This article was published on Albawaba – November 26, 2019
The Muslim Brotherhood’s golden opportunity was the Arab Spring, but it failed to bring about its pan-Islamist vision in the Arab states it gained control over. It tried to use democracy as a means to attain power, but the local population began to resent the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompotent rule.
The most symbolic ending to their movement was the sudden death of ex-Egyptian President, and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi, who suddenly collapsed in Cairo’s courts on the 17th of June 2019.
Morsi’s death represented the culmination of a continuous failure by the Muslim Brotherhood – known in Arabic as the Ikhwan – to establish leadership where it attained power after the Arab revolutions. The sudden crackdown from its Arab neighbors of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates greatly damaged their prospects for success.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in March 2014 after a dispute with its backer – Qatar – and their rivalries with the country in North Africa. According to document leaked by the Intercept, the Muslim Brotherhood also reportedly held a summit with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, and by extension the United States. In April 2019 the White House announced it was also working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
According to document leaked by the Intercept, the Muslim Brotherhood also reportedly held a summit with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, and by extension the United States.
Defining the Muslim Brotherhood as an enemy represented a radical change in America’s foreign policy. During the Arab Spring from 2011 to 2015, under ex-president Barack Obama, the US supported the Muslim Brotherhood against the autocratic rulers in the Arab states. The Islamist parties were given support in North Africa against Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, Tunisia’s Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
These rulers were undoubtedly corrupt, but they managed to keep extremism at bay. And with Qatar backing Islamist groups, the revolutions were hijacked by a foreign power looking to advance its influence with a fundamentalist view of Islam. “Qatar’s backing of Islamists has co-opted our revolution,” a Tunisian, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, said. The revolution brought hopes of overthrowing the repressive leaderships that had ruled Arab countries for decades, but those hopes were soon met by a harsh reality.
“Qatar’s backing of Islamists has co-opted our revolution,” a Tunisian, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, said.
Qatar’s backing of Islamist groups across the region lead to further de-stabilization, insecurity, and a rise in extremism. Tunisia now has the highest number of foreign jihadist fighters in the world, and Libya is still in a chaotic civil war, ruled by two rival governments, rogue militias, and local tribes.
The Brotherhood’s leadership in Egypt failed when Morsi was overthrown during widespread protests over dissatisfaction with his rule. Now Egypt is led by another strongman, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who has cracked down on Islamists even harder than before.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood rivals in these countries are not immune from criticism of extremism, either. Their opposing parties in Tunisia and Libya are supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Libya’s civil war state, this has led to many Salafists and religious extremists ruling in the army of Khalifa Haftar – the military leader claiming to oppose Islamists in Libya.
The difference between people like Haftar and the Brotherhood isn’t religious, but political: leaders like Haftar believe in the concept of the nation-state, the Islamists do not. For this reason, Haftar managed to gain consent by providing civilians with security, while groups like the Brotherhood continued to sow division and chaos by trying to destroy the very concept of the nation-state in favour of a pan-Islamist state.
The difference between people like Haftar and the Brotherhood isn’t religious, but political: leaders like Haftar believe in the concept of the nation-state, the Islamists do not
Minority Christian communities suffered the most as a result of this instability. The city of Derna in Libya, which used to be home to a small population of Roman Catholics, was almost wiped out after Islamists failed to root out extremists. “I had to flee because ISIS at the time took my brother for ransom,” a young man who now lives in Benghazi said, also asking for anonymity over security concerns. Islamists failed to separate themselves from the extremist groups in the territories they had control over, so religious minorities almost completely disappeared.
This failure did not limit itself to Libya, but also to Egypt. Their culmination to power in 2012 made the Coptic Christian minority face increasing persecution. Dozens of churches were vandalized and even set on fire during the Brotherhood’s tenure. Despite their removal from power and a crackdown from the new Egyptian President Al-Sisi, 2016 and 2017 has seen a constant wave of terror attacks targeting Copts who now live in fear for their lives.
Dozens of churches were vandalized and even set on fire during the Brotherhood’s tenure. Despite their removal from power and a crackdown from the new Egyptian President Al-Sisi, 2016 and 2017 has seen a constant wave of terror attacks targeting Copts who now live in fear for their lives.
Qatar did its best to portray the Arab revolutions in a positive light, mainly through its state-funded channel of Al Jazeera, which is now resented in much of North Africa and increasingly in the West because of its editorial double standards. Its Arabic channel favours a fundamentalist view of Islam, hosting guests like Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who stated on Al Jazeera Arabic’s program ‘Sharia and Life’ that the penalty for homosexuality should be lashing.
In the meantime, Al Jazeera English’s channel, which has now extended with the video channel of AJ+, criticizes the United States for the oppression of the LGBTQ community. “We dislike Al Jazeera for the false news they spread during the Arab Spring, and for their dual editorial lines in Arabic and English – they’re hypocrites,” a Muslim woman in Tunisia, who also asked for anonymity for security reasons, said.
Al Jazeera’s dual personality, when put in context with the Muslim Brotherhood’s 1991 manifesto, gives way to theories that it uses such tactics to undermine Western society by sowing division from within. The manifesto, in fact, stated it had a plan for a “grand jihad to eliminate and destroy Western civilization from within.” The plan was never denied by any major Muslim Brotherhood leader.
Its Arabic channel favours a fundamentalist view of Islam, hosting guests like Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who stated on Al Jazeera Arabic’s program ‘Sharia and Life’ that the penalty for homosexuality should be lashing. In the meantime, Al Jazeera English’s channel, which has now extended with the video channel of AJ+, criticizes the United States for the oppression of the LGBTQ community
Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s political and media efforts also had disastrous consequences in Europe. Al Jazeera English’s channel pushed for Europe to open its gates indiscriminately, while Qatar kept a strict refugee intake – even from their own fellow Muslims seeking refuge. Europe decided to open its borders, but the integration of Muslim populations became increasingly difficult.
Albert Square, England, May 22nd, 2017: People light candles in solidarity with the victims of the Manchester Bombing terrorist attack.
As a result, national populists who promised to protect Europe against a foreign menace began gaining momentum. Western European governments during the migrant crisis had failed to make a distinction between refugees and Islamist extremists escaping for political reasons.
Qatar kept a strict refugee intake – even from their own fellow Muslims seeking refuge
The best case to exemplify this failure was the Manchester Bombing in 2017. The perpetrator, Salman Abedi, was a UK born-Muslim to Libyan parents who fled the Ghaddafi regime because of their Islamist activities. Abedi prayed at the Didsbury mosque in Manchester, which was run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abedi’s father expressed sympathy for jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. These terrorist groups in countries like Libya are linked with the Muslim Brotherhood militias. “The Brotherhood aligns itself with extremist groups to help them protect their interests,” a young man from a civil rights organization in Libya, who also asked for anonymity over security reasons, said.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political failure at home does not mean its influence abroad has faded, as Qatar invested heavily in a media campaign in Western countries to protect its image. If the Trump administration decides to designate the Islamist group as a terrorist organization, the movement might be once again relegated to its former underground activities, or choose to ally openly with Iran, the main country on the US’s enemy list.
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