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Qatar’s Brotherhood Ties Alienate Fellow Gulf States

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L), Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (C) and Qatar's Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani pose for photos in Riyadh January 21, 2013. Saudi Arabia host a two-day meeting of Arab heads of state to discuss development plans in the region. The meeting is expected to focus on bolstering development in the Arab region and ways of achieving the Millennium development objectives. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed   (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L), Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi (C) and Qatar’s Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani pose for photos in Riyadh January 21, 2013. Saudi Arabia host a two-day meeting of Arab heads of state to discuss development plans in the region. The meeting is expected to focus on bolstering development in the Arab region and ways of achieving the Millennium development objectives. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA – Tags: POLITICS ROYALS)

By: Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi for Al-Monitor. Posted on January 23

The Arab Gulf States may not admit it publically, but a schism is slowly emerging between these countries in the wake of the rise of Islamist powers in the region. Qatar, on the one hand, has wholeheartedly endorsed the new Islamist powers of the Arab world in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been skeptical at best. Although disagreements concerning external relations have previously emerged within the Gulf Cooperation Council states — for instance, some states have stronger ties with Iran than others would like to see — this is the first time that a member state has allied itself closely with a party that another member state accuses of undermining its system of government.

Qatar’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood are multi-pronged. On the media front, Qatar has dedicated Al Jazeera, the country’s most prized non-financial asset, to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood and turned it into what prominent Middle East scholar Alain Gresh calls a “mouthpiece for the Brotherhood.” The channel has in turn been repeatedly praised by the Brotherhood for its “neutrality.” Qatar has also been very generous with the income from its gas wealth. Qatar’s influential prime minister pledged that his country would not allow Egypt to go bankrupt. Doha has already transferred five billion dollars to Egypt to help it meet its financial obligations and prevent the pound from sliding further.

In exchange for its assistance, Al Ahram reports that Egypt’s new government gave Qatar a number of assurances, including “technical support” for the Syrian opposition, the rotation — possibly to a Qatari citizen — of the Arab League Secretary General post, and “Egyptian approval of Qatari nominees on behalf of the Arab group in several international and regional forums.” Egypt has also given Qatar a number of perks, such as excluding Qatari investments from laws governing foreign ownership.

Saudi apprehension

While Saudi Arabia has also been generous with its assistance — the Kingdom granted Egypt $4 billion in assistance — it is still wary of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi skepticism stems mainly from two issues. The Brotherhood’s stance towards Saddam Hussein’s forces invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was seen by many in Saudi and other Gulf states as an endorsement of the aggression. This may also explain Kuwait’s cold shoulder treatment of the Brotherhood. The oil-rich Gulf state, whose sovereign wealth fund is estimated to reach $300 billion, hasn’t offered any meaningful aid to Egypt since the Brotherhood came to power. However, no Gulf official has been as public with voicing his distaste for the Brotherhood as the late Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who was quoted as saying in 2002: “Without any hesitation I say it, that our problems, all of them, came from the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Saudis accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of “betraying” the Kingdom after it hosted their members who were persecuted during the Nasser era. While the UAE’s strict opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood stems from the country’s allegations that the group seeks to establish an “Islamist state in UAE.”

Although publically welcoming the Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia has privately been opposing them. I was informed by a source that was present at recent negotiations to form the Syrian opposition of the Saudi delegation’s strong rejection of any Brotherhood figure. Saudi’s financial assistance could be read as an attempt to keep relations relatively warm and not allow this most important of Arab states to drift into an Iranian orbit.

The UAE has publically taken the strictest position towards the Muslim Brotherhood and what it claims are the group’s activity on its territory. It has detained dozens of individuals it alleges are Brotherhood members, both citizens and more recently non-citizens. Looking back, the UAE was amongst the first countries to pledge aid to Egypt, as early as June 2011, in the form of $3 billion in small businesses and housing projects. However, none of that money has materialized, no doubt due to the deteriorating relations.

UAE-Qatar at opposite ends

The UAE and Qatar have accomplished an almost complete reversal of roles in relations with Egypt over the past two years. Egypt was a steadfast ally to the UAE under the previous Mubarak government, while relations with Qatar were cold at best. Following the ascent to power of the Brotherhood, Qatar was catapulted to the forefront of Egypt’s friends in the region. A case in point is the size of Qatari investments in Egypt prior to the revolution, which Egyptian government estimates put at a measly $260 million. On the other hand, the size of UAE investments in Egypt is estimated to be $5 billion, while trade is growing in double digits despite the spiraling of relations. Saudi investments in Egypt, probably the largest of any country, are estimated to be $12 billion. It is notable that Qatar announced plans to invest $18 billion in Egypt in the next five years.

On Mar. 5, 2012, Al Jazeera broadcast a show with Brotherhood televangelist Yousef Al-Qaradawi in which he warned the leadership of the UAE that they will be “facing the wrath of God” after a number of Syrians were deported to Egypt. The following day, the Emir of Qatar visited Abu Dhabi on an unannounced visit and is said to have reassured the UAE president of Qatar’s ties with its Gulf neighbor. That episode was never uploaded onto Al Jazeera’s website, but is available on YouTube. Al Qaradawi is amongst a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who immigrated to Qatar during the Nasser era and set up a branch in the Gulf state. In 1999, the Qatari chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood decided to dissolve its operations and by 2003 the dissolution was complete. In the same year, a series of meetings were held between the current Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the hopes that a similar deal could be reached for the UAE chapter. The deal stipulated that the UAE chapter of the Brotherhood, known as Al Islah and established in the 1970s, can continue operating within the UAE in exchange for ending its pledges of allegiance to the Supreme Guide and ceasing political activities. According to the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group agreed to stop recruiting members from the UAE armed forces and to cease offering allegiance as of 2003, although nothing was said about halting political activities. Relations between the Brotherhood and the UAE never recovered following the collapse of this deal that for some reason succeeded in Qatar, but not in the Emirates.

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