From refuge to rebellion, the Gulf’s Muslim Brotherhood

Abdel Latif el-Menawy
Abdel Latif el-Menawy
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A Saudi friend of mine criticized the Egyptian media’s tone towards the Muslim Brotherhood, noting that the media are only reacting to the actual developments without looking into the root of the problem. He even reminded me of an interview given by the late Prince Nayef bin Abdualziz, the former Saudi minister of interior who said 11 years ago that the Muslim Brotherhood “is the source of all evils.” My friend sent me the interview of Prince Nayef , considering that it is important to remember it and use it at this stage, in order to confirm the early detection of the danger that the Muslim Brotherhood present towards the political, social and intellectual structures in the Gulf region. Prince Nayef added in those decade old statements: “Without any hesitation I say it, all of our problems and their repercussions emanated from the Muslim Brotherhood.” He added: “When life became tough on the Muslim Brotherhood and they were facing hanging in their home countries, they took refuge in the kingdom which tolerated them, protected them and gave them the safety they need and our brothers from other Arab countries accepted this situation. But after they spent years among us, we saw that they wanted to work so we facilitated this as some of them were teachers and deans. We opened our schools and universities to them but, unfortunately, they didn’t forget their previous engagement, so they started recruiting people, establishing the movement, and [turned] against the kingdom!” He didn’t forget to mention their stance at the beginning of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when they issued a statement following their visit to Baghdad in support of the Iraqi invasion.

The relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf countries started in Saudi Arabia. It began with the first political movement of the Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna during the hajj season, when he met the late King Abdulaziz al-Saud in 1936 and asked his permission for establishing a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia. The king refused at that time and said: “We are all Muslims and we are all brothers so you have nothing new to offer us here.” But, soon enough the Brotherhood grew as an intellectual movement and its members started gaining power as individuals within the kingdom. The relationship with them was good, in the early days, but it took a different turn during the Yemeni revolution, when the Brotherhood had a different opinion to the Saudis. The Muslim Brotherhood supported the revolution while King Abdulaziz was against it, and this has negatively affected the relationship between Brotherhood and the kingdom.

The Brotherhood experience in the other Gulf countries is very similar. They migrated from Egypt during Gamal Abdul Nasser’s era after their clash with the regime, as they tried to overthrow it. King Saud mediated with Abdul Nasser to solve the issue, and the problems were relatively solved, but the Brotherhood returned to their attempts to overthrow the regime, so the conflict escalated.

The fleeing members of the organization found in the host countries a safe haven to expand and enhance their presence

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

The fleeing members of the organization found in the host countries a safe haven to expand and enhance their presence in education and economy. The Brotherhood dominated teaching at the universities in the 1970s and the 1980s, and they gained control of many media platforms and religious forums. The Brotherhood expanded and organized themselves under the noses of the Gulf governments most of the time, without that these governments realizing that they were feeding a monster in their backyard. The governments believed that a mixture of support and containment could ensure stability, but they didn’t realize that they were turning the Gulf region intro a stronghold and platform for the Brotherhood to execute their plans. For example, the international movement of the Brotherhood used to hold its meeting in Makkah and Madina during the hajj season, as prominent Brotherhood member Yusuf al-Qaradawi himself said once, he who orchestrated the deal between the Brotherhood and Qatar, which resulted in dissolving the Brotherhood branch in Qatar in exchange of unlimited support of the international organization.

After the political deal during Sadat era, prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Ibrahim al-Hudaiby visited Saudi Arabia and held, in 1971, an expanded meeting for the organization, in which the regional face of the organization started to take shape. The meeting boasted the participation of Brotherhood members from Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait. In spite of this geographic expansion many thought that the Gulf members’ role was limited to fundraising. The truth is that the Gulf Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t content with collecting donations in public streets and mosques, and they weren’t limiting their activities to supporting widows and orphans. Instead, they became a strong economic and political arm of the group in Egypt, and the worst was that the Gulf branch adopted the rebellious thoughts in the GCC, as the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan once said.

The Gulf branch of the Muslim Brotherhood has strong ties with it Egyptian roots, and it follows the same school of thought. Some look surprised when they hear about this relationship, as if they forget that they follow the same school of thought, and the Brotherhood became so dangerous that the UAE minister of foreign affairs had to expose them publicly. The arrest of the Brotherhood network in UAE, with members admitting they had plans to overthrow GCC governments, is clear evidence of the Brotherhood pay back to those who offered them shelter when they were being pursued.

In the statement I mentioned earlier, Prince Nayef tells a story about a man, without naming him, he said: “I remember that one of Muslim Brotherhood leaders received Saudi nationality and lived in the kingdom for 40 years. And when he was asked about his role model, he answered: “My role model in Hassan al-Banna.”

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Yawm on Oct. 25, 2013.


Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy

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