Shedding light on the Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood connection

Sunday 09/07/2017
Religious incitement. A file picture shows Muslim Brotherhood-linked cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi speaking during Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo. (AP)

London- At the centre of the crisis within the Gulf Coop­eration Council (GCC) is Qatar’s support and nurturing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement with a destabilising, turbulent history.

The Islamist organisation has been outlawed by most of Doha’s neighbours as well as Egypt.

The Brotherhood’s existence in the GCC has varied from country to country, including significant polit­ical representation in Kuwait in the form of a parliamentary opposition and in the United Arab Emirates in the banned Al Islah group, which was accused in 2012 of trying to set up a military wing to overthrow the government.

Sensing the growing danger of the Brotherhood, the UAE govern­ment urged Gulf Arab countries to work together to stop the group from undermining regional secu­rity.

“The Muslim Brotherhood does not believe in the nation state. It does not believe in the sovereignty of the state,” UAE Foreign Minis­ter Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al- Nahyan said at the time.

The demands Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt issued to Qatar include Doha severing rela­tions with radical Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The call for the closure of Al Ja­zeera is motivated by the news channel’s apparent support for the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. This was particularly evident in Egypt during the 2011 protests, which saw the Brotherhood end up in power. Former Al Jazeera employees said they were ordered to support the movement in its coverage. Some of the journalists resigned in protest.

In 2013, 22 members of the chan­nel’s Egyptian staff resigned over what they described as biased cov­erage, with news presenter Karem Mahmoud telling Gulf News: “The management in Doha provokes se­dition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.” He also claimed that management in­structed staff members to produce favourable coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is obvious that since the re­gional havoc provoked by the “Arab spring,” Al Jazeera’s ratings have plummeted in the Arab world.

The movement’s history in Qa­tar dates to 1974 with the found­ing of the Qatari Brotherhood. This branch was formed by Qatari stu­dents returning from Kuwait and Egypt and other countries with a strong Muslim Brotherhood pres­ence and wanting to emulate the movements in Qatar, stated a 2015 research paper published by the London School of Economics (LSE) Middle East Centre, “Rentier Islam­ism: The Role of the Muslim Broth­erhood in the Gulf.”

Sympathetic expatriates in prom­inent positions in the educational system supported the group’s ide­ology.

The movement was forced to of­ficially disband in 2003, making its presence in Qatar ideological. How­ever, it “maintains social influence, which is communicated to the po­litical leadership largely through the informal sector of the majlis,” the research paper said.

Despite officially downgrad­ing the presence of the Brother­hood, Doha has hosted several of the movement’s leaders, includ­ing its main spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Palestinian Hamas movement, a Muslim brotherhood offshoot.

Doha’s hosting of controversial Muslim Brotherhood figures in­creased following the overthrow of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi.

Using Qatar as a base of opera­tions and its Brotherhood-friendly media outlets to propagate their doctrine, Muslim Brotherhood ac­tivity contributed to the 2014 cri­sis between Doha and fellow GCC members. The conflict, which saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain downgrade diplomatic relations with Doha, lasted several weeks before Doha pledged to change its behaviour.

The LSE study explained the mu­tual advantages reaped by Doha’s rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood movement by their alliance.

“The Qatari government has his­torically granted a public voice to Islamists, in addition to conceding to a number of Islamist-supported social policies,” the study stressed, adding that the Brotherhood praised the Qatari government for its Islamist-aligned policies, ce­menting the ruling family’s power and domestic political stability.