The Muslim Brotherhood has been on the run in the Arabian Gulf before. But until now, persecution was low key and sporadic. Wealthy patrons and donors were not arrested and the flow of funding to its branches was undisturbed.
But as of this week, the movement’s fortunes have fallen dramatically, DEBKA Weekly's Gulf and counterterrorism sources report, with the appointment of a powerful quartet of three Gulf officials and one Palestinian as generals of a determined new regional campaign to crush the Muslim Brotherhood movement and uproot it from the Arabian Peninsula.
They are Saudi Interior Minister Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef; Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Gen. Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed – who doubles as Deputy Supreme Commander of United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and ad hoc UAE ruler since Sheikh KHalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s stroke; the crown prince's personal adviser, the powerful Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who is Dep. Chairman of Dubai Police and General Security; and, finally, the Palestinian Fatah member Mohammed Dahlan, who lives in exile after falling out with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The immediate pretext for the all-out crackdown was provided by the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. At a weekly prayer sermon in Doha last week, he publicly slammed the Emirates “for standing against Islamic government and putting its leaders in jail.”
Riyadh demands Qaradawi be deported to Gaza
The Qatari ambassador was summoned to Abu Dhabi Sunday and handed “an official letter of protest” over “insults” – a step unprecedented by one member of the Gulf Cooperation Council against another since the GCC was founded in 1981.
But a diplomatic protest was not the end of it. Saudi interior minister Muhammad bin Nayef, in consultation and coordination with the other three leaders of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood campaign, went two steps further:
First, they slapped down a demand to deport Qaradawi from his base in Doha, whence he wields enormous influence in the Muslim world from a regular slot on the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV network.
When the Qataris asked where to, the Saudi answer was brief and to the point: To the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Egypt’s defense minister and presidential candidate Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had already been consulted and agreed to allow the hard-line preacher reach Gaza by way of Egypt.
Although the Qataris did not contest Riyadh’s demand, DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources report that they asked for more time to organize his exit and rearrange Al Jazeera programming to fill the gap left by his sermons.
New Saudi anti-terror law is applicable to Brothers
Second, Saudi Arabia enacted a sweeping new counter-terrorism law introducing prosecution for reform campaigners, corruption whistleblowers and other dissenters as terrorists.
The law states that any act that “undermines” the state or society, including calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia, is liable for prosecution on the charge of terrorism.
It also grants security services broad powers to raid homes and maintain surveillance on phone calls and Internet activity.
It is incumbent on the Saudi government, the decree explained, to prevent actions and language detrimental to public security and stability by exposing the nation to danger and "damaging the status of the kingdom – Islamically, internationally and within the Arab community.”
Jail terms for officers serving in the military [guilty of these offenses] were set at five to 30 years.
The measure was approved on Dec. 16, 2013 and published in full for the first time last Friday, Jan. 31, in the official government gazette, Umm Al-Qura.
The new law was presented formally as a royal decree regulating prison terms from three to 30 years for Saudis engaging in combat outside the country alongside other foreigners recruited by Al Qaeda-linked organizations to fight in Syria, Iraq, Yemen an Sinai.
The new law’s real purpose was to serve as a tool for combating the Muslim Brotherhood by equating the campaign against its activists to the anti-terror war on al Qaeda.
Riyadh flies in the face of Obama’s sympathy for the Brotherhood
This Saudi decision to go after the Muslim Brotherhood has had immediate effect on the Persian Gulf Emirates, where the Muslim Brotherhood is already feeling the cold.
1. The Saudi crackdown on the Brothers was timed to precede US President Barack Obama’s Riyadh visit next month for a face to face summit with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
(See separate article on the significance of this summit.)
It flies in the face of Washington’s regard for the Egyptian Brothers as a “moderate” Muslim force worthy of a role in the governments of the region. Since engaging in détente with Shiite Iran and the Brotherhood’s downfall in Egypt, the US president may have tempered somewhat the outreach to “moderate Muslims” he launched from Cairo University in his famous speech of 2009. But he remains sympathetic to the Brothers.
2. Egypt. The same timing actuated the Saudi deposit last week of another $4.8 billion dollars in the Egyptian National Bank, plus a joint $5.8 billion allocation, in partnership with other Gulf States (on top of an earlier $15 billion grant).
Washington was being shown that Riyadh’s backing is solid – not just for El-Sisi’s run for the presidency but also for his crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sinai and Gaza.
The Brothers relied on Gulf funding to fight the Egyptian military
3. Funding cut-off for MB. Saudi intelligence services and the United Arab Emirates’ Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim have jointly clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood funding sources in the Gulf, inflicting a death blow on Brotherhood operations in Egypt, Jordan and Hamas-run Gaza, say DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources.
The Brotherhood relied heavily on the Gulf Emirates to finance its operations against the military rulers of Egypt and its offspring, Hamas’ administration and military strength in the Gaza Strip. Hard pressed since the flow of Iranian money dried up last year, Hamas is now broke. The last Muslim Brotherhood regime in the Middle East is on the verge of collapsing.
4. Lingering MB influence in Saudi Arabia. Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood influence still lingers in Saudi Arabia’s religious and educational institutions, relics of the clerics and teachers granted refuge in the kingdom from persecution by Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-1970).
These clerics and teachers are now required to demonstrate loyalty to the Saudi throne – or be purged.
Our Gulf sources disclose a recent bid by Kuwait to mediate between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, fearing that if the anti-Brotherhood campaign is not curtailed, Kuwait will have no choice but to crack down on its Muslim Brotherhood branch as well.