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Turkey has not expelled any Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood members, sources say

Israeli media said last week that several Palestinians were ejected by Ankara, but MEE told there is no change in policy and movement's military wing always unwelcome
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Hamas's political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) during a meeting in Istanbul in December 2019 (AFP)

Turkey has not expelled members of the Palestinian Hamas movement and isn’t planning to kick out the Muslim Brotherhood presence in the country either, a senior Turkish official and other sources told Middle East Eye. 

Last week, several Israeli media reports, citing a Palestinian source, alleged that “dozens of people identified with Hamas” had been deported in the last few months, including ones with ties to Hamas’ military wing, upon an Israeli request. 

Turkey and Israel have been trying to mend their ties with secret negotiations and intel cooperation since last year. In March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog was the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey since 2008, and the trip brought bilateral relations to a possible turning point after two decades of rivalry between the former allies. 

'No Hamas member has been deported or sent back to Palestine. The Hamas members who were in Turkey before the rapprochement are still here'

- Senior Turkish official

One of the main points of contention has always been the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Israel’s disapproval of the presence of Hamas members in Turkey. 

However, Turkish officials have maintained over the years that Hamas leaders settled in Turkey largely due to Israel's Gilad Shalit exchange deal and insist Ankara provides the Palestinian group with no material support. 

“No Hamas member has been deported or sent back to Palestine,” one senior Turkish official told MEE. “The Hamas members who were in Turkey before the rapprochement are still here.” 

The official added that Turkey has a longstanding policy of refusing entry to members of Hamas' military wing, and frequently warns the group not to send them there.

Sources close to Hamas confirmed that none of their members in Turkey were deported and acknowledged that there were restrictions on the military wing. 

Pressure on the Brotherhood

Meanwhile, Turkey’s recent efforts to normalise ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have rattled the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamist movement, which has several TV channels and leaders in the country.

Ankara last year asked Egyptian opposition channels to tone down their criticism of Cairo and eventually end their political programming amid a rapprochement. 

Egyptian opposition TV channel Mekameleen announced last month that it had shut down its Turkey offices and would be broadcasting from other locations. Mekameleen has a huge audience in Egypt and is believed to have close ties to the Brotherhood.

The Turkish official told MEE that Turkey isn’t planning to expel any members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after a 2013 military coup ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the party.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood member, who asked to remain anonymous, told MEE: “There is no visible pressure on the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] members, now. Also, we focus on teaching Islamic sciences to our Egyptian and some Turkish brothers.”

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That said, he admitted that some members were looking for another country to reside in, in case conditions in Turkey deteriorate.

“There are some brothers who are examining asylum procedures of other countries, such as South Africa, Germany and Malaysia, if the Turkish government raises difficulties for renewing their residence permits,” he added.

Almost all Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members in Istanbul were convicted in absentia in Egypt, so returning home is not an option.

Muslim Brotherhood members in Istanbul say the writing has been on the wall for them since last year, when the Turkish government notified Brotherhood-linked TV channels that they must tone down criticism of Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi.

One outspoken critic of the Egyptian regime, Yasser al-Omda, announced his departure from Turkey in March after apparently being asked to leave by authorities.

Muslim Brotherhood members told MEE they were disappointed that Turkey has taken swift action, and not given them enough time to stop broadcasting properly. They have also found Turkish authorities harsher than ever, taking it as a signal that their presence is no longer welcome unless they stay away from politics.

Mekameleen officials declined to comment on the decision to stop broadcasting from Turkey.

One Muslim Brotherhood member told MEE: “Turkish authorities asked them to remain silent, and not to give interviews to the media.”

“However,” he added, “there is no such pressure on other MB-linked channels such as al-Watan.”

The reason, he said, is that Mekameleen was one of Egypt’s most-watched TV channels, whereas the others’ impact remains limited.

Mekameleen is expected to maintain its activities in London if the required procedures can be completed.