For The Daily Beast:
While Cairo hands down death sentences, Ankara allows the Brotherhood to open TV stations. A close look at a rivalry shaping many Mideast conflicts.
ISTANBUL — Walid Sami fusses over a cup of green tea in the crowded apartment he shares with another Egyptian and six Syrians in a quarter of Istanbul’s Fatih district overlooking the Golden Horn. “Turkish tea is too bitter,” says Sami, 28, tall and thin with a wispy beard, dressed in worn blue jeans and a green denim jacket. He prefers the tea in his native Egypt, but he can’t go back there now.
“I asked a lot of people in Egypt for advice,” says Sami. “Some say if I return they might even arrest me at the airport…If they want to kill me, they will, they don’t care at this point who they are dealing with.”
Sami is one of around 4,000 Egyptians who have left their country fearing legal action, most now living in Turkey. Among them are some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, their list of allies abroad fast dwindling, fleeing a massive crackdown at home by the government of Abdel Fattah el Sisi, which has jailed more than 40,000 people, including the revolution’s top liberal and secular voices as well as Islamists, and has handed out more than a thousand death sentences.
Last week, an Egyptian court upheld death sentences against 14 Brotherhood leaders, including its head, Mohamed Badie. Thirty-seven others were handed life sentences, including Mohamad Soltan, a 27-year-old American citizen. The prospects of Washington convincing Sisi to back down seem slim—Egypt is now part of a coalition against the global scourge of the so-called Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood in exile is trying to build a coalition of its own, meeting Western lawmakers, opening satellite news stations, even petitioning international courts that may have some jurisdiction over Egypt. But Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is perhaps the group’s only major ally. Erdoğan, himself increasingly isolated, continues to insist Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s ill-fated elected president of Egyp, is still the country’s legitimate leader.