Behind the Lines: A Gulf apart

By JONATHAN SPYER

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.

The  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  monarchies.

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  West.

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The secular nationalist space in the Arab world  has now largely been replaced by an area of Sunni Islamist  domination.

Only one secular nationalist regime – Algeria – remains in  secure existence. The oil-rich monarchies form the next natural  target.

In the Gulf, however, the situation is not simple. Sunni  Islamists and Gulf monarchs are not necessarily natural enemies.

The Gulf  monarchs adhere to and rule in the name of conservative, Sunni forms of  Islam.

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  monarchies.

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  forces.

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  Syria.

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  Jazeera.

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  Jazeera.

Read more at The Jerusalem Post

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