Monday, 6th October 2014

Qatar: Prominent Muslim Brothers leave Doha as alliances shift – a little

Reports that Qatar had expelled several Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood provoked a flurry of reactions in mid-September. Had Doha finally given in to pressure from fellow Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and renounced its sponsorship and provision of safe havens for members of the Muslim Brotherhood? Doha sought to downplay the news, but many analysts saw it as a move to placate its angry GCC neighbours.

Their departure was announced by Amr Darrag, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood’s now-defunct political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Others leaving Qatar included Gamal Abdel-Sattar, Essam Teleima, Ashraf Badr El-Din, Mahmoud Hussein and Hamza Zawbaa, as well as firebrand Egyptian preacher Wagdy Abdelhamid Mohammed Ghoneim. Their immediate whereabouts was unknown. Ghoneim was once a US resident, but he has been serially expelled from Brotherhood haunts from London to Sanaa.

The line from Doha was that they left voluntarily; an anonymous Qatari diplomat told The New York Times they “did not want to put [Qatar] in an embarrassing situation”, a view which Darrag echoed. In an interview with CNN on 25 September (see Royals), Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad said the understanding had always been that Brotherhood members could be in Qatar only as long as they kept a low profile. “Some of them are still here, some of them are leaving because they believe that this is the moment for them to practise politics and they know the rules of the country – that as long as you are here you can’t practise politics against any other Arab country,” he said.

Such rhetoric has not been borne out by reality. But given that the recent GCC spat was provoked by accusations Qatar had meddled in other countries’ affairs (GSN 966/3, 965/1), Tamim’s choice of words supports the view that he is trying to mend fences (GSN 976/4). Saudi Arabia is believed to have responded positively to the Egyptians’ ‘voluntary relocation’; Abu Dhabi less so, reflecting continued tensions with Qatar being played out in Libya and elsewhere (GSN 976/1).

It is unlikely, however, that the ‘expulsions’ represent any real change in Qatari policy. Doha (and Al Jazeera television) continues to provide a home for key Brotherhood figures, led by octogenarian Egyptian preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (GSN 963/10, 920/3, 919/3, 927/7). Darrag noted that only a limited number of Brotherhood colleagues were leaving Qatar, which had been “a very welcoming and supportive host”. And as GSN’s special report on Qatar argued in July, the young emir’s first year in office gives lie to arguments that his succession was engineered to allow Qatar to step away from policies, such as support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which were closely associated with his father (GSN 975/8). Tamim’s comments to CNN also suggest he plans to pursue the vision of the Father Emir – albeit the vision predating the ‘Arab Spring’.

While the publicity surrounding the Egyptians’ departure may have sent a placatory message to Gulf states worried about Qatar’s support for Islamists, it may also have played favourably in those circles concerned about accusations Qatar is funding terrorists. One recent visitor to Doha told GSN the announcement was probably “more a reflection of Qatar’s signing up to the US-led anti-ISIL strategy, than to longstanding GCC pressure”. This was especially so “in light of the escalating media campaign against Qatar in the US and the UK, which portrays the country as the weak underbelly in the fight against terrorism”. In this context, “getting the Muslim Brotherhood figures to relocate was a relatively cost-free move”.

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