The Muslim Brotherhood bears the cost of reset in Mideast

The growing closeness between Riyadh and Ankara is pushing the latter to adopt a more balanced and distanced attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization it once embraced wholeheartedly.

Intending to “lead the winds of change in the Middle East,” Turkey made supporting a government of its ideological fellow traveler, the Muslim Brotherhood, the linchpin of its Middle East policy. Such moves were not limited to Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, but came to encompass Tunisia, Libya and Syria, drawing Turkey and Qatar closer together while simultaneously driving it further away from the great defender of the status quo, Saudi Arabia. What’s more, its failure to adapt its foreign policy line to the changing conditions severely isolated the country in the region.

When Morsi was overthrown in a coup in 2013, the wind started to blow the other way.

The disagreements between Turkey and Saudi Arabia about the Muslim Brotherhood were put on the back burner amid more pressing foreign policy concerns over the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran, the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and the deepening of the problems in Yemen. In this context, King Salman’s accession to the throne enabled both countries to open a new page in bilateral relations.

In the meantime, Iran’s rise, which drove the Saudis and other Gulf countries closer to Israel, provided Ankara with an opportunity to improve its ties with Tel Aviv in an effort to end its regional isolation.

While the negotiations to normalize Turkish-Israeli ties might appear to have become bogged down in discussion of the Gaza embargo and Hamas’ activities in Turkey, signing the agreement is a matter of time.

In this respect, let us not forget how Turkey deported senior Hamas figure Salih Aruri at the end of 2015 without fanfare.

In parallel to the Turkish-Israeli negotiations, a possible compromise between Egypt and Hamas could contribute to improved ties between Turkey and Israel, as well as Turkey and Egypt, the third aspect of the reset.

The Abdel Fettah el-Sisi government has accused Hamas, which it describes as the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting terror attacks by Sinai Province, which has pledged allegiance to ISIL. Moreover, there have been accusations that Hamas’ Turkey office was behind last year’s assassination of Egyptian chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat.

Nevertheless, Egypt is warm to the idea of opening the Rafah border crossing to Gaza on the condition that Hamas cuts its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, stanches the flow of militants from Gaza to the Sinai and halts arms smuggling.

Hamas’ recent deployment of up to 300 soldiers to secure the border with Egypt – despite suspicions that it was a tactical maneuver – could indicate a possible thaw in ties with Egypt.

Husam Badran, a Hamas official residing in Qatar, sought to distance his movement from the Muslim Brotherhood, saying: “Although we come from the same ideological line as the Muslim Brotherhood, we are a Palestinian liberation movement. Our decisions come from our own advisory boards and the Hamas leadership.” The comments suggest expedience could come to outweigh ideology.

Is it possible to say the same thing about Egyptian-Turkish ties?

In truth, the anticipated rapprochement occasioned by the Egyptian FM’s appearance at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Turkey did not come to fruition. However, the fact that talk of “Rabia” did not appear in Turkey’s official or public rhetoric throughout the summit suggests that Ankara might be moving toward a more realistic politics.

Likewise, the United Arab Emirates’ decision to send an envoy back to Ankara for the first time in two years following Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Abu Dhabi is another result of the revision in Turkey’s foreign policy.

Such developments were likely discussed during Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal’s talks in both Ankara and Qatar.

Ultimately, even though the AKP government cannot completely turn its back on the Muslim Brotherhood out of considerations for its domestic audience, the current situation is pushing Ankara to follow a foreign policy path that is contingent on expedience, realism and balance rather than ideological values.