Since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in 2013, several TV channels affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have started broadcasting from Turkey. Journalists, pundits, activists, and Islamic clerics who escaped the crackdown against the MB and its media outlets carried out by the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have set up shop in Istanbul, where they operate freely under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his MB-affiliated Justice and Development party (AKP). The new channels promote the goal of restoring an MB regime in Egypt, and also promote a variety of regional and global causes, while using extremist jihadi and antisemitic rhetoric.
From Cairo To Istanbul: Historical Background
The first Egyptian MB television channel, Misr 25 (“Egypt 25”), was launched in Cairo in September 2011, following the January 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Egypt that brought down the regime of president Hosni Mubarak, only to be shut down two years later following the July 2013 counter-revolution. An attempt to rebrand it as AhrarMisr 25 (“Free Men of Egypt 25”) and establish it abroad was unsuccessful, and the channel faded into obscurity before shutting down completely.
The first MB channel to be launched in Turkey was Rabea TV which began broadcasting in 2013. It was followed by the establishment of other MB-affiliated channels, but only a handful of these are still operating. Foreign satellite service providers, most notably the French-supervised Eutelsat, stopped broadcasting Al-Thawra, Misr Alan, and Rabea TV itself, or the channels closed down due to financial difficulties. Rabea TV, for example, was ordered removed from Eutelsat in 2015 by the French broadcasting authority for disseminating violent images. Today, five MB channels still broadcast from Istanbul: the political channels Watan, Mekameleen, Elsharq and Channel 9, and a religious channel called Dawah TV.
The four political channels are dominated by Egyptian MB figures and are all virulently opposed to Egyptian President Al-Sisi, but they have different target audiences. Watan is aimed at hardcore MB members and supporters; Elsharq – owned by former Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour – and Mekameleen are directed at the young Egyptians who started the January 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt. Channel 9 is aimed at a general Arab audience, and devotes more airtime to non-Egyptian issues and causes.
The channels regularly promote anti-West jihadi ideology, use antisemitic rhetoric, and express ambivalence towards terrorism.
The MB channels refrain from revealing their sources of funding, and, in most cases, who owns them. When asked about their sources of funding, most claim that they are financed by like-minded businessmen whom they decline to name. However, there are indications that the money comes primarily from Qatar.
According to Egyptian media reports, Qatar has been bankrolling Mekameleen TV, which is the only channel that has never had to suspend operations due to financial difficulties, by using production companies that were established specifically to conceal the identity of the Qatari funders of Mekameleen and other MB media outlets. Elsharq TV, which was purchased in 2015 by former Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour, is also apparently financed by Qatar. Rami Gan, a shady Egyptian activist who had spent two years in Istanbul working for Mekameleen and Elsharq TV before returning to Egypt, said in a December 2018 interview on the Egyptian Extra News channel that Qatar had much more of a hand in Elsharq’s editorial decisions than Turkey did.
Muslim Brotherhood TV Channels And Their Nemesis The Al-Sisi Regime
The MB networks regularly bash and criticize Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and on them he has been accused of being a dictator and archvillain on par with Hitler and the pharaohs. He has even been targeted with the ultimate insult – of having a Jewish mother. In one Elsharq TV broadcast, the two hosts discussed whether Al-Sisi only behaved like a Jew or if his mother was actually of Jewish descent.
In a January 2015 show on Rabea TV, Sheikh Salama Abdel Qawi went so far as to call for Al-Sisi’s assassination. Since fleeing Egypt, Salama, an advisor to the Minister of Religious Endowments under president Morsi and who, during the Mubarak and Morsi eras, had had his own show on Al-Nas TV, has become a regular guest on the MB channels. On this occasion, he stated that killing Al-Sisi would be a “good deed that would bring [the killer] closer to Allah,” and added, to the applause of the audience, that anyone who killed Al-Sisi would “become a martyr.”