Oman tightens screws on pro-Qatar Yemeni Brotherhood activities

Muscat’s changed stance towards Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood activities funded by Doha are part of Sultan Haitham’s policy of positive relations with neighbours.
Wednesday 14/10/2020
A file picture of supporters of Yemen’s Islah Party on patrol in Sana’a. (AP)
A file picture of supporters of Yemen’s Islah Party on patrol in Sana’a. (AP)

ADEN – Political sources revealed to The Arab Weekly a remarkable shift in Oman’s stance towards the Qatari-supported Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Oman.

The Omani capital Muscat has long been used by the Brotherhood as a centre for coordinating media attacks against the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The sources indicated that the Sultanate of Oman has decided to tighten the screws on what is known as the “Muscat Cell” and that the matter is related to improving relations with Saudi Arabia.

The sources stated that Omani authorities asked a number of Yemeni activists and media professionals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood to stop carrying out anti-coalition media activities from Omani territory or else leave the country. This forced a number of Yemeni media and political leaders, who were working within the so-called Muscat Cell, to move to Istanbul,  Turkey.

Sources emphasised that Oman’s change in position towards the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood’s activities funded by Doha came as part of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq’s efforts to establish positive relations with the country’s neighbours.

These sources said that Omani authorities have begun to implement a policy of staying out of other countries’ conflicts and struggles, especially those targeting neighbouring countries.

An adviser at the Yemeni information ministry, Fahd Talib al-Sharfi, quoted a private source as saying that Omani authorities issued a warning to pro-Muslim Brotherhood journalist Samir al-Nimri, who works as a correspondent for Qatar’s Al-Jazeera channel in Muscat, following stances seen as abusive incitement against Saudi Arabia and Yemen on Omani territory.

Sharfi indicated on Twitter that Nimri has modified his profile description on Twitter account, deleting information stating that he was a member of the Omani Press Association.

In July 2019,  we revealed that Al-Jazeera’s office in Muscat, which was run by a Yemeni pro-Brotherhood journalist, had turned into an advanced media centre for managing Qatari media activities hostile to the Arab coalition in Yemen.

The office works to produce media material from inside Yemeni territories to distort the role of the Arab coalition and question its objectives, in cooperation with Brotherhood elements from inside the liberated provinces. Another office for Al-Jazeera in Sana’a plays a similar role from within Houthi-controlled areas.

The changes in Oman’s position come in conjunction with a remarkable escalation of Qatar’s role in Yemen and its entry into a new phase in which the political and media activity against the Arab coalition is combined with military and security moves on the ground. Qatari moves aim to thwart the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and the impending formation of a new Yemeni government.

Well-informed Yemeni sources revealed a plan supported by Doha to target Arab coalition forces in Shabwa governorate, confirming that the Qatar current and the Muslim Brotherhood are working in it to besiege the Arab coalition camps and trying to engage them in skirmishes in preparation for an all-out battle.

These sources pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood in Shabwa is building up a significant presence in the vicinity of the Arab coalition camp in Balhaf, while sending political and media messages through the leadership of the (Muslim Brotherhood) local authority in the governorate that include a veiled threat to coalition forces, namely that they are vulnerable to “popular actions” if they don’t leave the area.

Muhammad bin Adiou, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated governor of Shabwa, appeared on the Qatari Al-Mahriya channel in the company of Yemeni Oil Minister Aws Al-Oud touring an oil facility in the governorate. Both officials gave statements implicitly accusing the coalition of obstructing the export of oil and gas, which is the most recent pretext used by Qatari media and the Brotherhood to incite people against the Arab coalition.

Arab Weekly sources in Shabwa revealed the presence of Muslim Brotherhood-Houthi coordination in the area to target the Arab coalition forces. Attempts to engage coalition forces in the Balhaf area in skirmishes coincided with sit-ins in front of the coalition headquarters in al-Alam region carried out by members of tribal groups from the governorate known to have ideological and political links with the Houthis. These groups previously raised Houthi slogans and one of their elders, Sheikh Saif Nasser al-Mihdhar, appeared on Houthi TV channels being received in Sana’a by the head of the Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, during confrontations between his tribe and coalition forces.

The sources said that the Al-Sada tribe (the al-Mihdhar clan), which fought in battles against the Shabwani elite forces and the Arab coalition forces in July of last year at the behest of Houthi forces, began organising armed protest activities in front of the coalition camp in Al-Alam in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood and the local authority in Shabwa, in an indication of the close nature of the Houthi-Brotherhood relationship, which has remarkably emerged in broad daylight in liberated provinces dominated by the Qatari current in the legitimate government, such as Taiz, Shabwa and al-Mahra.

Qatar and Turkey are showing increased interest in the oil and gas-rich Yemeni province of Shabwa overlooking the Red Sea, which observers say will be Ankara’s crossing point into the Yemeni file, given the remarkable Turkish intelligence activity in the governorate under the guise of actions by so-called “humanitarian organisations” in addition to Muslim Brotherhood militia recruitment and training camps funded by Qatar and led by resigned Yemeni Transport Minister Saleh al-Jabwani and a number of military officers loyal to Doha.

Political sources linked the increase in Qatari activity in Yemen to growing indications that the new Yemeni government will soon be announced in accordance with the Riyadh Agreement signed between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is strongly opposed by the Qatari current in the legitimacy camp and the Muslim Brotherhood, for fear it will limit Qatar’s growing influence in the liberated areas.

Military action is escalating between the Yemeni government and the Houthis amid efforts to push parties to take the political path by implementing the Riyadh Agreement and efforts to forge for the broadest possible consensus on UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths’s plan (the joint declaration), before it is submitted for a vote in the UN Security Council.

Griffiths is visiting Riyadh to present the latest revised version of his plan for a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and the accompanying political, economic and humanitarian arrangements, at the start of a new regional tour that may include Sana’a and Muscat.

Arab Weekly sources expressed significant doubts that Griffiths’ plan will be approved by any parties to the Yemeni conflict, given the stumbling occurring on implementing the Riyadh Agreement and lack of progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement, including the less complex files such as economic arrangements, prisoner exchange and even the ceasefire in Hodeidah that completely crumbled recently due to renewed confrontations between the joint resistance forces and the Houthi militia south of Hodeidah.