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 Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid