It’s a little early to predict the exact outcome of the Morsi-military smackdown underway in Egypt. (Update as this goes to press: the Egyptian military says Morsi has been removed.) But one thing is certain: Egyptians are mounting a broad-scale rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the same day, the emirate of Qatar, hundreds of miles away in the Persian Gulf, may be doing substantially the same thing. Unconfirmed reports in Arabic and French-language media indicate that the new emir of Qatar, who took over from his father last week, has ordered Yusuf al-Qaradawi to leave the country. Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is an Egyptian who has made his home – and operated an Islamist institute – in Qatar for years. According to the Algerian news site Reporters.dz (link above; my translation):
After proclaiming himself the mufti of NATO, calling in Al Jazeera for the murder of Qadhafi and of theologians who haven’t rallied to the Free Syrian Army, and singing the praises of foreign interventions, [Qaradawi’s] reputation has suffered a setback.
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The Reporters.dz story says Al Jazeera is undergoing a big shakeup in editorial perspective and TV programming as well. In a third major change on Tuesday, the new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad al-Thani, replaced the manager of the nation’s sovereign wealth fund. Rather than adopting a cautious profile, as many analysts were expecting, the new manager is likely to mount a very aggressive foreign investment profile for Qatar, including large investments in Western industrial giants.
Taken together, the new emir’s reported moves send a strong signal: Qatar’s path forward does not lie with the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideological conception of the region’s future. Indeed, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been at the forefront of the nominal Sunni Arab thrust for regional influence over the last decade, and what they see today is the Muslim Brotherhood – which hates and opposes the Saudi royals and the Persian Gulf emirs, whom it considers “sell-outs” to the West – trying to gain power in the Sunni nations that were thrown up for grabs in the Arab Spring. The Saudis and Qataris do want to shape the outcome in Syria, but they don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood doing it. The Muslim Brotherhood is a rival – and in Egypt, has been seeking to consolidate national power over the most populous Arab nation on earth.
If phone calls were made from foreign capitals to the Egyptian military in the last 48 hours, it would not be at all surprising if at least one of them came from Doha. The timing of the new emir’s reported order to Qaradawi (again, it is so far unconfirmed) would not be a coincidence. Mohammed Morsi is a senior member of Qaradawi’s inner circle. The power grab he mounted in Egypt constitutes writing on the wall for other nations that harbor the Muslim Brotherhood.
Can the ejection of Qaradawi from Qatar, and a change in the stance of Al Jazeera, be as categorical and final as Westerners might suppose? We tend to be categorical, linear thinkers, and to assume that a political victory means, well, victory – whereas defeat means that the opposition will be shorn of its influence and dynamism.
It doesn’t necessarily work that way in the Arab nations. Qaradawi may move out of Qatar but still have plenty of resources there with which to attack the emir’s legitimacy. The emir is very unlikely to execute a Bolshevik-style crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, a move that would be as distasteful to Arabs as to Westerners. His future viability lies in preserving a sense of voluntary social and national unity, the positive building blocks for commerce and prosperity. Qaradawi will have ways of getting at the emir (if that’s a priority for him) – as Morsi will have of getting at a military-approved follow-on government in Egypt, if he is out of power but still in the country, with normal personal freedoms.
So we should not expect to see a clean break with the Muslim Brotherhood in either nation. In fact, the anti-Brotherhood majority in both nations could really use some friendly outside help right now. The obvious source of such help, if America had a different president, would be the United States, which has a very close relationship with both of them, and a common interest in keeping the Brotherhood out of power.
The Obama factor
But, as a reader pointed out yesterday, Morsi may well have been positively encouraged in his declaration of a holy war in mid-June by the visit of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sheikh Abdullah bin-Bayyah to the White House on 13 June. That was the day, if you will remember, when the Egyptian government announced its policy that Egyptians could go to Syria and volunteer to fight with the rebels. Two days later, Morsi called for the holy war in his speech at a rally for Syria.
The authors of the IPT report recount this sequence on 13 June:
Bin Bayyah lobbied the White House to “take urgent action” to help Syrian rebels. “We demand Washington take a greater role in [Syria],” Bin Bayyah told Al-Jazeera. President Obama later announced plans to arm Syrian rebels.
To be specific, Obama announced his plans to arm the Syrian rebels later that same day. Hot Air has a good summary here.
This certainly sheds light on the Egyptian protesters’ criticism of the Obama administration, along with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We need not incorrectly accuse the Obama White House of instigating Morsi’s call for a holy war, to recognize that Morsi took encouragement for his plans from the response bin-Bayyah did receive. Morsi could be forgiven for supposing that his holy war in Syria would have backing in Washington.
But the Egyptian military, and probably the new emir of Qatar, aren’t about to let that happen. Regrettably, Obama is getting a rep in the region as a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether he is witting or hapless, repudiation of the Brotherhood by Middle Eastern nations will redound to his discredit, and the discredit of the United States. It makes us look weak and foolish – and probably something worse – for Obama to seem to back Morsi’s holy war, and then sit passive and watch Morsi be removed from office.
More dangerous still is the certainty that other nations are figuring it out: they don’t have to wait to see what the U.S. will do, about a given international security issue, because we’re not going to do anything that will matter. Predators from within the region and without will start executing plans. Whether in Egypt, Turkey, or elsewhere in the Middle East, the people will be fighting off the Muslim Brotherhood, and perhaps other predators as well, without our help. What we must not forget is that they started the fight, because they don’t want rule by Islamist despots.