Reuters reported on March 7, 2014 that Saudi Arabia had formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a terrorist organization. Apparently the Saudis view the MB with a great deal of suspicion and mistrust, seeing the organization as too “republican” and anti-monarchist.
According to the Qatari Daily News, the Hamas regime in Gaza was also designated as a terrorist organization by the Saudis. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have followed suit, thus exposing Qatar as the only Arab Gulf state to support the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing Qatar of failing to abide by the agreement not to interfere in each other’s affairs.
The ambassadors’ crisis has to do with a Cairo tribunal decision to freeze the assets of the Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization and bar it from Egyptian territory. Hamas is allied with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and linked to the attacks in Egypt.
The Saudi-Qatari rift is connected to the very different attitude each country has toward the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Gaza. Whereas the Saudi regime supported the coup against President Muhammad Morsi, and sought to reinforce the military-dominated government that followed, Qatar has continued to back the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Saudis and the Emiratis were swift in their support of the military coup in Egypt in July, 2013, that deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi. Both Gulf States pledged billions of dollars in support of General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, the military chief that lead the takeover. Ironically, Morsi’s first foreign visit as President of Egypt, in July, 2012, was to Saudi Arabia, where he pledged that his MB government would not seek to export the revolution beyond its own borders. He assured the Saudis that Egypt would not encourage opposition to their regime nor provide support for Islamist regimes.
The Saudis, always mistrustful of Egyptian intentions, were skeptical of Morsi’s assurances. The Saudis have had a long struggle with the revolutionary and socialist oriented regime of Egypt’s dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser, who had hoped to export his revolutionary, socialist, Arab-nationalist, and anti-western creed throughout the Arab world. In the mid-1960’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia fought a proxy war in Yemen. One of the underlying fears held by the Saudi royals was that Nasser’s intentions were to depose them and take over their oil fields.
In the Middle East where the adage “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is often realized, the Saudi royal family provided various forms of support to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Political asylum was granted to its leaders, and they helped to fund various Islamic charities in which the MB played a major role. Nasser, in 1954, decreed the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its supreme guide, Hasan Al-Hodeibi, arrested along with other leaders and members of the MB. In October, 1954, an attempt on Nasser’s life while he delivered a speech in Alexandria resulted in a mass roundup and trial of thousands of MB members. Some MB leaders were sentenced to death and others to life imprisonment.
Sayed Qutb, the ideological leader of the MB, turned against the leadership in Muslim states. He invoked the practice of “takfir,” branding some Muslim regimes as “infidels,” and thus legitimizing their violent overthrow, aimed particularly at Nasser’s regime. In 1966, he was executed by Nasser orders.
It is worthwhile to note that not only did the MB receive support early on from the Saudis, but the Eisenhower administration tried to cultivate them as well, to act as a lever against Soviet Communism in the Cold War era.
The Saud family saw the activist and “republican” nature of Islam advocated by the MB as a threat to their absolute monarchy. The spread of the MB outside its base in Egypt, in the 1940’s, alarmed the Saudis. The Saud family advocated popular obedience and proscribed revolt against a political regime. The revolutions prompted by the so-called “Arab Spring” that installed MB-led regimes in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011, scared the Saudis and led them to fear that the MB rise to power might encourage Islamist opposition within their kingdom.
The Saudi form of Sunni-Islam, known as Wahhabism, named after Mohammad Ibn Abd-al Wahhab (1703-1792), was originally a revivalist movement which then became a form of Salafism, a militant group of extremist Sunnis who believe themselves to be the only correct interpreters of the Koran, consider moderate Muslims to be infidels and, who seek to convert all Muslims to their fundamentalist, austere and puritanical version of Islam. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood who coined the slogan “Islam is the solution,” believed that the creation and spread of a genuine Islamic State could only occur through the banning of western ideas and influence of Sharia law.
On its website, the MB states, “Since the ruling powers are mostly totalitarian, tyrannical, and selfish, they do not rely on a popular will that elected them into the seats of government. Hence, they have no popular support despite the intensive and misguiding propaganda that is being handsomely financed by them. Because these governments mostly rely on foreign influence and always fear it and in view of their special formation and military nature, there have been repeated clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and those governments that strongly reject the existence of any entity enjoying powerful popular support.” The term ruling powers referred to the Arab states including Saudi Arabia.
Shortly before he was assassinated in 1949, MB founder Hassan Al-Banna asked permission to open a MB branch in Saudi Arabia. The founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abdel Aziz (known as Ibn Saud), refused, however politely. Still, the MB was able to spread its doctrine throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Crown Prince Nayef Bin Abdel-Aziz, when finally admitting that 15 out of the 19 hijackers that attacked America on 9/11 were Saudis, said “they were misled while abroad by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Cairo, under Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s control, designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization last December, following a suicide bombing at a police station which killed 16 people. The Saudis, fearing similar attacks inside the kingdom, announced in a statement on Saudi TV that in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, it has listed the Nusra front, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), as terrorist organizations. The Saudi Interior Ministry is worried, moreover, that the estimated 1,200 Saudi nationals currently fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, and those Saudis who are likely to join them and be indoctrinated by the above organization, might pose a threat to the kingdom upon their return home.
Geopolitically, the Saudis were concerned prior to the removal of Morsi, of an MB alliance between Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. Now that Egypt has abandoned this alliance, the Saudis seek Qatar’s removal by withdrawing its ambassador from Doha. For Israel, designating the Egyptian MB and Hamas, their affiliate in Gaza as terrorist organizations, suggests poetic justice.
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