Can the Muslim Brotherhood regain influence in Oman?

The ruling family is most likely to be refusing any expansion of the Brotherhood’s influence.
Sunday 26/01/2020
A general view of old Muscat, Oman, January 12. (Reuters)
A general view of old Muscat, Oman, January 12. (Reuters)

As the Muslim Brotherhood finds itself increasingly unwelcome in Egypt, Sudan and most Gulf countries, it is looking for other places to build its presence. Its latest stop seems to be Oman.

An indication that the Muslim Brotherhood was attempting to gain influence in Oman is a campaign to have prisoners presumably linked to the group pardoned.

On January 18, Omani lawyer Khalifa al-Hinai said he submitted a request to Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said to issue a royal pardon for a wide segment of prisoners.

Hinai, believed to be linked to the Brotherhood’s activities in Oman, said he made the request in honour of the recently deceased Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who occasionally issued royal pardons for prisoners.

While Hinai didn’t reveal the names of prisoners for whom he was seeking amnesty, his request was welcomed by media outlets linked to the Brotherhood, including Al-Watan, owned by Palestinian Brotherhood activist Nizam Mahdawi.

In 2012, Hinai, a former judge, volunteered to represent those belonging to the Brotherhood and other opposition groups in Oman accused of inciting riots against the regime. Eight of the 12 individuals originally convicted of the charges had their verdicts overturned by an appeals court in March 2013.

Omani journalist Al-Mukhtar al-Hinai, who is related to Khalifa al-Hinai, was among those convicted and later acquitted.

In April 2018, Al-Mukhtar al-Hinai led a media campaign against the United Arab Emirates after the Abu Dhabi Book Fair prohibited a book by Omani researcher Zakaria al-Muharrami to be showcased because of the author’s suspected affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.

A year later, Al-Mukhtar al-Hinai pushed an unverified story that the United Arab Emirates was creating a spy network in Oman.

Al Mukthar al-Hinai, without providing evidence of any legal proceedings, said the Omani judiciary had charged several Emiratis and Omanis with attempting to form a spy network on behalf of the United Arab Emirates in Oman.

Khalifa al-Hinai has been associated with a partnership agreement with a Qatari law firm founded by Mubarak al-Sulaiti since February 2019. Sulaiti has written articles in Qatari newspapers Al-Arab and Al-Watan opposing the Arab Quartet’s boycott of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Doha in June 2017 because of its alleged support for extremism and ties to Iran.

Also, the frequent appearance of Omani Muslim Brotherhood figures, such as Abdullah al-Ghailani, in media interviews since the death of Sultan Qaboos suggests that the group is trying to gain influence and a stronger presence in the sultanate. Ghailani was convicted in 1994 of establishing an anti-state organisation.

Ibrahim Rabea, an Egyptian researcher specialising in Islamist movements said that, while Sultan Haitham may go forward with pardons for prisoners, the Brotherhood’s attempts to re-establish itself in Oman were unlikely to be successful.

“During bin Said’s rule, the sultanate’s regime used to increase its popularity by issuing amnesties to political and criminal prisoners as well, after confirming the dissolution of anti-political organisations and verifying their non-expansion,” he said.

While Sultan Qaboos issued royal pardons for Ghailani and others in 1995, he stopped the Brotherhood from establishing an organised presence. In 2014, Oman withdrew the citizenship of Omani Brotherhood members to root out their influence.

Rabea said he expected Sultan Haitham to take advantage of amnesty requests to gain popularity, especially at the beginning of his rule, while making sure that the Brotherhood doesn’t infiltrate state agencies or establish new organisations.

Sultan Haitham was known to be the closest in his family to Sultan Qaboos, who designated him as successor, and is expected to carry out similar policies as the late leader.

Amendments to Oman’s Basic Law (Constitution), approved by Sultan Qaboos in October 2011, state that the Ruling Family Council has the prerogative to disregard the late sultan’s will and select another leader if Sultan Haitham had strong ties to the Brotherhood, especially with the family’s long disputes with pro-caliphate movements.

The family is most likely to be refusing any expansion of the Brotherhood’s influence, since the group’s fifth conference recommendations, in 1938, concerning the necessity and priority of the caliphate restoration came in line with the calls of an Ibadi movement known as “Imamate Current,” against which the sultanate fought from 1954-57 after the group tried to establish an Islamic caliphate in Oman.