Foreign Policy puts the Muslim Brotherhood under the microscope

The Brothers and the Gulf

Why the Muslim Brotherhood has Gulf leaders worried — now more than ever.

Recent developments in Egypt — where President Mohamed Morsy seems determined to advance the Brotherhood’s interests over that of all Egyptians — have only exacerbated such fears. The main obstacle to building ties between the UAE and the new Egyptian government comes from the clandestine links the Egyptian Brotherhood maintains with underground cells in the UAE. The Brotherhood’s history of not keeping promises to its own people also doesn’t bode well for promises given to foreign governments such as the UAE.

Disagreements about the Brotherhood also profoundly shape the political battle lines between the Gulf Arab states. Qatar enjoys the best relations with the Brothers, offering financial aid and the dedicated media “mouthpiece” of Al Jazeera to the service of the group. The UAE, by cracking down on the Brotherhood, is positioning itself as the regional counterbalance to neighboring Qatar.

Despite the Brotherhood’s closeness to Qatar, the group is most keen on building ties with Saudi Arabia. According to one senior Gulf source with whom I spoke, the Brotherhood had given the Saudi government specific assurances regarding its position toward Iran, which the kingdom views as its main regional rival. However, Saudi leaders remain skeptical of the group — even after the death of former Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who was known for his hatred of the organization, and after numerous Brotherhood visits. One senior source present during recent negotiations in Turkey to coordinate support for Syrian rebels informed me of the kingdom’s strict rejection of a Muslim Brotherhood figure as head the Syrian opposition.

As for the UAE, its effort to stamp out illegal Muslim Brotherhood activities has also become a litmus test for the country’s judicial process. The UAE has held scores of citizens for months without trial as part of this effort, even as the UAE’s laws demand that every citizen to be granted a transparent trial. Abdul-Ghaffar Hussein, the head of the government-appointed UAE Human Rights Association, has called on the country’s Federal Public Prosecution to “end the interrogation of detainees as soon as possible and bring the detainees to trial.”

The UAE is a small country, and it is understandably challenged by a transnational organization that uses religion as a means of attaining political power. But these risks can best be countered not only through security measures, but also with proper education, stronger secular laws, and political reforms that allow UAE nationals to become stakeholders in their country’s development. A little international pressure wouldn’t hurt either: Perhaps the United States, the Brotherhood’s “main enabler” in the region, could emphasize to Morsy that he would be better served to govern as the president of Egypt, not the president of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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