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Gulf Sponsors Recoil from Ikhwan Viper in the Nest

By April 30, 2014 No Comments
The Muslim Brotherhood is facing a tough future at the moment, being banned and hunted in the land where it originated and no longer welcome in the Gulf sheikdoms that offered safehaven to earlier generations of exiled leadership. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, while regional monarchies including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in early March 2014 took the unusual step of withdrawing their ambassadors from the Emirate of Qatar, which is a fellow member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). [1] The move was described as a protest against Qatar’s continuing support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is increasingly viewed by Qatar’s neighbors as a threat to their thrones.

Qatar, which I dubbed, “Banker to the Global Jihad,” in a January 2013 piece for the Clarion Project,[2] has been exerting an outsized influence in support of Islamic uprisings that began in early 2011 across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. By applying its vast wealth (courtesy of abundant natural gas resources) to jihadist causes from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) to al-Qa’eda-linked Syrian militias to the Brotherhood itself, Qatar has drawn deepening concern from other GCC members who fear the kind of destabilization that brought chaos to Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Despite what is described as a tense November 2013 meeting in Riyadh, during which Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani reportedly, “signed an agreement to terminate any policies or proxy relationships injurious to the other GCC states,” [3] Doha subsequently rejected a GCC implementation mechanism for the agreement. According to GCC foreign ministers attempting to mediate the dispute, Doha failed to live up to the Riyadh agreement. [4] Although explicit mention of the Muslim Brotherhood was left unstated, it’s widely understood that Qatar’s backing for the jihadist group prompted the GCC action.

A big part of the problem is the Egyptian cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi, senior Islamic legal jurist of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has lived in exile in Qatar since 1961. In addition to providing a welcoming domicile for al-Qaradawi and other top leaders of the now-banned Egyptian Brotherhood, Doha also is headquarters for the Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel, owned by the Qatar Media Corporation, and broadcast medium of choice for al-Qa’eda, HAMAS, and Hizballah, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. For years, al-Qaradawi has used his weekly Al-Jazeera talk show, “Life and Islamic Law,” to propagate pro-shariah jihadist messaging to millions of viewers across the MENA region. The January 2012 opening of the Doha-based Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) [5], whose Director of Research is Tariq Ramadan, the al-Qaradawi protégé and scion of the Hassan al-Banna Ikhwan founding family, further underscored Qatar’s commitment to the spread of shariah enforcement.  But it’s not just the CILE, which is rightly viewed as a Brotherhood think tank: reportedly, Saudi Arabia has demanded Qatar close others as well, including the local branches of the Rand Corporation and Brookings Institute. [6] Riyadh has even threatened to blockade Qatar by both land and sea [7] —easily accomplished at the land border separating the Qatari peninsula from mainland Saudi Arabia, but not likely from the sea. Still, that the threat was made at all is an indicator that Saudi patience with its GCC neighbor has pretty well run out as far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned.

Among a host of other maladies, however, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (much like the senior members of its gerontocracy) suffers from increasing difficulty in keeping things straight. While Saudi, Bahraini, and UAE pique at neighboring Qatar may be well-founded regarding Doha’s insistent meddling on behalf of Brotherhood and other jihadist organizations across the MENA region, it’s hard not to notice this is really a case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)—or perhaps, the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed, for what it’s worth, the official Muslim Brotherhood statement in response to its terrorist designation by the Saudis pointed out that: “Saudi Arabia was one of the first to experience the Muslim Brotherhood’s positive stance towards preserving the interests of people, unity of nations, contributing effectively towards the building of communities and homelands, dissemination of correct Islamic ideologies, and what the group has suffered for the sake of this cause.” [8]

What the Ikhwan are saying is that Saudi Arabia has a long history of providing backing, funding, and theological authentication for the Brotherhood’s global jihadist operations, as well as local headquarters for its organizations including the Muslim World League (MWL), founded in Mecca in 1962, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), created in Jeddah in 1972. [9] Writing at The Nation in 2012, Bob Dreyfuss provided a revealing bill of particulars on how, “for more than half a century, Saudi Arabia has extended every form of support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere,” [10]  including  political asylum for members fleeing episodic crackdowns in Egypt and funding for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood front groups around the world. At home, though, group that challenges the ruling family’s grip on power is permitted to operate openly. The Saudi royals traditionally have kept a tight lid on Brotherhood activities and cracked down harshly against al-Qa’eda, one of the Brotherhood’s off-shoots.  But abroad, Riyadh’s policy aggressively backs jihadist campaigns, whether of the kinetic variety as with the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s and a variety of Syrian anti-Assad militias since 2011, or pre-violent “civilization jihad” [11] operations such as the Muslim Brotherhood has been running in Western societies since at least WW II. In Europe, for example, the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) in reality functions as an umbrella group for myriad Muslim Brotherhood fronts that derive funding, “largely from Gulf sources, including some of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates.” [12]

The Muslim Brotherhood began in Egypt in 1928 and developed an extensive network there for two decades before harsh repression under the Nasser regime in the 1950s sent Ikhwan members fleeing abroad. Foolishly or otherwise, the Saudis welcomed them and gave them shelter, which allowed the Brothers to establish a foothold inside Saudi society and its government. [13] From its Saudi base of operations, the Brotherhood established several key organizations, including, as noted above, the Muslim World League (MWL), World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and a host of so-called “charitable organizations”—which often functioned as officially-sanctioned channels for terror funding (under the guise of zakat). [14]  By the 1960s and 1970s, key top leaders of groups like MWL and WAMY as well as others escaping repression in Egypt and Syria and bolstered with Persian Gulf (especially Saudi) funding, found their way to the West, where they set their sights on Europe and the U.S. Here in the West, they helped to fund some of the largest Muslim Brotherhood front groups in existence today, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Students Association (MSA), and North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).

The 2008 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) HAMAS terror funding trial helped establish the true relationships among U.S. Muslim Brotherhood front groups like these, the Muslim Brotherhood itself, and the financial sources behind all of them.  For instance, CAIR named by the Department of Justice as one of the unindicted co-conspirators in the HLF case, [15] received funds from both WAMY and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), both of which are Saudi-funded groups whose U.S. offices were raided by U.S. Treasury Department Customs Agents in March 2002. [16] That raid, in Herndon, VA, targeted the SAFA Trust Group, a collection of shell companies, including the SAAR Network, which was a financial empire funded by Saudi money, but controlled and operated by U.S. Muslim Brotherhood operatives [17] for the purpose of raising funds and laundering money for Islamic terror groups like al-Qa’eda. [18] And while many of the Saudi-funded global financial institutions known to have supported Osama bin Laden, al-Qa’eda, and Islamic terrorism in general have been shut down (including those in the U.S.) in the post-9/11 period, at last check, the Saudi headquarters of neither the MWL nor WAMY have been closed.

The irony is pretty rich, then, as Saudis are now complaining about U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood in places like Egypt and Syria. It is in large part thanks to their own backing, funding, and support that the Ikhwan network in the U.S. has now achieved such an extensive infiltration of top foreign policy circles (including the White House) that makes such policies possible. Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted Omar Abdulrahman (the Blind Sheikh) for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other terror plots, spoke at the Washington, D.C. National Press Club on behalf of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) in August 2012, where he described the incredible influence of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the U.S. government. Earlier that summer, five members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent letters to the Inspectors General of several key Cabinet Departments as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, asking them to investigate the presence and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in these respective agencies. The “shocking and demoralizing” response, as McCarthy described it, was the near universal condemnation that ensued—no, not about the possibility that a hostile foreign power, funded, backed, and inspired by Saudi and other proponents of Islamic jihad and shariah had infiltrated and perhaps subverted America’s senior decision-making circles, but rather that these five courageous U.S. Representatives should have dared to ask for an investigation. [19]

If the Saudis would like to know why the U.S. government stands staunchly behind the Muslim Brotherhood now viewed as a growing threat to Middle East palaces and thrones, it might recall how a family named Abedin was selected and nurtured over a period of many decades by a hugely influential Saudi figure who became the Abedin family “godfather.” Abdullah Omar Nasseef has been a major leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood since the 1970s and served as Secretary General of the Muslim World League, under whose auspices he co-founded the Rabita Trust, an important source of pre-9/11 financing for Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’eda. Nasseef also founded the Saudi-based Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, on whose Journal a young Huma Abedin served alongside Nasseef as assistant editor from 1996–2008. This is the Huma Abedin who worked as a White House intern for then-First Lady Hillary Clinton beginning in 1997 and rose to be her Deputy Chief of Staff in 2009, a position she held through 2012.[20]

President Barak Obama’s late March 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah came at what is probably the lowest point in the bilateral relationship since the 1973 oil embargo.  Mostly as a result of his own policies, Obama is viewed as a weak, feckless, and unreliable ally among Persian Gulf rulers who used to think of themselves as U.S. allies. They are not so sure about that status anymore, especially since Obama threw Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak under the bus in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood; armed, funded, and supported al-Qa’eda- and Muslim Brotherhood-led rebels who ousted Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi; and perhaps worst of all, decided to cozy up to the Iranian mullahs. [21] The shoe is definitely and strangely on the other foot now for the Saudis and other Gulf royals who are much more used to being the ones supporting the international jihad movement than seeing themselves as potential targets of it.

As Jonathan Spyer put it in a recent PJMedia piece, “a new topography is emerging” across the region. [22] On top of the ongoing intra-Islamic Sunni-Shi’a fratricide in Iraq and Syria, dissension among GCC members is driving formation of an emerging alliance not just between Riyadh and Cairo’s military regime, but also inclusive of Bahrain, Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. There is the Iranian-led Shi’ite alliance with Hizballah, Iraq, and Syria, which leaves Qatar the odd emirate out to hop onto a new axis with the Muslim Brotherhood, HAMAS, Gaza—and Gaza’s apparently re-normalizing relationship with Iran.

Long-standing relationships with Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia which the U.S.—and no less the region—had counted on since the Camp David and Oslo Accords to maintain stability are no more. The Obama administration’s unexpectedly poor performance as a dependable ally, coupled with its risky realignment with jihadist forces both Sunni and Shi’ite, have dangerously compounded already fractious regional trends. Amidst the swirl of clashing clans, tribes, and sects, traditional alignments are coming apart as new ones emerge. Even Israel may find itself eyed (however opportunistically) as an acceptable (albeit likely temporary) partner for the U.S.’s other local cast-offs, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. None can be more surprised than Jerusalem, but none should remain (rightly) more wary either.