With a new media initiative in Turkey, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, appears to have committed itself to polishing the credentials of Turkey’s corrupt Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, its main regional benefactor, and promoting him among Arabs and Muslims.
The establishment of the Istanbul-based Association for Palestine Communicators and Media (Filistin İletişimciler ve Medya Derneği, or FİMED) in April 2020 by a key senior Hamas figure was aimed at marketing Erdoğan — who effectively considers himself the caliph or leader of all Muslim communities across the globe. The organization, funded by the Turkish government, is led by Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, a controversial figure who had troubles in his native Palestine over allegations of harassment of women, including a foreign female reporter.
FİMED does not hide its intention to promote the Turkish government, and it has openly declared that one of the the association’s goals is to “raise the status of Turkey in the view of Arabs and Muslim Ummah” in addition to informing Turks about events in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The association also feeds the narrative to Turks that Erdoğan wholeheartedly supports the Palestinian cause and often features Hamas leaders’ speeches that praise Erdoğan’s leadership and support his policies.
A review of public statements made by Abu Zuhri and carried by FİMED reveals that the organization rushes to defend the Turkish president when Erdoğan faces criticism from Western or Muslim states. For example, in July 2020 Abu Zuhri put out a statement endorsing Erdoğan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a move that triggered a wave of criticism from the international community. “The opening of Hagia Sophia to [Islamic] worship is a joyous decision for all Muslims, and with this decision Turkey has once again asserted its sovereignty. I hereby congratulate Turkey and its people,” FİMED tweeted on July 11, 2020, quoting Abu Zuhri.
On October 26, 2020 Abu Zuhri issued a statement saying that Hamas stands by Turkey against what he called external threats. The statement came after Erdoğan repeatedly claimed in his pubic rallies that his government has been targeted economically by the Western powers because it supports oppressed peoples in the region.
The point man who mobilizes resources for the Hamas media project in Turkey on behalf of President Erdoğan is Hasan Turan, a member of parliament from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turan is a deputy chairman of the AKP and in charge of civic society and public relations. He is also head of the Palestine-Turkey Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Abu Zuhri coordinates the media campaign with Husam Badran, Hamas’s international spokesperson and a former military leader, and reports to Saleh Al-Arouri, Hamas deputy political chief and a top military commander who has been living in Turkey under the protection of the Erdoğan government. Turkey is accused of allowing Hamas members who were sheltering in Turkey to plan attacks against Israel in a breach of a 2015 US-brokered deal to not allow Hamas officials to plot terror attacks against Israel from Turkish territory.
In August 2020 the Turkish president and his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan hosted a Hamas delegation that included political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh and al-Arouri.