Muslim Brotherhood Buffeted by Shifting Winds

CEP Research Analyst


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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi rose and fell from power within the space of one year. Elected president of Egypt in June 2012, Morsi was removed from office by the country’s military leaders in July 2013. During this time and in response to his ouster, Muslim Brotherhood supporters inside Egypt organized violent protests, leading Egyptian authorities to accuse protesters and top Brotherhood leaders of inciting violence. After months of attacks, in December 2013, the interim Egyptian government labeled the group a terrorist organization

While the U.S. has refrained from designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, five countries have done so: Syria (1980), Russia (2003), Egypt (2013), Saudi Arabia (2014), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (2014). Many countries in the Middle East, chief among them Saudi Arabia and the UAE, see the Brotherhood as a threat and a terrorist-supporting organization, while other countries (namely Turkey and Qatar) view the Brotherhood as primarily a political organization.

The Brotherhood’s year-long success in Egypt further sharpened disagreements over the nature of the Sunni Muslim organization. Several Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states— namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain — hailed Morsi’s overthrow and have since become increasingly hostile towards the Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Qatar, a GCC member and longtime Brotherhood supporter, continues to provide sanctuary to top Brotherhood leaders, alienating its Gulf neighbors and the West. Qatar’s Al Jazeera has strongly condemned Egypt’s new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, referring to his rise to power as a “coup.” In an attempt to mend shaky relations, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE came to a secret agreement in April 2014 that sought to end tensions over Qatar's support for the Brotherhood.

Turkey has its own unique relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Reports allege that Istanbul has in the past supplied the Brotherhood with weapons and activists. Directly following Morsi’s July 3 ouster, Turkey coordinated with Qatar and Brotherhood affiliated terror group Hamas on the intake of fugitives. Since then, Istanbul has “played host” to meetings in which Brotherhood leaders planned action against the Egyptian regime. In September 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to accept Brotherhood leaders expelled from Qatar.

The Muslim Brotherhood problem has split the Middle East into two camps: Turkey and Qatar as defenders of the Brotherhood’s “modernity,” and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as a united force ready to crush the Islamist group. (And it should come as no surprise that Qatar and Turkey are in a camp of their own; the West identifies these countries as proxies for terrorists.)

In early 2015, Saudi Arabia began to pursue a broad Sunni coalition against Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Kingdom has managed to draw support from Sunni-led Muslim countries in the region, including Turkey. Saudi Arabia has also warmed to the Brotherhood in its search for Sunni support. With Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi exiled to Saudi Arabia, the Brotherhood affiliate in Yemen remains Saudi Arabia’s closest Sunni ally on the ground.

In February 2015, Saudi Foreign Minister Saudi al Faisal told a Saudi newspaper: “We don’t have any problem with the Muslim Brotherhood,” asserting that Saudi Arabia was only opposed to a “small segment affiliated with the group.”

Indeed, support for and tolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood seems to ebb and flow based on local and regional considerations as well as political and diplomatic pressures.