Behind the Lines: A Gulf apart
LAST UPDATED: 01/19/2013 10:13
Gulf monarchies are sharply divided on how to respond to the Muslim Brotherhood threat. While Saudi Arabia, UAE see the Brotherhood as a danger to stability, longevity of the monarchies, Qatar embraces it as an ally.
Egypt's Morsi meets with Qatari PM al-Thani Photo: REUTERS
Saudi and United Arab Emirates security forces recently apprehended a 10-man
cell linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that was active in the UAE. The cell,
according to Gulf media reports, was engaged in raising money for the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt, propagandizing among Egyptians residing in the UAE and
gathering information on the UAE’s defense facilities. It was also reported as
being in “constant communication” with its parent movement in Cairo.
arrest of this group has highlighted growing fears in some conservative Gulf
states that the Muslim Brotherhood is now turning its attention to the Gulf
But the monarchies are sharply divided in their response to
the rise of the Brotherhood.
The 2011 to 2012 period brought a
long-awaited windfall of political power for the Muslim Brothers. Franchises of
the movement are now in government power in Tunisia and Egypt. The Brotherhood
is playing a major role in the Western- supported political and military
leaderships of the rebellion in Syria.
The Palestinian branch of the
movement – Hamas – would almost certainly have consumed its Fatah rivals by now
were the latter not protected by Israel and supported by the
Indeed, the real story of the Arab upheavals of the last two years
can be summed up as the replacement of secular nationalist dictatorships by
Sunni Islamist movements, among which Muslim Brotherhood franchises form the
most important element.
The secular nationalist space in the Arab world
has now largely been replaced by an area of Sunni Islamist
Only one secular nationalist regime – Algeria – remains in
secure existence. The oil-rich monarchies form the next natural
In the Gulf, however, the situation is not simple. Sunni
Islamists and Gulf monarchs are not necessarily natural enemies.
monarchs adhere to and rule in the name of conservative, Sunni forms of
The Muslim Brothers may be revolutionaries, but they are also
conservatives, seeking to revive what they present as an authentic form of
Islamic government. In the past, Brotherhood exiles from Egypt and the Fertile
Crescent played a vital role in developing the education systems and manning the
bureaucracies of Gulf states.
This has led to two widely variant Gulf
approaches to the movement.
The first, exemplified by Saudi Arabia and
the UAE, sees the Brotherhood as the most dangerous challenge to the stability
and longevity of the monarchies. The UAE and Saudi Arabia fear the Brotherhood
precisely because its beliefs render it potentially appealing to dissatisfied
elements among the populations of these states.
Last July, Dubai police
chief Dhahi Kalfan (a name familiar to Israelis because of his central role in
the events following the killing of Hamas official Mahmoud Mabhuh in the
emirate), accused the Brotherhood of plotting the overthrow of the Gulf
The latest arrests follow the apprehending of 60 suspected
members of the Brotherhood- linked al-Islah (“Reform and Social Guidance”)
movement over the summer in the UAE.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah
bin Zayed al-Nahayan said after the arrests that “The Muslim Brotherhood does
not believe in the sovereignty of the state.”
Saudi Arabian Interior
Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, meanwhile, has called the Brotherhood “the
source of all the problems in the Islamic world.” The Saudis, seeking a
counterweight to the Brotherhood in both Egypt and Syria, have thrown their
weight (and financial support) behind ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist
By contrast, the second approach, of which Qatar is the main
exponent, sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a suitable ally, client and instrument.
Qatar has adopted this strategy with energy and alacrity, as may be observed
from its growing ties with the Brotherhood government in Egypt, support for the
Brotherhood in Libya and Yemen and close links with the Sunni insurgency in
Qatar has long provided sanctuary for Muslim Brotherhood members.
In return, the movement has since 1999 refrained from activity within the
emirate. Famously, Doha offered a base of activities for the
Brotherhood-associated Sheikh Yusuf al- Qaradawi, whose enormously influential
broadcasts were put out by the emirate’s satellite channel, Al
Key current and former staffers at the highly influential Al
Jazeera (which, of course, never criticizes Qatar) are Muslim Brotherhood
members. Among these are Waddah Khanfar, former general manager of Al
Doha has proved a generous benefactor to the Muslim Brotherhood
government in Cairo. This week, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem
al-Thani announced a $2 billion loan and a $500 million grant to Egypt. This is
the second such package since the Muslim Brotherhood election victory in August
(which was also financed with Qatari money.) Qatar’s massive oil and gas wealth
and tiny citizen population evidently mean that it considers itself immune from
any potential threat from the Sunni Islamists.
The emirate is inhabited
by 250,000 Qataris, who enjoy the fortunate situation of being administered to
by an additional population of around 1.6 million foreign workers, mainly from
the Indian subcontinent.
Qatar’s presumed invulnerability to internal
Islamist subversion enables it to partner with the Muslim Brotherhood and to
wield influence within the new Sunni Islamist regimes now emerging.
in turn, will enable Doha to increase its diplomatic clout in mediating between
such regimes and between them and other regional and global players.
Saudis, the UAE and others may be furious with the Qataris for the stance they
are taking, but little can be done about it. This is because the current United
States administration comes down on the Qatari side of the argument, regarding
the Muslim Brotherhood in its various manifestations as a potential ally. In the
context of the apparent US choice of the anti-Western and anti-Semitic Muslim
Brotherhood as a regional strategic partner, Qatar’s approach appears entirely
in tune with the times. Given the aforementioned nature of the Muslim
Brotherhood, however, it is also likely to contribute to the emergence of a
vastly less stable Middle East.