The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged muslim brotherhood
From Minya
Imma Vitelli went to Minya and -- unable to speak to the judge who recently handed out a death sentence to 528 men in the murder of one police officer -- tracked down the young public prosecutor who put together the case. He showed her cell phone footage he had used as evidence and told her: "All 528 [accused] worked together to carry out this act of terrorism, responding to the call of Brotherhood leaders." (In Italian). 


Squabbling over religion

Before Jan 25, mosques had been hunting grounds for the MB. In the post-Jan 25 days, mosques evolved to become a place where they can meet, organize, mobilize, campaign, and more recently, treat fallen followers, count bodies and hide leaders. They also become the scene of political squabbles. At the time of the controversial Islamist-backed constitution, there were dueling campaigns to 1) challenge imams who used their sermons to support Morsi/the constitution (نزله من المنبار, "Get him down off the minbar") or 2) physically restrain worshippers who challenged the imam (ربته في العمود, "Tie him to a column"). 

The last thing the Brothers needed, after the eventful summer they've had, was to have their comfort zone fall back under government control and, now, the perked ears of pro-military residents, who would report an imam faster than he could compare what soldiers did to Muslims protesters in Raba’a al-Adaweya to what they haven’t done to the Jewish soldiers in Israel.

With the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) resolved to tighten its grip on mosques by passing a number of laws to substitute the much-criticized MB monopoly over religion with its own, many lips had been chewed and prayers for patience muttered.

Now there is a noticeable change in the khutbah (friday sermon). For the most part, it is  shorter, just like the minister wanted (because the men have other things to tend to) and no longer connected to politics, not even by way of metaphors or anecdotes. A considerable number of imams have been contacted by the ministry and told specifically to stay off politics or else they might be considered a national security threat, inciting violence and possessing illegal weapons. Many imams sense danger and have begun self-censoring in case a  housewife cooking in a nearby building hears the khutbah and doubts their patriotism, or in the not-unlikely-event that one of the new faces in the crowd turns out to be an informant.

Even though the great majority of MB imams have kept fiery sermons to a minimum and seem to have contented themselves with neighborhood night marches against the military in the meantime, some allow themselves a fit of rage and lead a protest out of mosques, three times a week, in areas too densely populated for police officers to be coaxed into visiting, like Ain Shams.

“You can tell (the MB supporters) are unhappy when they hear me preach about patience and generosity rather than comment about the situation,” said licensed Sheikh Emad, who is not Amr Moussa or something and should not be expected to talk politics. In the past month, Sheikh Emad was heckled out of his Ain Shams mosque when he tried to close it between prayers (another ministry rule).

But the fact remains that there are well over a 100 thousand mosques in Egypt and about half of them are manned by state-approved Azhar graduates. The rest are freelancers. The feared anti-military extremists can be either one of them. The new Awqaf minister has suspended the license-to-preach of all freelancers,  said the must re-apply, and that only Azharis -- as representatives of middle-of-the-road, official sanctioned Islam -- will get one. 

The ministry is also trying to limit the activities of zawiyas (unofficial very small neighborhood mosques). This may be why its list of four “conditions”  regarding zawiya operation are closer to requests than rules. Laughable requests, according to Sheikh Gamal, a zawiya imam, shopkeeper, and occasional gas cylinder seller.

The conditions are that there be no (big) nearby mosque, or if there is one that it be full full; one can pray in a zawiya so long as it has a written permission to hold prayers or a licensed imam, as if people are going to walk in and ask for ID and licenses like a traffic cop. Anyway, what happens if people don’t abide by these conditions? What kind of legal consequences, if any, could one face for praying in zawiya?

For all its worth, most people under 45 like to skip the khutbah, if not physically, then mentally, and just wait for the iqaamah (the beginning of the prayer), Sheikh Gamal said with a knowing smile. Youngsters like to loiter by a kiosk and appear the moment the prayer starts in the back rows and the old sit inside and ponder life and prices.

The only people really listening to the khutbah now, Sheikh Gamal suspects, are those who wish they could deliver it and those who are there to make sure they don’t.

Bye Bye Brothers?

Last week a Cairo court issued an injunction that seems to pave the way for a new ban on all the Muslim Brotherhood's activities. Meanwhile, the new constituent assembly is discussing banning all political parties based on religion. 

In my latest contribution to the NYTimes' Latitude blog, I argue that banning the Brothers -- rather than really addressing the question of the relationship of politics and religion in Egypt, and of the appeal and contradictions of political Islam -- is hypocritical and short-sighted.  

The Brotherhood — and other Islamist parties — should have been required to open their activities to outside scrutiny and to commit to basic democratic principles over two years ago, just after Mubarak was brought down. But back then, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was afraid of how far the revolutionary fervor might go and turned to the Islamists to help it stabilize the country.
The current legal cases against the Brothers are selective and politically motivated. Serious violence has taken place at the hands of Islamists in recent months — police officers and military conscripts have been killed, churches attacked — but the direct responsibility of the Brotherhood’s leadership for that violence has yet to be proved in court. And while the organization is being tried for inciting violence, in case after case police officers are being acquitted of shooting protesters.
Why is the judiciary only examining the organization’s legal status now? What of other Islamist groups, some of which have more violent pasts than the Brotherhood and hold more odious positions on women or Christians?
The Islamist organization needs to be held accountable, but as part of a broader process of transitional justice. Instead, the goal of Egypt’s interim authorities now seems to be to punish the Brotherhood for getting into power and ensure it never does again. Egypt’s non-Islamist political parties have uniformly welcomed the idea of banning the group, even though that would in effect disenfranchise its hundreds of thousands of members and its millions of supporters.


Reach of Turmoil in Egypt Extends Into Countryside

Great reporting in the NYTimes on the tensions and the harassment of MB families outside Cairo. On the funeral of one MB member:  

In this small, close-knit and rural Nile Delta town, it is customary for the community to gather behind the family for the procession to the graveyard. Mr. Abdel Aal, however, was greeted with epithets — someone called him a dog, someone else an infidel. One family even held a wedding at the same time, something unheard-of.

Meanwhile, another Times article gives a more complex picture of the recent operation to "liberate"Dalga, a town near Minya where Christians have been terrorized by local Islamists (and opportunistic thugs). 

But the security forces did not bring such heavy weapons to protect Christian residents. Interior ministry officials said the expedition was an attempt to capture a single fugitive Islamist, and it may depart soon. The overwhelming force, they said, was merely for self-protection: the surrounding province of Minya is still considered a bastion of Islamist support for Mr. Morsi.


Egypt: Nothing was inevitable

At Ahram Online, Ibrahim El Houdaiby analyzes the poor political choices on the Brotherhood's part that led to the alienation of revolutionary forces, the opportunity for a return of the ancien regime and the MB's downfall. Whether you believe the MB could have charted a different course or you think its very structure and belief system made its mistakes inevitable, this kind of analysis -- rather than the unsubstantiated accusations of terrorism, the class prejudice, the wholesale demonization one hears so often -- helps explain June 30th. (The English translation is not always smooth; the original Arabic article is here). 

The Muslim Brotherhood appointed the first Cabinet with many ministers who were Mubarak’s men because the president did not want to make concessions to his political opponents so they could participate in purging and reforming state agencies. He chose to share power with those already in power, including the military and remnants of the former regime, and also because of the limited abilities of the Cabinet members he brought in.

All of this made him gradually lose the support of revolutionary forces. No popular support could have stood up to the interest networks in state agencies that sought to thwart him (even before his election, I and more knowledgeable writers than myself often wrote that the president would face challenges in electricity, services, national security and social peace that would be instigated by those who wanted to restore former conditions. The only way to overcome these challenges was to build a popular alliance based on genuine concessions by Morsi that realise the gravity of these challenges. The only way was to rely on general grassroots support, not the Muslim Brotherhood group’s base).


The New Yorker: The Battle of the Archives

In which Egyptian "intellectuals" conjure a non-existent threat to possibly non-existent documents to justify the crack-down on the Brotherhood. Ridiculous. 

“This is one of the ones I was most worried about,” she said, as we approached a colorful Persian astrology book. It was open to a page depicting the Zodiac goddess Virgo, dressed in a bright, purple flowing robe. “They don’t believe in this, so who knows what they would do.” We moved on to some hand-drawn history books with knights riding on gold-painted horses, and a book of early fables that had been translated from Sanskrit. One told the story of a group of white rabbits who teamed up to “seek revenge on a herd of elephants who had thoughtlessly trampled upon them.” In another room, there was a giant, Mamluk-era edition of the Koran, from the fourteenth century. “I wasn’t really worried about this one,” Ezzeldin said with a wink. Then she added, “Although, I didn’t want them to give it away to their friends in Qatar.”
Neither Ezzeldin or any of the other people I spoke to were able to cite any specific evidence that the Brotherhood had plans to dismantle or interfere with Egypt’s historical artifacts—just vague warning signs, and a personal sense of certainty. “If you are traveling to an area that you know is full of thieves, you have to take precautions,” Ezzeldin said when I asked. “You don’t have to wait until you are robbed.”


The tragedy of Mohamed El Beltagi

The video of Beltagi's arrest

My latest column for the Latitude blog of the New York Times tells the story of Mohamed El Beltagi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader I first met quite a few years ago and whose career I have followed.

At the time, the question of the day was whether Egypt could democratize and the Brotherhood could be integrated. One wonders, if the Brotherhood's entrance into the political system had been much more gradual and managed (requiring them to register and open to public scrutiny their organization, requiring explicit commitments to democracy), if the outcome might not have been different. It's worth remembering that it was the military leadership who empowered the MB as a partner in maintaining "stability" after the revolution. 

Anyway, here's how my column starts:  

In the leaked footage that shows his arrest, a balding middle-aged man with a prayer bruise on his forehead is surrounded by police officers and balaclava-clad special forces. There is a sickly grin on his face. He raises four fingers — a symbol of solidarity with Islamist protesters killed in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square (rabaa means four). A soldier swats down his hand.
Mohamed El Beltagi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been on the run for several weeks before he was captured last week and charged, like most of the organization’s leaders, with inciting violence. His is the story of a moderate Islamist option that never quite materialized, thanks to the intransigence of both the Brotherhood and its enemies.


A video message from Beltagi -- denying the charge that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization -- broadcast by Al Jazeera the day before his arrest

Brotherhood protests

The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for further protests tomorrow, and a campaign of civil disobedience. But the organization hasn't been able to mobilize successfully so far, and faces public resentment, as Nour the Intern, who attended some Islamist protests earlier this week, reports. 

The man in the blue galabeya was at loss. In one hand, he held a large poster of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and in the other an icy cold bottle of water. He stood in the baking heat torn between setting down the poster to uncap his bottle for some much-needed hydration, or awkwardly holding it between his knees. He scanned his environment a clean surface to place the delicate poster. When he found none, he prayed for patience and put it between his knees. Behind him, the bearded men were growing restless.

The protesters' squabbles were interrupted by a sudden bang from above. An adolescent was beating a pot with a spatula in her balcony, proclaiming el-Sisi to be her president, drawing laughs and claps from the loitering passersby, and frowns and prayers for retribution from the protesters. An old woman excitedly poked her head out of her window, opposite to the balcony, to praise the girl and suggest she boil some water in that pot to clean the street.

As they stood there squinting their eyes at the balcony, frozen in anger and anticipation, waiting for the rain to fall so they could bring the building down, four men  shoved a middle-aged protester and his son for giving them a headache and ruining the country. With impressive speed and coordination, four large buckets of water were emptied from different buildings. The water was accompanied by insults, saliva and three slippers.

Shoppers came out of shops, mechanics out from under cars, and women out of their windows; teenage boys let their female counterparts walk without receiving a detailed description of their bodies, to join the fight, or sigh at it. Facepalms outnumbered kicks three to one.

Staring at his surroundings with undisguised disgust, the blue-galabeya man stalked off hugging his poster, leaving his followers to disentangle themselves from the grips of the residents and split up in disagreement. Half went left, half went right.

“That was the dumbest protest in the world,” the blue-galabeya man, el-Hag Ahmed, told his feet. He was resting his forehead on the no-longer-sacred, rolled-up poster at a nearby coffee shop. As someone whose neighborhood only protested once in March 2011 to support Gamal Mubarak and demand that their 15-men-and-one-an-amateur-bellydancer march be covered by Al Jazeera, I bit my tongue.

Earlier this week, an almost identical protest took place in Zamzam Street, Mohandeseen, where the complete lack of organization and leadership; hostile bystanders and residents forced the 90 men who marched in unison (incessantly arguing about whether to forward or backward more than chanting) to march away from each other 15 minutes later, some to Sudan St., others to Mohy Eldeen St.

These mini-rallies, which usually avoid major squares and where participation is limited to area Islamists, says Hag Ahmed (the blue-galabaya man), are all that can be done for now. Some are reluctant to venture out of their neighborhoods, he says, and so they content themselves with these symbolic short-lived protests to keep the fight going and retain self-respect.

The reasons for the complete disarray Brothers are in are many and obvious: the arrests or absence of their leadership (and their sons for can’t-be-good-reasons) and the possibility of violent dispersal and detention looming over any attempted protest have weakened their will to protest with fear and confusion. That and the news of Safwat Hegazi’s claim that he’s always had the political activity of a 9-year-old, while Mohammed Badie pointed his finger at Beltagy, which was met with silent shock and disbelief, was salt to their wounds. It’s not hard to imagine why the battered MB didn’t deliver the large marches they promised last Friday.

This understandably humbled the Brothers and lowered their expectations for this Friday, August 30th, the day of choice to reverse the consequences of June 30.

“Let’s not brag too much. If (the Brothers who brag) know something we don’t, then they should keep it that way, save the element surprise...let God decide if it’s going to be decisive or not,” el-Hag Ahmed advised, trying to mask perceptible dread with cool practicality. Even gutsy young Brothers like Ghofran Salah, who like to share pictures of clenched fists with fiery captions, have echoed strangely similar, if not identical, advice, asking his friends to stop building a hype for the 30th.

What’s far likelier than detention, and is now a genuine concern that many islamists calm by the use of Gillette, is street harassment at the hands of fellow Egyptians, two thirds of whom want them excluded from politics, according to Baseera. Not because of the list of valid reasons to oppose the Brotherhood, but to the new-found belief that all the Brothers -- including, if not especially, everyone that was at the Raba’a al-Adweya sit-in -- are terrorists, even though the official MOI report said that the 1118 Brothers they arrested in Raba’a had a whopping total of 20 weapons. (Kindly forget the fact that prime minister Beblawi offered those same terrorists posts in the new cabinet and that triumphant policemen showed us well over twenty guns that they found by the box loads of in their tents and in nearby buildings in pro-military videos that left one waiting for the bloopers.)

On the other hand, the Islamist media people seem to have skipped town and left a repetitive friend behind to act as anchor and keep the same footage spinning in a tireless loop, showing protests in some obscure little street in an obscure little town breaking the curfew that are often aired under the enlightening title: "The Governorates." This is either followed or preceded by pictures of Gen. AbdelFatah el-Sisi dripping blood from his mouth and a post-Jan 25 documentary about the importance, and lack, of media integrity and of course, the graphic pictures of the Raba'a victims, whose death interestingly didn't warrant the official promise to open an investigation and form a fact-finding committee, to be characteristically ignored along with whatever report they manage to hand in or leak to the press.


Protests as seen by the FJP's newspaper

In an attempt to report public opinion towards all the protests that took place in the past eight months since Morsi came to power, the Freedom and Justice Party's newspaper, al-Horreya wa al-Adala, published this news article on 15 March in its Youth and Sports section.

Despite the fact that people are clearly divided about everything from Morsi to the weather, MB’s report shows a uncharacteristically unified image of society. From the Ettihidiya clashes and Tahrir sit-ins to Port Said protests and the Ultras’ attacks; the Egyptian people who had one collective view on the matter: Protesters are thugs.

The article, which is merely a collection of tweets and FB status updates by ungoogleable individual(s), begins with this headline: What do you want to be? A thug.

The sub-headline then goes:“It's a great job, gets you fame and money..."And if you get caught, you're an activist!"

Sohila Mahmoud on Facebook: "I don't see any reason to block the roads, why is everyone silent about these continued acts of thuggery against the average Egyptian citizen, who wakes up to make a living, only to go back home empty-handed?"

According to the article, “activists,” on Facebook have unanimously confirmed that these protests Mahmoud is referring to are "crimes" which can only be committed by "thugs."

"This is a crime against society. Thugs who throw rocks at the police, or Molotov cocktails, carry guns or knives should be immediately shot, so that we'd get rid of the National Damnation Front's thugs and the toppled president's as well," hopes Mohamed Abdullah in his FB status.

"What are these demands they are making? Don't they see our economic situations? Can't they feel our foreign enemies just glaring at and stalking us? Or are you the domestic enemies, as we have describe you since all the evidence is against you. Have mercy on your country, it's not just for you, but for all the Muslims and Christians inside of it. So we have the right to fear for it and hold you accountable for any mistake you make that harms Egypt for it is really the Mother of the World," said Hamid Rashid, another representative sample from the heart of Cairo.

Further down the FJP reporter's newsfeed, a status, by an Abu Osama Shehab, said: "This is a crime by all standards committed by failed politicians to burn Egypt and bring down the president, but they will fail, God willing."

"The goal of these acts is to destroy the country's economy and waste state prestige. It's about pushing certain groups to destroy the police, and force owners to sell their properties - to completely destroy tourism - and get in the way of the country's interest. And to make matters worse, the Public Prosecution's pushing the citizen's right to arrest into effect, will be abused, which will push the country towards civil war," Abdo Mosad said.

A thug, not a revolutionary.

Others like Ibrahim Abu Attia found the labels the "feloul media" gave these vandals weird.

"Are those who block the roads, burned, vandalize, steal and call for chaos and strikes called protesters? All of these people are nothing but enemies of the revolution, outlaws. Are those who burn the Football Association called protesters? Are those who burn the Police Club called protesters? Those serve no one but the supporters of the counter-revolution,” he said.

Then another member of Egypt's homogeneous society, Mostafa Shokry, tweeted: "They're just some thugs, and the media and the parties call them protesters, they have no goal but chaos."

Followed by a Hany Zahdy: "When you hear the media call a thug a protester, know straight away that it is funding thuggery or financially benefiting from it."

"It's a crime, of course. What's the rest of the people's fault? What's the patient who's going to the doctor for treatment's fault, the patient who could die on the way there because thugs blocks the roads. What about tired people who are going home from work, people who want to go home early to rest, shave and go to their second job to provide for themselves and their families? What's their fault?"  wondered Ahmed Kamal.

"Blocking the road was never a protest tactic in any time or in any place. I think the person blocking the road knows that that's barbaric, even if his demands are legitimate, because he's blocking the average citizen's way, who may have demands that are more important and more pressing than his own, but is behaving and expressing himself respectfully and peacefully. I think Egyptians have a background they can't forget about stating their demands, which they learned in the revolution's days," said Ahmed Mahmoud, the only person in the article so far to have used the words "I think" when expressing personal views.

"This is a barbaric and thuggish way, it is a blatant violation of the citizen's freedom. This is a way only someone who wants to distort the country's reputation and image in front of the world to force the president to take his orders, which are impossible to establish. From this point forth, there will be bloodshed and intentional vandalism," warned Medhat abu Talab.

For those who haven't yet understood what thuggery is, who is doing/funding/covering it and why, an “Egyptian mother” reminded the FJP that "thuggery is the work of gangs."

"This is the counter-revolution lead by the feloul and the Damnation Front, which is given media coverage by the lying media, which is owned by the feloul," she reasoned.

"These thugs are very well financed  and they along with the street children are working very well and making a lot of money. They are protected by the NSF lawyers who wait by police departments to bail them out and defend them day after day," revealed a Nasser Ahmed, who didn’t need to provide any evidence to support his claim, since no one wanted to refute them.

In Translation: Atwan on the Gulf and the Brothers

Our In Translation series is back in 2013 thanks to the support of Industry Arabic, the translation service you should use for your professional, academic, NGO or whatever needs in Arabic. Please check them out.

What better way to start the year than to look at the big picture in the region. The war of words from the UAE against the Muslim Brotherhood this month — with senior Egyptian officials making the trip to Abu Dhabi to appeal, unsuccessfully, for the release of 11 Egyptians accused of setting up a Muslim Brotherhood franchise in the UAE — has highlighted yet again the wider apprehension of Gulf rulers about the rise of the movement in the region. This echoes the same rulers’ reluctance (apart, arguably, from Qatar) to embrace the 2011 uprisings. In the piece below, the editor of al-Quds al-Arabi (the only Arabic-language London-based paper that is not controlled by Saudi Arabia, which normally adopts a more Arab nationalist line than its counterparts al-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat) maps out the regional dynamics of the tension between the Muslim Brotherhood and Gulf autocrats.

I particularly like the paradoxes he highlights, from these autocrats’ traditional reliance on ultra-conservative sheikhs for their legitimization (and how some of these sheikhs are now getting out of control, largely because of social media) to the Brotherhood’s undemocratic methods of operation as a secret society to the fact that they represent the strongest force pushing for more formal democracy, such as an elected parliament.

War against the Muslim Brotherhood Divides the Gulf

Abdel Bari Atwan, al-Quds al-Arabi, 11 January 2013

Whoever has been following the media in the Gulf – and the Saudi media in particular – has probably gotten a sense of the fierce campaign being waged against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist currents more broadly, as well as the major preachers in the Gulf. Their influence has been on the rise recently thanks to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and yet the dedicated security apparatuses of the various countries in the region have had a harder time controlling and blocking these outlets than they did with newspapers and websites.

Dubai’s chief of police Lieut. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim pioneered this campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and was one of the first to issue vehement warnings about the danger they represented, but many articles appearing in the Saudi and Emirati press have begun to follow in his wake. This is happening in such a way as to suggest that there are bodies high up in the state that would like to open up a front against them, whether in Egypt – where they are sitting at the threshold of power – or within the Gulf itself.

This war against the Brotherhood, and perhaps later upon the Salafi currents, represents a break with the historical alliance that has existed between conservative Gulf regimes and these figures. This alliance ensured the stability of these regimes and helped combat all the leftist and nationalist ideas that constituted a threat to this stability in the eyes of the rulers. The question that is now on everyone’s mind is why has there been a sudden reversal of opinion in the Gulf against the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, when this ideology was embraced and supported over the past 80 years. In the aim of helping control Gulf youth, Muslim Brotherhood intellectuals and professors were even allowed take over the education sector, set curricula, and establish proselytizing and charitable associations, not just within Gulf countries but throughout the entire world. How did this relationship of warm, strategic friendship morph into a bitter fight – at least on one side, for now — between the ruling regimes in the Gulf and the Muslim Brotherhood?

The response to these questions can be summed up in the following points:

  • Governments in the Gulf have realized that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “global” movement governed by an international organization. This means that the loyalty of the organization is to the Supreme Guide in Egypt, and not to local authorities, not even to the head of the group in these countries.
  • The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has taken control of the process of forming the next generations by setting local curricula. This has led it to dominate the armies and security services, which has left it more prepared than ever to overthrow the ruling regimes and seize power. This is the main fear of the Gulf regimes.
  • With the liberal and leftist currents in Gulf countries weakened by decades of repression and persecution, the organized Islamist currents have become the leading candidates to launch Arab Spring revolutions for change in the countries of the Gulf.
  • Religious and Brotherhood currents in particular enjoy a financial independence that sets them apart from the other currents, due to their intricate organizational networks and the fact that their backers possess considerable financial resources due to their control of large companies and financial institutions in Gulf countries especially. This has allowed them to combine political and economic power.
  • Islamist movements enjoy significant support in popular milieus because their ideology centers on the Islamic faith. Their control over mosques — whether directly or indirectly — translates into five miniature daily meetings and one large weekly meeting every Friday.
  • Non-jihadist Islamist movements – and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular – practice self-control and avoid any collision with the state. This explains the Brotherhood’s silence in Egypt concerning the attacks in which it has been targeted. It has kept calm and sent delegations to the Emirates to solve the arrests crisis through diplomatic means. It was no surprise that Saudi writers accused the Muslim Brotherhood of employing the "principle of taqiyya[1] among its organizational practices.

Gulf countries – to put it briefly – are worried about the MB’s control of Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan, and its attempts to gain power in Jordan, Yemen and Syria. This would leave the countries of the Gulf surrounded on all sides, and at risk of falling into the new orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a sort of political “domino” effect. For the ruling regimes in the Arabian Peninsula, there are positives and negatives in this fierce campaign in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf against the MB movement. The positives lie in the attempt to shore up the internal front and reduce the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, in our view, this awakening seems to have come too late, as there is no alternative partner to rely on in the absence of leftists and liberals, who do not have strong roots in the conservative societies of the Gulf. Moreover, any new attempt to strengthen the liberal current still has only a limited impact, such as the decree issued yesterday by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to include 30 women in the Consultative Assembly. This is a step that will create more problems than solutions, in particular with the Wahhabi establishment that backs the regime, which is opposed to equal roles for women in society.

On the other hand, the danger of this campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood is that it could lead to a clash with the religious establishment and a large number of influential preachers, such as the sheikhs Salman al-Awda, Muhammad al-Arifi, Safar al-Hawali, Mohsen al-Awaji, and Ayed al-Qarni. Some of these figures count more than one million followers on Twitter, a number that is steadily increasing.

The prominent Saudi preacher Salman al-Awda recently joined a campaign calling for the Consultative Assembly to be elected, while others have called for strict accountability for how public funds have been spent, as well as for oversight of the country’s new budget, which has reached its largest yet at 223 billion dollars. There is also a strong drive to prosecute princes who illegally seized control of millions of hectares of land.

Senior officials in the Gulf believe that there is an alliance between Egypt, Turkey and Qatar behind this expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood that aims to dominate the entire region and which must be resisted. This is what explains the growing rift between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the bitter war that the Emirates is waging against the Brotherhood regime of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt through its support for the opposition National Salvation Front.

It must be acknowledged that the Gulf countries’ fears are warranted, since this new triple alliance could prove dangerous if it consolidates, sticks together and perseveres, since it possesses all the necessities for military might (Turkey), financial might (Qatar) and strategic manpower (Egypt). This alliance is progressively and rapidly taking the place of the Egypt – Saudi Arabia – Syria triad that governed the region over the past forty years, removed Iraq from the equation and paved the way for peace with Israel.

If the first triad depended on close ties with the West and America, the new triad in on the same exact course, and may perhaps form even closer ties with America – at least temporarily – with Barack Obama in power.

The Syrian regime will emerge as the chief beneficiary from this volatile conflict with the front that is opposed to its survival and which backs the armed opposition that is trying to topple it. The Muslim Brotherhood is in fact the backbone of this (official) opposition, while the jihadist Al-Nusra Front has the greatest presence on the ground. The independence of this group at once represents a tremendous danger to both the Syrian regime and the countries of the Gulf.

From the steps taken recently by the Saudi authorities in deciding to ban sectarian Salafi channels to Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal’s statement that he welcomes a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria and that the issue of al-Assad’s departure should be left to the Syrian people – when he had previously been a hawk about arming the opposition – there are many indicators that the Saudi position is evolving, and confirm reports that secret communications between Damascus and Riyadh have picked up again.

Saudi and Gulf preachers have been flocking to Cairo, most recently Dr. Muhammad al-Arifi, who gave a sermon at the Mosque of Amr ibn al-’As at the heart of the capital, in which he called on businessmen from the Gulf to invest in Egypt and not the West. This is one of the most tell-tale signs of the new landscape in the Gulf: governments are forcefully opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, while influential preachers are in the trenches defending it.

In this brief sketch, we cannot forget Iran’s new pilgrimages to Islamic Cairo, with the Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s visit, the hospitality that he received, and the invitation that he extended to President Mohamed Morsi to schedule a visit to Iran. Iran has a good nose for the developments that are taking place in the region and is adjusting its calculus to exploit them in the service of its own interests.

The coming weeks and months will be full of surprises. There is nothing we can do but wait, watch and study closely the new interactions, alliances and rapid changes we expect will occur, changes that will radically reshape the region.

  1. Taqiyya means dissimulation — the practice of hiding one’s religious beliefs for advantage, survival or another reason. It is a Shia (and Druze and Alawi) doctrine used to allow hiding one’s faith in times of persecution. Muslim Brothers are often accused of practicing taqiyya by their opponents but this use of the term is inappropriate — there is no religious doctrine of dissimulation in the MB, since it is not a religious sect but a Sunni social and political movement with no single spiritual school, and any case while Sunnis allow hiding one’s religion in exceptional circumstances, they do not use the term taqiyya. So in this context it is more of a dig MB perfidy and infiltration that plays on anti-Shia sentiment.  ↩
Ikhwan rap?

This You Tube video of what appears to be a rap song for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has been making the rounds. The song's lyrics don't seem to be satyrical at all: "We hope you'll hear from us just as you've heard about us. We've suffered 80 years of defamation. I'm from Freedom and Justice. We'll protect freedom and we'll build justice." But many commenters nonetheless are convinced that it's all a mockery. They either think this is hilarious or they think it's very haram. Oh, and the creator of the video explains in the comments that the picture of Eminem "got in by mistake." Don't know what to think myself. 

There's a small but burgeoning rap scene in Egypt these days. I haven't heard anything I'm crazy about yet -- nothing as good as North African rap -- but I'm intrigued by labels like Revolution Records.

The refrain of this song, "Down with Military Rule," goes: "It looks like you forgot who we are/You think we're still scared/We saw death and just smiled and stood there/Let me remind you since you've forgotten/We're the revolutionary generation."