Erdoğan exports his divisive brand to Jordan with Islamist proselytizing agency Maarif

Abdullah Bozkurt 

The Maarif Foundation, the proselytizing and subversive arm of the Islamist government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has expanded its operations in Jordan, recently opening a dormitory capable of accommodating 200 students in Amman.

The building, touted as a place to host Turkish students who want to study Arabic, was opened on July 15 with the attendance of Yasin Aktay, an Islamist politician who is the chief advisor to Erdoğan and one of the key drivers of Turkish policy with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups abroad.

Aktay is an advocate of a caliphate vision for Turkey, calling the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami Turkey’s soft power proxies. In a video interview aired by the Islamist Hilal TV in February 2018, Aktay complained about the lack of an international political body that represents all Muslims since the abolishment of the caliphate in Turkey in 1924 and said Turkey under the Erdogan government was playing this role in practice by defending oppressed and victimized Muslims.


Turkish government officials lined up to cut the ribbon for the opening of the Maarif-run dormitory in Amman.


Maarif is a Turkish government agency that was established by law in June 2016 as part of the Erdoğan government’s ambitions to export the ruling party’s political Islamist ideology abroad and create a network of young Islamists around the world. It is funded by Turkish taxpayers.

The opening ceremony was attended by Turkish Ambassador to Jordan Murat Karagöz; director of religious education in the Turkish Education Ministry Nazif Yılmaz; and member of the Maarif board of directors Cihad Demirli. The Jordanian minister of Islamic Affairs and Holy Sites, Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal, was also present at the ceremony.

The dormitory is already filled to capacity until September, and Maarif plans to expand it in the future.

Some 1.3 million students have been receiving optional Arabic language training in public schools in Turkey according to official figures disclosed by Yılmaz.


Reception at the inauguration of the Maarif dormitory in Amman.


Maarif is run by Islamist figures who have been specially selected by Erdoğan. The deputy chairman of the board of trustees, Orman Nuri Kabaktepe, is a long-time Islamist politician who helped groom the younger generation in Turkey in political Islamist ideology. He is effectively running the organization, although he is the number two at Maarif on paper. He was head of the youth branches in the religious Felicity (Saadet) Party, the Turkish equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established by the late Necmettin Erbakan, the founding father of political Islam in Turkey.

He is aligned with an NGO called the Social Fabric Foundation (Sosyal Doku Vakfı), which is run by jihadist cleric Nureddin (or Nurettin) Yıldız, a radical imam who is close to the Turkish president. Nureddin openly advocates armed jihad, describes democracy as a system for infidels and says it can only be used as a means of deception to rise to power. Yıldız is the man who radicalized the young al-Nusra-affiliated police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey in December 2016.

Another organization that Kabaktepe works closely with is Turkey’s highly controversial charity group, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a pro-government Islamist organization that was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria and Libya and acts as a revolving door for installing religious fanatics and zealots in government jobs with the help of the Turkish president’s family enterprise. The IHH works with the Turkish intelligence agency and is a tool in the hands of the Erdoğan government.

Demirli, who was in Jordan to inaugurate the opening of the Maarif-run dormitory, is a graduate of the religious Imam-Hatip Lisesi, Erdoğan’s alma mater. He had been a senior administrator in the Association of İmam-Hatip Graduates and Members (ÖNDER), a pro-Erdoğan group that leads efforts to staff government jobs with its graduates based on ideology rather than merit.


Cihad Demirli (C) speaking at the International islamic Education Congress.


According to official figures 713,561 students up to 12th grade studied at imam-hatip schools, which emphasize religious education in their curricula, during the 2017-2018 school year. This number increased to 755,965 in the 2018-2019 school year. About 14 percent of all students in Turkey were enrolled in imam-hatip schools at the middle school level. The number increases to 1.3 million students when those at the high school level are included. There are a total of 3,444 imam-hatip schools in Turkey.

Maarif operates 308 schools and dormitories in 33 countries and has representation at the director level in 55 countries, suggesting that the foundation plans to open more schools.

In many countries that have a troubled record with the rule of law, the Erdoğan government pressured, blackmailed or bribed host country officials to unlawfully turn over to the Maarif foundation privately run schools affiliated with the Gülen movement — a group critical of Erdoğan’s Islamist policies and the Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of radical groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Most countries rejected the Erdoğan government’s efforts, branding them as blatant interference into their domestic affairs.

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