The June 5 decision of the Saudi Arabia-led group of Arab nations to isolate Qatar, another kingdom in West Asia, by snapping diplomatic relations with it shows that there is growing uneasiness in the region, particularly with regard to political stability. There is a clear indication that the countries which have swiftly moved against a brother nation, the richest in the world in terms of per capita income, feel seriously threatened by extremist movements active in the region. Interestingly, they are all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), all close US allies, and there is a Shia ruler (Bahrain) in the company of Sunni rulers belonging to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Yemen campaigning against Qatar’s Sunni monarch, accusing him of not only supporting extremist outfits like the Islamic State (IS) and the Muslim Brotherhood (also called Ikhwanul Muslimeen) but also building bridges of understanding with Shia Iran and Jewish Israel.
On the face of it, the crisis appears to be linked to the Saudi-Iranian rivalry for dominance of the Muslim-majority region. However, a closer look at it brings out the fact that the comparatively liberal Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was clandestinely working for a new future order in the region, not to the liking of those controlling the levers of power today. At this stage, it is difficult to understand what exactly has been going on in Qatar that provoked the five countries to come out openly against it. But one can easily believe that all that has happened must have been caused by some innovative and provocative idea.
Qatar has been suspected of nursing adventurous intentions ever since it allowed the Al-Jazeera TV network to have its headquarters in its capital, Doha, from where it can function with considerable independence provided it ignores uncomfortable political happenings in the host country. Monarchs can never allow an independent media organization like Al-Jazeera to prosper in their midst, but they tolerated the affairs of Qatar’s Emir with it on grounds of its being a credible answer to Western media networks which see any development in the region with their tinted glasses. But now it seems Qatar’s neighbours have vowed to prevent it from playing independent political games. They are no longer prepared to tolerate Qatar’s independent line of approach, particularly when the oil and gas-exporting Arabs are faced with an economic slowdown with their oil revenues declining because of the downward movement in the prices of crude in the international market.
Qatar has been suspected of nursing adventurous intentions ever since it let Al-Jazeera TV network to have its HQ in its capital Doha
After spending billions of dollars on containing the IS in Syria and Iraq, and the Houthi tribal rebellion in Yemen, with the help of the US, the Arabs are heaving a sigh of relief with the IS and the Al-Qaida losing their appeal among the Muslim masses. The action against Qatar has provided proof that the Arab rulers are now more scared of the Muslim Brotherhood than any other Islamist outfit as it has been clandestinely strengthening its roots in the land of its birth, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. The Brotherhood has been operating underground since it was banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries decades ago. Despite the odds against it, the Islamist movement continues to sustain itself as a powerful ideological force having political ambitions.
The Brotherhood played a stellar role during the pro-democracy protests called the Arab Spring, emerging as a major force for the expression of people’s desire for a systemic change, their yearning for the establishment of a democratic system of governance. The areas which came in the sweep of the Arab Spring included the entire Middle-East and parts of Africa having substantial Muslim concentration with sustained street demonstrations held in Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan and elsewhere besides the epicentre of the political tremors in Egypt and Tunisia.
The protests that began in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with the involvement of Brotherhood cadres, secular parties and other pro-democracy groups led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the holding of elections to instal a new President. The Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party(FPJ), won the Presidential polls under its chief Mohammed Morsi, securing over 51 per cent of the votes polled. That his government could not survive beyond a year and was toppled by the country’s armed forces headed by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi following widespread protests against it is not as important as is the fact that the Brotherhood, founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1924, emerged as the most powerful cadre-based political force, capturing power through democratically held elections in 2012. The movement suffered many ups and downs in-between and remained dormant not only in the country of its birth but also in other Arab countries mainly because of its insistence on implementing Islam’s political principles.
What worked against the FJP government headed by Mohammed Morsi was the image of the Brotherhood as an extremist organisation. Egypt’s multi-religious and multi-cultural populace refused to believe that the FPJ man as the Egyptian President would be fair and just in the case of all sections of society. The Brotherhood continues to be hated by the Arab governments — some of which conspired to see the quick overthrow of the Morsi ministry by Egypt’s armed forces — mainly because of its political agenda. Its radical Islamic ideology is as puritanical as Wahabism, the guiding Islamic thought in most Sunni Arab monarchies. But since Wahabism is being practiced by ignoring the political principles of Islam, it is a quite popular creed in the Arab World. The Brotherhood has also been alleged to be a believer in the use of violence to achieve its objectives. Morsi as President tried to assure one and all that the government he headed and his political party had nothing to do with violence, but his appeals fell only on deaf years.
The Arab rulers in Egypt’s neighbourhood got scared of the Morsi government as much as a large section of the Egyptians because of its past. These rulers cannot tolerate anybody in the region — even if he happens to be the Emir of Qatar — financially or otherwise supporting the radical Muslim Brotherhood. What has happened against Qatar was bound to come about owing to the kingdom’s allegedly sympathetic attitude towards the dreaded Brotherhood.