed insurgency and suicide killings in Syria, on his right and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on his left.

Al-Ahmar is no stranger to the Brotherhood, of course. He has been involved in the opposition party Yemeni Congregation for Reform, also known as the Islah party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He comes from an influential political dynasty, the Al-Ahmar family, which has been weakened amid internal conflict in Yemen. The Islah party was founded by Al-Ahmar’s late father, Abdullah, and other Islamist and tribal figures. In fact, Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, another leader in the Islah party, was designated as a terrorist on February 24, 2004 by the US Treasury. The US said al-Zindani is “a loyalist to Usama bin Laden and supporter of al-Qaeda.” He also served as a contact for Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish-based terrorist organization linked to al-Qaeda, according to the US note.

With the backing of the Islamist government in Turkey, Al-Ahmar is also leading another organization called the League of Parliamentarians for Al-Quds, which is based in Istanbul’s Bahçelievler district. It is one of many tools at the disposal of Erdoğan, who manipulates and exploits the sensitive Palestinian issue for his own political goals. The group brings various Arab and Turkish politicians together under this umbrella and serves as a tool for Erdoğan to influence Arab politics. When the group organized its first conference in Jerusalem on Nov. 29-30, 2016, Erdoğan attended the event as keynote speaker and delivered a fiery speech, promising to strengthen the platform led by Al-Ahmar. Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman, another Islamist figure who hosted the group in his Parliament office on Aug. 25, 2016, was also among those who addressed the audience.

As announced by the Turkish president, platform has expanded further with lawmaker Nureddin Nebati, an Erdoğan confidante who served as deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) responsible for financial affairs, chosen as a board member in the League of Parliamentarians for Al-Quds. Nebati is a trusted confidante of Erdoğan and serves various Islamist foundations and business associations that back Erdoğan’s government. He serves as the main conduit for Erdoğan’s business affairs in the Arab world in cooperation with Al-Ahmar.

On Jan. 31, 2018 Al-Ahmar and his delegation had a consultative meeting at AKP headquarters in Ankara as the guest of Mehmet Mehdi Eker, a Kurdish Islamist and deputy chairman of the AKP who is responsible for external affairs in Erdoğan’s party. It appears resources available to Turkey’s ruling party are at the disposal of this man and his associates.

This is yet another indication that the Erdoğan regime is pursuing a foreign policy based on divisive sectarian choices and dangerous Islamist policies that first and foremost pose a threat to Turkey’s own national security interests. It also presents challenges and risks for the countries in Turkey’s neighborhood and beyond.

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