First Published: 2012-05-19

 

Qatar's Ties with the Muslim Brotherhood Affect Entire Region

 

As a formal organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar dissolved itself in 1999. Jasim Sultan - a former member of the Qatari Brotherhood - has explained in a television interview that this decision was justified because the state was carrying out its religious duties, writes Ahmad Jamil Azem.

 

Middle East Online

The alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar is becoming a noticeable factor in the reshaping of the Middle East. There are several striking aspects to this evolving and deepening relationship.

First, note that the Brotherhood is barely involved in Qatari domestic affairs. The arrangement is akin to the one between Qatar and Al Jazeera, the biggest Arab television channel, which is based in Doha. The station covers news throughout the Arab world but refrains from covering controversial events in Qatar.

As a formal organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar dissolved itself in 1999. Jasim Sultan - a former member of the Qatari Brotherhood - has explained in a television interview that this decision was justified because the state was carrying out its religious duties.

Mr Sultan supervises the Al Nahdah (Awakening) Project, which involves training, publishing and lecturing about public activism. Last August, he wrote an article asking Egyptian Islamists to change their discourse and move towards "partnership thought" instead of concentrating on "infiltrating the society to control it". Mr Sultan is active in training Islamists in Egypt and other countries on how to function within the institutions of democracy.

The second point of interest about Qatar and the Brotherhood is that the relationship was formed and is maintained largely through personal ties, which play a vital role. Doha has hosted individual activists, providing them with refuge and employment.

Yusif Al Qaradawi, a Qatari national and resident of Egyptian origin, is a good example. He is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and his television programme on Islamic laws and principles has made him a star on Al Jazeera. His current relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is not clear, but he has been a leading member, and is highly respected by its members around the world.

One striking example of his influence is a recent photograph of him with Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minster of Hamas in Gaza. (Hamas is an arm of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.) In the image, Mr Haniyeh, during a recent visit to Qatar, is bowing and kissing Mr Al Qaradawi's hand in a show of respect.

To better understand the role of Qatari-Islamist harmony in the Arab revolutions, consider the Academy of Change, headed by Hisham Mursi, an Egyptian paediatrician and British national living in Doha. News reports identify him as the son-in-law of Mr Al Qaradawi.

Mr Mursi has been active in Egypt's revolution from the very beginning. When he was arrested in the early days of the protests, Muslim Brotherhood websites campaigned for his release. His organisation takes a special interest in non-violent protest tactics; he has written manuals on the subject. He acknowledges, on the Academy of Change's website, that he benefits from the cooperation of Mr Sultan.

Another example of personal ties involves Rafiq Abdulsalaam, Tunisia's foreign minister. He is the son-in-law of Rashid Al Ghanouchi, the head of Ennahda, Tunisia's Muslim Brotherhood party. Mr Abdulasalaam was formerly the head of the Research and Studies Division in the Al Jazeera Centre in Doha.

An example from Libya is Ali Sallabi, described last December by The Washington Post as the "chief architect of Libya's most likely next government". Mr Sallabi has lived in Qatar for several years.

A third point to understand is what Qatar provides for the Brotherhood. There are strong indications of media help, political training and financial support. The role of people like those named above offers circumstantial evidence of such support. Further, key staff members of Al Jazeera have had - and maintain - close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. These include the previous general manager, Waddah Khanfar, the head of the Amman office, Yasser Abu Hillaleh, and the Egyptian TV presenter, Ahmad Mansur.

Last August, Nevin Mus'ad, a politics professor at Cairo University, told the Egyptian daily Al Shorouq that she was surprised to notice that the university was offering a training course on democracy and human rights, organised by the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar. She said bearded men wearing the jilbab (Islamist dress) were organising the entrance of participants, most of whom were wearing Islamist dress. The women were veiled.

In Libya, Mr Sallabi - who is known also for his connection to Mr Al Qaradawi - told reporters that he had asked the Qatari leadership for assistance during the early stages of the Libyan revolution.

Last year Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper close to Hizbollah (Damascus's strong ally), said the rift between Qatar and the Syrian regime occurred when Doha attempted to convince Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to form an interim ruling council including Muslim Brotherhood representation.

The fourth factor helpful in understanding the Qatar-Brotherhood alliance involves what Qatar stands to gain.

First, the relationship ensures that Islamists will not criticise Qatari government policies or be active there. Second, as Islamists head towards power in several countries, Qataris are in position to expect special economic and political treatment in each. Third, Qatar will be well-positioned to mediate between Islamists and their rivals, and also between Islamists in general and the West. The Afghan Taliban, for example, are now expected to open an office in Qatar. Such developments offer Qatar greater international influence.

Dr Ahmad Jamil Azem is a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge's faculty of Asian and Middle East studies.

The National

 

Britain wants ‘strategic partnership’ with GCC

Egypt’s 'three-year strategy' seeks to revive struggling economy

Syria forces take control of Aleppo Old City

Over 40 people missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Qatar to invest up to $13bn on 'mega projects' in 2017

Libya's key oil region threatened by renewed fighting

Syria rebels call for Aleppo ceasefire

Rebel rockets scar west Aleppo residents

Egypt jails prominent NGO activist

Turkish soldier killed in Syria bomb blast

IS-linked group ousted from Somalia town

Kerry, Lavrov to resume Syria talks Wednesday

Iraqis swarm to remarry after liberation from ‘caliphate’

Four drown, 34 rescued off Morocco coast

Israel to vote on bill to legalise West Bank settlements

Turkish businessmen embrace Erdogan’s plan to boost lira

Battle for Mosul advances deeper into city

Iran to sign deal with Shell in bid to boost output

Israeli missiles strike targets outside Damascus

Hollande condemns Russia’s ‘systematic obstruction’ of Syria ceasefire

Turkey doing 'everything possible' to push Syria talks between Russia, opposition

Russia army colonel dies after Aleppo rebel shelling

Libyan forces hunt remaining jihadists in Sirte

Iraqi jailed in Sweden for war crimes after Facebook post

Regime forces seize five Aleppo districts from rebels

Israeli artist erects golden Netanyahu statue in protest

Russia says US stalling on Aleppo rebel pullout

Saudi sentences 15 to death for being Iranian spies

US defence secretary says Mosul battle could end before Trump

US, NATO stress 'unity' as Trump raises doubts

Greece to extradite three Turkish coup officers

Egypt arrests 25 human organ traffickers

Morocco PM statement on Russia’s ‘destructive’ role in Syria angers Moscow

Israel far right hails bill to 'legalise' settler homes

Merkel says Aleppo situation ‘disgrace’

Iranian president says sanctions renewal proves US still ‘enemy’

Yemen arrests eight IS suspects in Aden

Turkey arrests opposition advisor over alleged Gulen links

Russia says OPEC, non-OPEC countries to meet in Vienna

British PM joins GCC summit for trade talks

Israel government nears deal that could 'legalise' settler homes

Yemen's Hadi would only give way to 'elected' leader

Russia says medic killed, others injured in Aleppo fighting

Greek court rejects extradition of Turkey officers

Sudan court frees 26 protesters