Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister, personally intervened in a private Turkish TV network’s coverage of events in Egypt in July 2013, ordering the manager to run favorable programs for supporters of embattled President Mohamed Morsi, a secret wiretap has revealed.
The transcript of the phone conversation, wiretapped as part of a criminal investigation into an organized crime network in Turkey in 2013, revealed that Erdoğan tried to control the story about Egypt, where he had cultivated close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdoğan’s intervention took place on the day Morsi was removed from office amid a lack of support for the Egyptian president by the opposition, which accused Morsi of squandering his 2012 election victory, undermining state institutions and seeking only to bolster his and the Brotherhood’s grip on the state.
Intervening through a loyalist he planted in the private media outlet, Erdoğan ordered the downplaying of anti-Morsi protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, focusing on a Brotherhood protest in al-Adawiya Square. He also asked for coverage in line with Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV network, which pursues a pro-Muslim Brotherhood editorial line.
On July 3, 2013 at 22:13 hours Erdoğan called Mehmet Fatih Saraç, a senior manager at the Turkish Ciner Media Group, to complain about the group’s TV station Habertürk’s coverage of events in Egypt and criticized the remarks of a guest who was invited to a debate program as a commentator. The prime minister asked him to use Al Jazeera as a source, and Saraç said he would take care of Erdoğan’s demands right away.
Saraç, a Turkish figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, was brought in to the Ciner Media Group on December 26, 2012 as deputy chairman of the board of directors after a secret deal was made by the owner, Turgay Ciner, and Erdoğan. His mandate was to slant the editorial policy of Ciner media divisions, including the Habertürk newspaper, Habertürk TV, news websites and radio stations, in favor of Erdoğan and his government. In exchange Ciner, who has interests in various sectors from mining to energy, benefited from favorable contracts and tenders from the government.
Transcript of the wiretap that shows Erdoğan calling on a TV manager to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:Erdogan_Sarac_Egypt_watermarked
“Why don’t you connect to [the Rabaa] al-Adawiya [mosque and its surrounding streets],” Erdoğan suggested, referring to the area where Muslim Brotherhood members were protesting against the ouster of Morsi. “Sir, the broadcast was cut off, they are not transmitting,” Saraç apologetically responded. Apparently angered by the response, Erdoğan slammed him for displaying Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where many Egyptians were jubilantly celebrating the removal of Morsi.
“No, you keep displaying Tahrir Square, you always show Tahrir streets,” Erdoğan said. When Saraç said he could not link up with people in al-Adawiya, the Turkish prime minister instructed him to use footage from Al Jazeera. “I mean, like, they are celebrating so-called democracy with fireworks and such,” Erdoğan lamented, ridiculing the Egyptians who turned up in Tahrir to celebrate the ousting of Morsi and to express support for the army-backed interim government.
Habertürk immediately split the screen as if it was showing both rallies but mistakenly put the Tahrir celebrations in both, frustrating Erdoğan further. “Now the left side is from Adawiya,” Saraç claimed, but Erdoğan disputed the assertion right away, saying, “That is not Adawiya.” “Don’t you see, they are shooting off fireworks there [in Tahrir]. Think about it — fireworks were used in Adawiya Square [by Muslim Brotherhood people]?” Saraç said he would consider Erdoğan’s requests to be orders and would immediately implement them.
In the conversation between the Turkish network manager and Erdoğan, the name of Dr. Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar, one of the leaders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, also came up. “I’m connecting to Dr. Ashraf right away,” Saraç told Erdoğan, who apparently knew him. “Sir, I will get information only from Dr. Ashraf and connect to him. I’ll consider this your order,” the manager said.
For a while, the conversation revolved around a guest, Ahmet Ağırakça, a theology professor who talked about the strong anti-Morsi sentiment in the Egyptian judiciary, media and politics. Although he was advocating for the Muslim Brotherhood, Ağırakça was also trying to give a relatively fair picture of the Egyptian political and social landscape. “Look, have you listened what Ağırakça said?” Erdoğan asked, expressing displeasure with what the guest had said on the TV debate program. “What kind of people are these? Shame on you!” Terrified by the prime minister’s anger, Saraç said he did not understand why the guest had spoken like that. “I put him on TV, thinking he was our man. But now this happened,” Saraç said in apology, stressing that he would immediately call on the Brotherhood’s Dr. Ashraf in Cairo to correct the mistake.
Erdoğan’s personal involvement in micromanaging the editorial line to steer the coverage of a private TV network in Turkey against the interim Egyptian government at the time shows how much he had invested in the Muslim Brotherhood and how frustrated he was by the opposition’s victory in Egypt. It also confirms how Erdoğan and his political Islamists were motivated by ideological zealotry at the expense of Turkish national security interests, which required a balanced approach so as to not antagonize the Egyptian leadership.
The Erdoğan government encouraged the Brotherhood to keep rallying in the streets despite the risk of clashes and bloodshed. Then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey was with the Egyptian people, while Hüseyin Çelik, a senior member of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), called on supporters of Morsi to defend their votes. President Erdoğan has refused until the present day to recognize Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and his government as legitimate. He offered sanctuary for the MB leadership and has turned Turkey a regional hub for the Brotherhood’s international network.
Saraç, to whom the prime minister spoke on the phone, as well as many others including Erdoğan’s son Bilal were suspects in an investigation into corruption pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.
The wiretap was authorized by the Istanbul 2nd High Criminal Court, which was looking into terrorism-related cases. The authorization was granted on June 29, 2013 as part of investigation file No. 2012/656.