Part of the crisis that has gripped the Persian Gulf owes its existence to the deep-rooted religio-ideological rift that has long pierced through the otherwise “Sunni” world. While undoubtedly a result of a power struggle between the House of Saud, a traditional autocrat monarchy, and Qatar, a self-proclaimed “moderate” Arab state, Qatar’s support for moderate – that is, non-militant – Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly landed it in hot water.
At the heart of Qatar’s support for one of the oldest Islamic reformist movements is the country’s struggle to develop its image as a modern state. This is perhaps also the objective behind Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup. This has also been seen as a continuation of the policy Qatar adopted during the so-called Arab Spring when it embraced change in the Middle East and North Africa and supported transitioning states. Regional actors viewed Qatar’s approach as overreaching, and skepticism of Doha’s policy motivations increased.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in this context, is at the very epicenter of regional tension, and Qatar’s support for it is a bone of contention. Saudi Arabia and its allies have waged a war on the Brotherhood because it has become a real political factor, presenting an alternative to the region’s decaying monarchical and autocratic regimes, despite all the group’s shortcomings, shortsightedness, divisions and blunders.
This conundrum partly explains why states such as Turkey, professing an attachment to moderate political Islam, have refrained from following in the footsteps of the House of Saud. Instead, Turkey’s choice to send troops to Qatar emphatically shows how regional politics is changing at a time when Saudi’s efforts to establish its hegemony have reached a new height. As such, far from being irrelevant to regional politics since the ouster of its government in Egypt at the hands of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Muslim Brotherhood not only remains particularly relevant but is also shaping new military and ideological alliances in the “Sunni” world, allowing such states as Turkey and Iran to tap into and use the scenario to advance their own regional agendas. This is evident from what the Saudi authorities have said, that for Qatar to normalize its relations with “key Arab states”, it needs to take several steps, including ending its support of Palestinian Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, on the other hand, has obviously rejected Saudi allegations of its sponsoring terrorism. It said in one of its statements posted on its website: “The Kingdom’s insistence on backing the obscene putschist [Egyptian] regime, providing it with financial and political support, attacking the moderate Islamist movement represented in the Muslim Brotherhood, and accusing it of terrorism, puts the Kingdom’s credibility at stake.”
Therefore, seen from the Saudi capital, Qatar is a source of instability: a tiny but rich nation that all too often opposes its neighbors’ efforts to isolate rival Iran, and which uses its resources to support “terrorist groups” such as the Brotherhood.
However, to the Saudis’ dismay, not all the allied states consider the Brotherhood a terror group. Even in the West the organization has somehow managed to survive without being universally labeled as a terrorist organization.
In 2014, the British prime minister at the time, David Cameron, ordered an investigative review into the Brotherhood and concluded that as far as the UK was concerned, the organization should not be described as a terrorist outfit. However, perhaps for fear of upsetting Middle Eastern governments with large defense budgets, Cameron refrained from giving it a completely clean bill of health, though it was not banned altogether. An 11-page summary of the report made it amply clear that the UK government accepted, despite having broader disagreements over the organization’s ideology and political tactics, that the “Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to terrorist-related activity in and against the UK” and has “often condemned terrorist-related activity in the UK associated with al-Qaeda”.
Even for such states as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the issue is not simply whether or not the Brotherhood is linked with militant activity in their own countries or elsewhere. For them the issue is rather starker: Muslim Brotherhood activists, after all, have long been trying to take power away from them, and given the degree of support they enjoy, they are seen as a genuine threat, needing to be dealt with forcefully.
Salman Rafi : Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistan based independent journalist and a research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs.
Source: Asia Times