Tide turning against Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait

The turnaround in Kuwaiti policy on the Brotherhood is likely to be a major blow to the group and its international affiliates.
Saturday 20/07/2019
Men pass a security check before entering to pray in Kuwait City’s Grand Mosque. (AFP)
On alert. Men pass a security check before entering to pray in Kuwait City’s Grand Mosque. (AFP)

ABU DHABI - Having long been tolerant of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political activities, Kuwait recently handed over eight Egyptian nationals linked to the Brotherhood who reportedly admitted to carrying out terrorist operations in Egypt.

The men, the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said, belonged to a militant cell linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and fled to Kuwait after being sentenced to prison. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister Anas Khalid al-Saleh said the men “admitted carrying out terrorist operations… inside Egyptian territory.”

The deportations signal a dramatic shift from the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, which, unlike Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, does not officially consider the group a terror organisation.

The Brotherhood’s political wing, the Islamic Constitutional Movement, is deeply involved in Kuwaiti politics. The party’s roots in Kuwait go back to 1952 when the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood, or Islamic Guidance Society, was established. The group later became known as the Social Reform Society (Al-Islah) and, in 1963, was registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs as a social organisation.

The Muslim Brotherhood was then regarded by the Kuwaiti government as a political ally because of its close relations with governmental ministers and its role in countering Arab nationalists and communists.

Kuwait’s relationship with the Brotherhood grew strained in February 2012 when it called for constitutional amendments to limit the power of the ruling family and enhance Islamist principles. The Brotherhood also came under fire when Kuwaiti politicians accused its members of engaging in terrorism, money laundering and plotting a coup against the Kuwaiti government.

Allegations had surfaced against the group long ago. In 2005, Kuwaiti teachers said the country’s religious curricula, which Brotherhood members from Egypt played a central role in crafting, was being used to foment extremism and terrorism.

Now, however, it seems that the Brotherhood has been pushed on the defensive in Kuwait, which has made clear it will no longer tolerate the group’s activities.

“Investigations are under way to determine who enabled these individuals to operate under the radar and cooperated with them to cover up their activities,” a statement by the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry noted.

“We will not be lenient with accomplices,” the statement added, saying that the ministry would “strike with an iron fist anyone who wishes to threaten Kuwait’s national security.”

The dismantling of the Brotherhood-linked cell reportedly took place after Egyptian intelligence services provided Kuwaiti security authorities with information about a suspected group run by political authorities in Turkey.

It was reported that Egyptian General Intelligence Service Director Major-General Abbas Kamel visited Kuwait in June to provide authorities with a list of members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and details about the suspected terrorist cell, the way its members exchanged messages and transferred money to suspects in Turkey and Qatar wanted by the Egyptian authorities.

The turnaround in Kuwaiti policy on the Brotherhood is likely to be a major blow to the group and its international affiliates. It will especially hurt the Brotherhood on the financial front, given that it receives significant funding through Kuwait, either by members of the Kuwaiti Brotherhood branch or from Egyptian Islamists who fled the country after the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.

“Kuwait is not a safe haven for terrorists and they are not allowed to establish their headquarters here,” said Kuwaiti MP Riyad al-Adsani. He asserted that “the security of the country is above all considerations and the law must be enforced with an iron fist, away from any form of intervention.”

Members of the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood mobilised to defend the Egyptian suspects. Former Islamist MP Jamaan al-Harbash, who was sentenced to prison in Kuwait for taking part in the storming of the National Assembly in 2011 and has since fled to Turkey, condemned the Interior Ministry’s move.

Islamist MP Adel al-Damkhi lashed out at Kuwait, saying “the behaviour of the Interior Ministry violates the constitution,” even though the eight Egyptians were reportedly returned under the terms of bilateral agreements.

In January 2017, Egypt and Kuwait signed a legal and judicial cooperation agreement on civil, commercial, criminal and personal status issues, as well as on the transfer of individuals sentenced to prison.

The backlash from Islamists was viewed in Kuwait as confirmation of their connection to the mother organisation in Egypt, which banned the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and authorities have arrested thousands of people suspected of being connected to the organisation.

Kuwait’s crackdown on the Brotherhood comes as it deepens ties with a regional anti-terror camp that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Since 2013, Kuwait has joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in providing financial and diplomatic support to the Egyptian government. It also increased pressure on Egyptians connected to the Brotherhood living in Kuwait and has been purging Brotherhood supporters from the Kuwaiti government.

Kuwaiti media quoted anonymous sources claiming Brotherhood supporters in the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, the Zakat House and other governmental bodies had been retired or moved to marginalised offices. The move was described by Kuwaiti experts as a legitimate defence against a subversive and foreign organisation that does not recognise the state.