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With these factors in mind, it makes perfect sense for Erdogan to align himself with the ablest and most battle-tested exponents of Islamism both at home and abroad.  I.H.H.'s president Bülent Yildirim has publicly telegraphed his fealty to Milli Görüş, referring to Erbakan, for instance, as ‘hoca', which in Turkish means revered teacher, while also retaining soft language for Erdogan himself. At a February 2009 Hamas rally in Gaza, Yildirim said, "All the peoples of  the Islamic world demand their leaders to be like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan," a view that's been seconded by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Last January, when a land convoy led by I.H.H. delivered aid directly to the regime in Gaza, Haniyeh hailed Erdoğan at a ceremony for convoy participants: "Mr. Erdoğan has become our voice and won hearts of all Palestinians. We began naming our children after Tayyip Erdoğan. The name of Erdoğan has been immortalized in Palestine." (This speech, not coincidentally, was later posted to I.H.H.'s website.)

Although AKP has formally disavowed any association with I.H.H. - it even ordered around 45 of its deputies not to participate in the flotilla - there is striking evidence to suggest that the party and the charity are more in synch than they let on. Many Turkish observers have noted that AKP's aim prior to May 31 was to construct a defence of plausible deniability in case things turned ugly off the coast of Gaza but also exploit the occasion after the fact.  At the very least, an informal partnership exists between AKP and I.H.H., if only to judge by their common members. Many of the people on the 21-strong board of I.H.H. are also in AKP or have worked in a major capacity on the party's behalf. These include Ali Yandir, a trustee of I.H.H. who is also the senior manager at the Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation, the public entity that through one of its subsidiary companies sold the Mavi Marmara to the charity for $1.8 million (US).  Yandir ran for public office in Istanbul on the AKP ticket. Other board members include Zeyid Aslan, an AKP member of Parliament and the head of the Turkey-Palestine Interparliamentary Friendship Group; Ahmet Faruk Unsal, a former AKP member of Parliament who did in fact sail with the Mavi Marmara;  and Mehmet Emin Sen, a former AKP mayor for the township of Mihalgazi. The New York Times recently reported on the infiltration of I.H.H.'s upper echelons by AKP members and cited Turkish terrorism expert Ercan Citlioglu of Bahcesehir University in Istanbul who told the newspaper that the government "could have stopped the ship if it wanted to, but the mission to Gaza served both the I.H.H. and the government by making both heroes at home and in the Arab world."

There are other revealing conjunctures. In mid-May 2010, for example, Faruk Çelik, Turkey's minister of work and social security and a member of the AKP, spoke up for I.H.H. at a meeting of Palestine Platform, a Turkish anti-Israel campaign group. Çelik chose to mischaracterise the flotilla as an unarmed ‘humanitarian' aid mission: "Israeli hawks have threatened to attack ships that will not carry even a jackknife and will be loaded with humanitarian conscience. What kind of ignorance could this be, what kind of hatred is this, how can you call this ‘humane'?"

Even prior to the flotilla, the AKP and Erdogan had come to the rescue of this troublemaking NGO.  In April, Israel arrested Izzet Sahin, an I.H.H. employee who had been sent to the West Bank and thus defied Israel's 2008 ban on the organisation's activities in the Occupied Territories. Sahin was subsequently released without charge and deported from Israel. However, his arrest drew a sharp response from Erdoğan who suggested without proof that Sahin had been mistreated in Israeli custody.

Yet there was also a dress rehearsal for the Mavi Marmara affair earlier in the year in which Erdogan and I.H.H. appeared indistinguishable. In December 2009 and January 2010 a convoy organised by I.H.H. and the British charity Viva Palestina, founded by former British MP George Galloway, travelled overland to Gaza during which they engineered a violent clash with Egyptian authorities. Cairo had informed Viva Palestina and I.H.H. weeks before their trip got underway that if they were to pass through Egyptian territory  as planned, they must use the Mediterranean port of El Arish. The convoy disregarded this instruction, proceeded to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, and demanded that Egypt allow them to cross the Red Sea into Sinai. Erdogan this time publicly supported the aid mission and dispatched his Foreign Minister Davutoğlu to the Egyptian embassy in Ankara lobby on its behalf.  Yildirim was defiant as ever, threatening to "besiege" Egyptian embassies around the world if his organisation's demands were not heeded: "Up until now the world thought only Israel was a war criminal. But Egypt has proved it is also complicit in this crime. By preventing us Egypt has proved it is an Israeli-guided state. We will not remain silent against Egypt and besiege Egyptian embassies and consulates for days if needed."

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