Shedding light on the Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood connection
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.