Britain’s move on the MB: a Saudi victory

The decision of the British government this week to launch an investigation into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood is a major victory for Saudi Arabia, which has been arguing since the 9/11 attacks that it is the Brotherhood’s brand of “political Islam” that is the source of jihadist violence and extremism, not Saudi Wahhabism. “What I think is important about the Muslim Brotherhood is that we understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom,” Cameron said. Privately, officials said there had been months of Saudi pressure, complementing Saudi anger over the West’s shift on Iran since November. Continue reading Britain’s move on the MB: a Saudi victory

Washington Post: Rift deepens between Qatar and its powerful Arab neighbors

By , Published: March 9 

CAIRO — A series of bold diplomatic actions across a turbulent Middle East last week exposed a deepening rift between the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy of Qatar and its powerful Arab neighbors in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Continue reading Washington Post: Rift deepens between Qatar and its powerful Arab neighbors

Esglobal: El ascenso de Qatar

Articulo (traduccion) que escrive para Esglobal

Cuando el jeque Hamad de Qatar anunció el año pasado que iba a abdicar en favor de su hijo Tamim, muchos confiaron en que el emirato hubiera comprendido que su intervencionismo imperioso era un error y retirase su apoyo a los movimientos islamistas de la región, incluidos los Hermanos Musulmanes de Egipto. Sin embargo, ha pasado casi un año y no se observa ningún cambio. Tamim continúa aplicando la misma política exterior que su padre, una estrategia que pretende ejercer en todo el mundo árabe una influencia independiente de Arabia Saudí y utilizar una red de grupos islamistas en cuyo centro están los Hermanos egipcios…. Continue reading Esglobal: El ascenso de Qatar

ECFR: Gulf rift: uneasy dynasties in a changing world

This week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, citing Qatar’s apparent failure to heed the terms of a security agreement made at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting late last year. The two issues in the dispute are Qatar’s perceived backing for the Egyptian Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the coverage on Qatari pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera, which has been favourable to the Brotherhood and its challenge to the Egyptian authorities after the military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last year. Continue reading ECFR: Gulf rift: uneasy dynasties in a changing world

FT: Diplomatic crisis as Gulf states withdraw ambassadors from Qatar

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have withdrawn their ambassadors from neighbouring Qatar, as frustration over the gas-rich emirate’s maverick foreign policy prompts the worst intra-Gulf diplomatic crisis in recent history.

The three nations, which are seeking to marginalise their neighbour’s support for political Islam in the region, cited Qatar’s unwillingness to adhere to agreements of the 32-year-old six-member Gulf Co-operation Council as the reason for recalling their envoys, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama also asked Doha, which has been a big backer of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group, not to “support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member”.

They accused Qatar of failing to agree on a unified policy to “ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state” after it failed to sign up to a common security pact at a GCC foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Qatar’s cabinet in a statement said that the ambassadors’ withdrawal had been driven by “a difference in positions on issues out of the GCC,” reiterating its commitment to the six-member group, adding that it would not reciprocate and withdraw its ambassadors.

The diplomatic crisis, a rare escalation of behind-the-scenes negotiation into a damaging public spat, poses the most severe challenge of the short reign of the young Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The sheikh met the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in November, promising a new face to Qatar’s foreign policy.

“The new emir promised things would change, and he failed to deliver,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a UAE-based political scientist, referring to a meeting held between Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi and Kuwaiti rulers last November.

“There is a desire to sanction Qatar politically and diplomatically.”

Gulf states had believed the new emir would promote a more consensual approach to foreign policy, co-ordinating more closely with his GCC neighbours, rather than striking out on major policy initiatives alone.

”Qatar has been warned a number of times by GCC countries that its policies, particularly with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, ran counter to the critical security interests of the region,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar. “As a result the GCC nations have taken an unprecedented step to haul Qatar back into line, and further escalatory steps could be taken in future.”

Last month, the UAE rebuked the Qatari ambassador in Abu Dhabi after Sheikh Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who is based in Qatar, attacked the UAE for not supporting Islamic government.

The UAE’s crackdown on domestic Islamists has over the past couple of years prompted several disagreements, many of them on social media, between emiratis and Sheikh Qaradawi and his supporters.

Abu Dhabi this week convicted a Qatari national, dubbed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, for aiding a banned UAE Islamist group that the authorities claim is linked to the brotherhood.

So far Qatar has not bowed to initial pressure from Abu Dhabi over Sheikh Qaradawi’s comments, says Andrew Hammond, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Qatar does not want to allow Saudi and the UAE to dictate policy,” says Mr Hammond. “Qatar is convinced it is standing up for just causes, such as Egypt, as well as its interventions in Libya and Syria.”

The ousting of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first elected president who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has become the biggest flashpoint in GCC-Qatar relations.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have generously supported the military-backed interim regime led by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Qatar, a financial supporter of Mr Morsi’s government, has criticised the manner in which the president was deposed.

The three Gulf states have also been pushing Doha to rein in its popular pan-Arab satellite channel, Al Jazeera, which they accuse of promoting an Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood agenda. Three Al Jazeera journalists are facing trial in Cairo on charges of belonging to the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

The channel’s reporting sparked another bilateral spat with Saudi Arabia, which recalled its ambassador from Doha between 2002 and 2007.

Oman, which does not tend to co-ordinate closely with the other Gulf monarchies, and Kuwait did not withdraw their ambassadors.

POLITICO: The Revolutionary Police State

(Originally published in Politico)

Time was, American presidents had Egyptian leaders at their beck and call. Hosni Mubarak was once obliged to get up at the crack of dawn for a photo op with President Bill Clinton, scheduled with U.S. prime-time TV in mind. But if there’s one thing the “Arab Spring”—if we can still use that term with a straight face—has proved, it’s that those days are gone. Ever since Feb. 2, 2011, when President Obama pulled the plug on Mubarak in a hasty speech calling on the longtime Egyptian strongman to leave “now,” the United States has gone from bankrolling a friendly dictator to bankrolling an unfriendly dictatorship—while fast estranging itself from all sides of the political spectrum. Continue reading POLITICO: The Revolutionary Police State

If Sisi runs, and if he does not

If Sisi gives in to temptation and runs for president, the July 3 regime may not last. If he does not, he gives it a chance. If he runs, the July 3 regime continues to define itself as a new beginning, undermining the transformative power of January 25, and in the process dooms itself to failure, but if he does not run it will have a chance to become another chapter in the long process of reconstituting Egyptian politics and society begun on Jan 25. Continue reading If Sisi runs, and if he does not

Egypt’s Revolution That Was

(This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations)

The semantic battle over Egypt’s upheavals of the past three years have been as fierce as the conflict on the ground: was it a revolution or an uprising, was it “stolen” by the Islamists or did they claim their rightful place at its helm, was June 30/July 3 a revolution or a coup? This week’s referendum on the post-Islamist constitution is not only intended by the military regime to consecrate their removal of elected president Mohammed Morsi but bring to an end the entire period of uprising, to begin to draw a line under the revolution itself – a process that will be completed in stages via subsequent presidential and parliamentary elections. Three key institutions of the Mubarak era have reasserted themselves with a vengeance, the military, the security apparatus and the judiciary. Through forms of mass media manipulation born in the early Nasserist years of the military republic and perfected under Mubarak’s police state, the regime has been able to impose a sort of moratorium on revolutionary activity – demands for social, economic and political justice, often made via protests and strikes.   Continue reading Egypt’s Revolution That Was

Egypt’s Salafis: ‘New Brothers’ walking a political minefield

(This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on its website)

One of the most intriguing turns of the post-uprising scene in Egypt has been the emergence of the Salafi movement – as a political force, as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood, and most recently as an ally of the July 3 military regime. The Salafi Nour party’s general secretary Galal Murra appeared on television as one of the handful of pliant politicians flanking General Abdulfattah al-Sisi as he announced the removal of elected president Mohammed Morsi last year after mass protests against Brotherhood rule. Since then the party’s leadership has remained faithful to the new regime as its conflict with the Brotherhood intensified and a hysterical anti-Islamist atmosphere ensued. Continue reading Egypt’s Salafis: ‘New Brothers’ walking a political minefield