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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs