News / Middle East

Gulf Islamists Irked as Monarchs Back Egypt's Generals

Supporters of Egypt's deposed president Hosni Mubarak wave a large national flag in front of Torah Prison in Cairo, Aug. 22, 2013.
Supporters of Egypt's deposed president Hosni Mubarak wave a large national flag in front of Torah Prison in Cairo, Aug. 22, 2013.
Reuters
A scuffle broke the reflective atmosphere of Friday prayers in Riyadh's al-Ferdous mosque after the imam deplored the recent bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters by the military in nearby Egypt.

The fight between members of the congregation, recorded on a widely circulated YouTube clip and reported by the daily al-Hayat newspaper, demonstrated how high feelings are running in the devoutly Muslim kingdom.

While they have been careful to express only muted dissent in public, Islamists and some other conservative Gulf Muslims are quietly seething at Saudi Arabia's whole-hearted backing of Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

After Sisi's military seized power last month, a group of clerics in the kingdom signed a letter calling on King Abdullah to reverse his position, and since the violence began two weeks ago, many Saudis have spoken out on social media.

“For Riyadh to be in the frontline of a confrontation like what is taking place in Egypt is unprecedented. It is making ripples inside Saudi Arabia,” said a Saudi journalist.

Saudi King Abdullah and the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser extent of Kuwait, have long distrusted the Muslim Brotherhood, which they feared would use its power in Egypt to agitate for political change across the Middle East.

When Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi of the Brotherhood as president, the three monarchies promptly gave Egypt's secular new government $12 billion in aid. When, with much bloodshed, security forces moved to clear Brotherhood protest camps, they all spoke strongly in support.

Though Islamist anger is unlikely to erupt in a significant public way at the moment, or to change Gulf support for Sisi, analysts say, it is something the region's states are watching.

The al-Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest threat to its rule over a country where appeals to religious sentiment can never be lightly dismissed and where Muslim militants have previously targeted the state.

Last decade it fought off an al-Qaida campaign of attacks targeting officials and foreigners that killed hundreds. In the 1990s, the Sahwa - or “awakening” - movement inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood demanded political reforms that would have weakened the ruling family.

That history of Islamist opposition to the Saudi authorities was echoed on Sunday in a letter published by Sheik Ibrahim al-Rubaish, the main ideologue of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, attempting to leverage public disquiet over Egypt.

“The Saudi position is generally in favor of Godlessness,” he wrote.

Brothers in Islam's cradle

While al-Qaida is now thought by analysts to have very little public support in Saudi Arabia, more mainstream Islamist ideas are common.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was a Jeddah high-school student when a friend from his mosque phoned up late one night and asked him to come over to his house, alone.

“When I got there, he told me: 'I am a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I want you to become one, too. It will be a secret between us',” said Abu al-Khair, now a prominent liberal and human rights activist.

That midnight conversation not only launched Abu al-Khair into a five-year association with the Brotherhood, but cast a light on its conspiratorial habits that are so alarming to the authorities.

During a later investigation into his work as a human rights activist, government officials told Abu al-Khair they had been aware of all his movements as a Brotherhood member, monitoring his “family” of six supposedly secret cell members.

It was a sign of how seriously the Saudi authorities view the threat posed by Islamists who want political change.

“They rose up against the kingdom,” said the late interior minister Prince Nayef in 2002, expressing the sense of betrayal behind Saudi mistrust of the Brotherhood.

After Saudi Arabia gave shelter to Brotherhood members fleeing persecution in Egypt in the 1960s, some of them used their role in the kingdom's education system to help young Saudis to create the Sahwa movement.

Although the Sahwa was eventually crushed with firm policing, some of its leading clerics, such as Sheik Salman al-Awdah, remain influential.

During the past week, Awdah's Twitter picture has featured the four-fingered salute on a yellow background that represents those who were killed in Cairo's al-Rabia Square a week ago, a tacit statement of opposition to the government line.

Gulf jitters

Saudi distrust of the Brotherhood is felt even more keenly in the UAE, which this year said it would put on trial 30 suspected members accused of plotting a coup.

But on social media, the main forum used in Gulf monarchies to express views that run against the official line, many users claiming to be Emirati posted under a hashtag saying “the foreign ministry's statement [on Egypt] does not represent men.”

In Kuwait, Brotherhood members are not only able to speak in public, but are respected members of society, joining the country's parliamentary opposition last year despite the ruling al-Sabah family's private misgivings.

“We found surprising the speed with which the Kuwaiti government gave support to the military government which returned to power in Egypt undemocratically,” Osama al-Shaheen, a former member of parliament for the Brotherhood's Kuwaiti wing, the Islamic Constitutional Movement, told Reuters.

Describing Kuwait's position as “naive,” he added the Brotherhood was not alone in the country in opposing the Egyptian military's seizure of power.

“Many jurists and politicians were ahead of us. They are the leaders in condemning the coup,” he said.

Light government hand

Despite these rumblings, however, Gulf governments have used a relatively light hand to counter the dissent.

Sheik Awdah's television show, on a privately-owned channel, was recently canceled. Two other prominent Islamists, Sheik Mohammed al-Arefi and Mohsen al-Awaji, were summoned to meet the authorities after signing a petition against Morsi's removal, but they were not formally arrested.

Last week, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a media mogul, sacked a Kuwaiti cleric who had been preaching on one of the religious channels he owns, for his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Kuwait, the government is planning to redraw its rules on what imams can say in mosque sermons to stop them talking about politics in other Arab countries, the liberal daily al-Qabas reported. It also deported nine Egyptians for protesting against the support for Sisi last week.

“The Saudi government decided not to arrest anyone. Their assessment is that the Islamists do not enjoy a lot of support,” said Mustafa Alani, head of security studies at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva.

But while Gulf governments are not using the security apparatus to make their argument, they are deploying both loyal media and senior, state-employed clerics.

Saudi newspapers repeatedly have splashed statements by King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal dismissing Brotherhood protests in Egypt as terrorism and sedition.

The Grand Mufti's Friday sermon last week preached the need to avoid extremism and conflicts that cause “great calamity” to the ummah. His advice against “deviation” was pointed, given that Saudi Arabia refers to Islamist militants such as al-Qaida as “deviants.”

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More