After being booted from Qatar, what's next for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood?
After seven MB leaders were asked to leave Qatar, experts disagree on whether the move is the first of more to come or just an attempt by Qatar to remove itself from media scrutiny over Islamist alliance. (AFP/File)
After president Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July 2013, many Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters fled Egypt to Qatar, a safe haven amid an ongoing crackdown against Islamists back home.
However, last week news came from Doha that the Qatari state had asked seven leading members and outspoken supporters of the Brotherhood to leave the country: Mahmoud Hussein, Amr Darrag, Gamal Abdel-Sattar, Essam Teleima, Ashraf Badr El-Din, Wagdy Ghoneim and Hamza Zawbaa.
The news was first announced on the Al-Arabia news website and Anadolu News agency, both considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Darrag, a leading Brotherhood figure as well as minister of international cooperation under Morsi, wrote on Facebook that they had "honoured the request" to go so as to avoid "causing any embarrassment" for Qatar. He added that the Gulf state had been "a very welcoming and supportive host" – especially with regards to Egypt's "revolution against the military junta."
Ghoneim, an outspoken and controversial preacher and also Brotherhood member who has lived in Qatar since 2005, said in a video he posted on YouTube that he left Doha to avoid "embarrassment" for his "beloved Qatar."
Continued relations between the Qatari royal family and Islamists – including the Muslim Brotherhood – since the 1990s meant that the Gulf state operated as a safe haven for Islamists fleeing Egypt after the July 3 ouster of Morsi.
While in Qatar, the Brotherhood figures and sympathisers took to Doha-based Al Jazeera network to voice their protests against the post-Morsi government in Egypt and to rail against last summer's events as a coup.
Egypt has repeatedly called on Qatar to halt what they considered an incitement to violence via the broadcasts – and to also demand Doha hand over Islamists facing arrest warrants in Egypt.
But, for over a year, Doha ignored Cairo's calls, causing relations between Egypt and Qatar to deteriorate.
Al Jazeera Misr has since been banned and all political ties between the two countries were severed, as Egypt recalled its ambassador to Doha.
Moreover, former president Morsi, Qatar's onetime strong ally in Cairo, is currently standing trial on treason charges for selling Egypt's national security secrets to Qatar – one of many trials he has faced since his ouster.
Some political analysts attribute the recent change in Qatari policies towards the Brotherhood to warming relationships between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Following a GCC meeting in late August, in a sign Qatar was ready to heed some of the GCC and Egypt's demands regarding the Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they would be returning their ambassadors to Doha after recalling them in the spring.
Others are less convinced.
"The relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar is stronger than it may appear. What Qatar did, in expelling a couple of famous faces from the Muslim Brotherhood, is just a way to (diffuse) some of the pressures of other countries in the GGC," Ahmed El-Ban, a researcher on Islamist movements, told Ahram Online.
Earlier, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain called on the fellow Gulf state to expel leading Brotherhood figures and tone down Al Jazeera's broadcasts. Gulf media even circulated reports of possible economic sanctions being imposed on oil-rich Qatar by its GCC peers.
This spring, to increase pressure on Doha, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE blacklisted the Brotherhood on their own soil and declared it a terrorist group, following Egypt's designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation last December.
On the other hand, political analyst and researcher on Islamist movements Ammar Ali Hassan believes the change of heart in Qatar relates to the ongoing war on terrorism – specifically against the militant group known as the Islamic State – to be led by the US.
"There is a change in American policy towards Islamist movements in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of its war against the Islamic State," Hassan told Ahram Online.
"Of course, as Qatar is the US's biggest ally in the region and one that is implementing its policies, it had to change its policies towards Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood."
Hassan also hinted that Gulf states, including Qatar, are facing direct threats from IS right now.
Nevertheless, Hassan believes Qatar won't immediately abandon its longstanding support for the Brotherhood but will rather do so gradually.
"Qatar still needs the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, including the local Muslim Brotherhood group who are actually influential in Qatari society," Hassan said.
El-Ban also believes Qatar will not stop supporting the Brotherhood.
"Already those seven expelled Muslim Brotherhood figures cannot be considered among the decision makers in the group – except for Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary-general of the Brotherhood in Egypt, who I believe was replaced by someone secretly," El-Ban said.
Speculation has grown that as many as 70 other Brotherhood members and supporters will also be asked by Doha to leave Qatar.
However, a source close to the Brotherhood in Qatar told Ahram Online that so far only the seven figures were asked to leave, and that there has been no talk on the ground of an additional Brotherhood exodus from Qatar.
There has also been speculation on where the seven will go after Qatar, especially since some of them are wanted on charges in Egypt. Three countries are expected to be their next safe haven: the UK, Turkey and Malaysia.
Both the UK and Turkey already host significant communities of Brotherhood members and leading figures – especially the UK, which has no extradition agreement with Egypt and a long-established Brotherhood community.
Nevertheless, not all leading Brotherhood figures can head to the UK. Ghoneim, for example, has been placed on the British Home Office’s list of individuals banned from the UK for stirring up hatred and calling for terrorist acts.
Another obstacle facing the Brotherhood-in-limbo is the British government's inquiry into the group's activities in the UK. This week, the Daily Telegraph reported that the British government was moving to restrict the activities of the Brotherhood in the UK.
However, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan told reporters on Monday on his way to Doha that the exiled Brotherhood figures could find refuge in his country if they requested it, and that there were no legal obstacles to Turkey hosting them. Indeed, on the same day, Al Jazeera Turk TV reported that Darrag had already arrived in Turkey.
Egypt's relations with Turkey have deteriorated after Morsi's ouster, with the Egyptian government accusing Turkey of supporting the Brotherhood, and Erdogan, then prime minister, openly attacking the new Egyptian government, calling the ouster of Morsi a coup.
"Regardless of what is claimed in the media, the Brotherhood will not send its leading figures to one country only. It prefers to spread them all over the six continents," El-Ban said, adding that Brotherhood's organisational hierarchy and bylaws allow the group to expand and act in transnational ways.
According to Hassan, the expulsions are a significant negative development for the Brotherhood and will force the group to reconsider its policies in the coming period.
"Now the Muslim Brotherhood understands that its host countries can turn against them and abandon them at any given moment. They have no other option but to revise their policies and strategies," he said.
Hassan also believes the Brotherhood has reached a point of unprecedented weakness in Egypt's streets – which will increase after the recent expulsions, he says.
He predicts second-tier leaders and youths within the group calling for "change, revision, and new policies, contrary to the old leading members of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood youth already demand new faces, instead of the old leading figures that failed miserably in the last two years."
This was echoed earlier this month by Ibrahim Mounir, secretary-general of the Brotherhood in London, who said in an interview with Masr Al-Arabia news website – deemed to be close to the group – that internal revisions had been made in recent months – without specifying whether they related to strategy or organisation.
Mounir also said that six young Brotherhood members had been promoted to the Guidance Office – an unprecedented move in the 86-year-old group.
El-Ban sees all this as proof that the "the Brotherhood will change its ways, including the language it uses in the media."
He points to recent statements issued from the Brotherhood-led National Coalition to Support Legitimacy which have used revolutionary expressions and the language of leftist parties, focusing on workers' rights and economic conditions rather than their usual brazen Islamist anti-government rhetoric.
"The Brotherhood is originally a conservative reformist group that does not believe much in revolutionary change. That created a problem for it in the last three years and alienated it from other revolutionary political forces," he added.
"Now that they are using revolutionary rhetoric, you know that all other political roads are closed in front of them," El Ban said.
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