The Muslim Brothers (MB) have come a long way since their birth as a local community service group in the town of Ismailiya on the banks of the Suez Canal in 1928 to the fully fledged international organisation that it is today.
From an organisation concerned mainly with social services, the MB evolved into a political Islam group whose goal is no less than to revive an Islamic worldwide caliphate. This put them at loggerheads with the various political regimes in Egypt, especially given that the MB stopped at nothing to fulfil their purpose, not even political assassination and terrorism against unarmed civilians.
The 2011 revolution in Egypt, which led to the stepping down of longtime president Hosni Mubarak, offered the MB the golden opportunity they had always waited for. Leaning on religious teachings, they persuaded Egyptians they could offer them a good life on earth and paradise in the afterlife as well. The result was that they made it to a MB-majority parliament and their man, Muhammad Mursi, was elected president of Egypt in June 2012. It took Egyptians just one year, however, to realise first-hand the hard truth about the MB: that they effectively killed all democratic practice for good, that Egypt for them was a mere stepping-stone to their worldwide ambitions, and that as such Egyptians mattered not a whit. On 30 June 2013, Egyptians in their huge majority rebelled and overthrew the MB.
Out of favour
Ever since the 30 June Revolution in 2013, it has been a declared war of terror by the MB against Egypt, a war in which—again—the MB stop at nothing. Egypt responded by designating the MB a terrorist group last December. Regionally, Qatar stood as the only supporter of the MB in the region; Egypt accused the Gulf State of supporting the Islamists and officially protested against Doha’s interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. Egypt recalled its ambassador in Doha, and said he will not be returning any time soon.
In support of the Egyptian stance, three major Gulf States which had once financed the MB, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, allied with Egypt and recalled their envoys from Qatar.
But the biggest slap in the face of the MB was the recent statement by Saudi Arabia declaring the MB a terrorist group. The organisation has now fallen out of favour with many countries of the international community who fear for their relations with the Gulf States.
Some Arab countries hailed the Saudi statement while others, like Kuwait, launched mediation efforts in an attempt to resolve the impasse between the Gulf States and Qatar. Egypt called upon the Arab countries to implement the Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism signed in April 1998; this would eventually lead the 17 signatory States to declare the MB terrorist.
The question which now begs an answer is whether the move to ostracise the MB would mark a new chapter in the organisation’s local and international status and activity. Would it lead to increased MB violence? Would it force the MB underground?
Forced to legalise
Dissident MB leader Mukhtar Nuh explains that the pressure tactics exerted by some Gulf States such as revoking their ambassador from Qatar force the MB to revert to legal work rather than underground, to correct their position and eventually become part of the national fabric.
“A new MB generation will emerge, admitting the mistakes of the past and deposing the old leaders who were responsible for the organisation’s ill-fate,” he says. “This will take time. However, the more the Arab countries agree to reject MB violence and their oblique means to ascend to power, the more effective it will be in obliging all the national factions to blend back in national accord.”
The Saudi government has also designated other organisations as terrorist. These include The Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh) which are active in Syria in addition to a faction of Hizbullah active in the Kingdom’s eastern province. Nuh believes this move will have a massive impact on these organisations, especially since Saudi Arabia is also reconsidering the residence permits granted to their members and intends to crack down on their funding sources.
Qatar will eventually be isolated on the Arab level, Nuh expects, because it is an American military base and is unable to make any decision without consulting with the US. “It is a country that lacks will, plan and strategy,” he says. “It is closer to an occupied country; other countries don’t deal with it as a sovereign State but rather as a military base. But now that Russia is obviously seeking new allies in the Arab world, the US should work on regaining the trust of Arab countries.”
Starved for funds
Said al-Lawandi, strategic expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, agrees that recalling the ambassadors from Qatar is a blow to the international organisation of the MB. The loss of funds from countries which have declared the MB terrorist will weaken the international organisation. Saudi Arabia has always been one of the main providers of funds and logistics to many Islamist groups, not only the MB but also the Salafis and the Hawthis. Starving the international organisation of funds is a major crippling move; it drives it to depend on the support of rare allies such as Turkey where most MB meetings are now held. In the same manner, the Saudi decision will also weaken the MB locally in Egypt and the neighbouring countries.
“Saudi Arabia has provided all the funding of the brotherhood since its establishment in 1928 until now,” says Muhammad al-Khouli, political and history researcher. “At the time, relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia had been severed as the result of the al-Mahmal incident in 1925. That was when a group of hardline Wahabis from the region of Najd in the Arabian Peninsula attacked an Egyptian military battalion securing safe passage for a ceremonial caravan on its way from Egypt to Mecca carrying the Egyptian-manufactured shroud offered annually for the Kaaba.
“After the MB in Egypt directed their activity at sowing political upheaval and conducting political assassinations, and especially during the Nasser regime, many leaders of the brotherhood fled prison sentences and sought refuge in Saudi Arabia where they settled and established private businesses of significant economic scale. The MB relation with Qatar, on the other hand, began only in 2005 and reached epic proportions in 2010 right before the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Before that, Qatar had never politically supported the brotherhood.”
Operating outside the law
Khouli believes that any clandestine organisation is successful only as long as it remains underground because it cannot abide by the natural laws set by nations. The group believes it is above the law and above all State institutions. The MB will therefore become more secluded and isolated but will expand their secret work more than ever before.
The MB are expected to pursue and increase their violent activity as long as they can, Khouli says. But now they are losing their staunch allies. Saudi Arabia turned its back on them and Turkey is facing internal turmoil; the Turkish prime minister is being accused of spending State funds on illegal purposes. The MB now has no supporter other than Qatar. If Qatar finds it is alienated from all the other Gulf States, it may reconsider its position. Should this happen, it could be the beginning of the downfall of the MB.
A matter of interests
Journalist writer and political analyst Soliman Shafiq agrees that the Gulf States gave the MB a significant blow. Since the beginning of the Egyptian migration to the Gulf in the 1960s, MB members have been accumulating wealth and riches. The Gulf countries must proceed with freezing the assets of MB members to restrain the brotherhood’s financial strength.
“The reason why Saudi Arabia made its long-awaited statement was not to help Egypt get rid of the MB but mainly to protect its own interests,” Shafiq explains. “It is no secret that the financial power of the MB gave them a distinguished status in the Gulf and encouraged Qatar’s rulers as well as some members of the Kuwaiti and Saudi nobility to join the brotherhood, making them a threat to the established regimes in the area.”
The Saudis fear the MB political influence and wish to prevent it from igniting a revolution or sedition on its land just as it did in Bahrain. The governments of the Gulf countries have not sufficient strength to match that of the MB; a revolution by the Shiites in Kuwait or in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia is their worst nightmare because it can never be quenched by weak governments.
Violence has become the common factor of all organisations affiliated to the MB. But violence in the Gulf countries can reach ominous proportions, given that they are surrounded by Iraq and Syria. The Gulf States, therefore, have no option but to seek Egypt’s support.
16 March 2014