The Muslim Brotherhood, aka the Society of the Muslim Brothers, is a religious and political organization. It emerged from an Islamic modernization effort in Egypt and grew to a powerful grass roots religious social movement throughout the Arab world, which gave a start to the numerous offspring. The movement has it representatives in many Muslim countries on the government level, while in some other states it is even condemned for terroristic activity. Generally, the branches of the Muslim Brotherhood are active in Arab countries. While their activity may vary depending on the conditions in the particular country, they all implement the Pan-Islamic vision of their mother organization. The United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait present three examples of how this movement developed in the Gulf countries. The present essay will try to find the explanation for the rapid expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood, specific reasons for its popularity and features of its activity in the UAE, the KSA, and Kuwait, its role in the recent events in the Gulf, and its current position in these countries.
Roots of the Muslim Brotherhood
The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood roots in the Islamic fundamentalism branch Sunni Islam. Hassan Al-Banna, a teacher in Cairo, founded the Society of the Muslim Brothers in 1928. He saw in Islam a comprehensive way that had to penetrate all spheres of life. Al-Banna dreamed of restoring the traditional values and eliminating Western influences. He aimed at the cancellation of the Egyptian secular constitution of 1923 and creation of an Islamic state. Al-Banna planned to follow the pattern set by the Saudi Wahhabis that opposed to the British rule and restored fundamentalist Islamic values (Servold, 2003).
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Servold (2003) distinguished five stages in the development of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It is important because the mother organization imprinted the ideology to all its branches.
1. 1928-1940 the period of growth when the movement involved members through education and charity.
2. 1940-1948 rapid expansion, with over 5000 branches in Egypt and abroad. The movement becomes more militant, its members instigate the riots.
3. 1948-1953 participation in revolutionary movements, Nassers military coup and fight against the British occupation of Suez Canal. The MB embraces violent methods.
4. 1954-1981 confrontation with Nassers regime and outlawing of the organization. A short reconciliation under Sadat, and new repressions.
5. 1981-2011 return to political methods of influence and forming an opposition movement.
While Servolds analysis does not cover recent years, it is reasonable to distinguish two more periods:
6. 2011-2012 the so-called Arab Spring, Egyptian revolution, and victory in democratic elections followed by a political and economic collapse (Pioppi, 2013). Massive murders and arrests of MB supporters after Morsis fall.
Though the Muslim Brotherhood has never positioned itself as a political party, its members in different countries of the Muslim world have created social groups and political parties to promote the vision of the organization. The programs of the branches vary from country to country. However, certain ideological foundation is common to all of them. Partially, the rapid expansion of the organization was possible due to its ideology appealing to the broadest spheres of population.
First, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood was very attractive for those who were unsatisfied with the growing British influence in the East, westernization of the secular life, corruption of power, decay of traditional values, and decline of religious significance of Islam.
Second, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood appealed to those who sought for reformation of religious life and fulfillment in faith. The movement, however, rejects a secularist approach that limits religion to personal relation with creator. Instead, it embraces a holistic approach that makes Quran a cornerstone of religious and secular life and Shariah the foundation of state and legislation. The founder of the organization formulated its motto as follows: God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Quran our constitution, Jihad our way and dying for Gods cause our supreme objective (as cited in Servold, 2003, p. 41). Thus, the Brotherhood demonstrates conservative views and wishes to implement Shariah and Hadith as a comprehensive basis of society.
Third, the Muslim Brotherhood attracts masses by social activity and charity. It opens schools and hospitals that are certainly beneficent for the community. In such a way, charity helps to win a popular support among common people. At the same time, a strong educational component spreads Islamization to the lower and middle classes.
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Therefore, it is not surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood gained a wide popular support. In fact, it stimulated the revolutionary movement in Egypt and other Muslim countries (Pioppi, 2013). The Muslim Brotherhood was at the spearhead of the Arab Spring and at the beginning acted as a stabilizing force despite its internal diversity. Moreover, since it proclaimed democratic principles, it expressed the intentions of the majority of voters. For many years, the Brotherhood has defended civil liberties, campaigned against the state of emergency and the military courts, and fought against corruption and for the limitation of power of the president.
Spread and Activity of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf
The Gulf States, in particular the Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, have many common features. Namely, their form of government is a monarchy, they are Muslim states, and their welfare rests on the export of crude oil and gas. The countries develop an economic and political cooperation since they are members of the Gulf cooperation Council (GCC). At the same time, there are considerable social and economic differences between them. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood, with its pragmatic flexibility, interacts with the political parties and systems of these states in different ways and with a varying success. Its ideology gave the rise to many organizations, from pro-Arab and Pan-Islamic parties that use legal methods to extremist groups, such as Hamas and Al Qaeda.
The Muslim Brotherhood in the KSA
Saudi Arabia was a long-time supporter of the Muslim brotherhood. From the very beginning, it also followed the same ideological basis. Besides, Hassan al-Banna embraced the principles of society formulated and implemented by the Saudi Wahhabi that also was a branch of Sunni fundamentalists (Servold, 2003). The support and financing of the Egyptian Brotherhood is also explained by political reasons. Saudi Arabia and Egypt were in hostile relations that sharpened occasionally. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia became the place of refuge for the MB adherents from Egypt, Syria, and other states.
The Muslim Brotherhood penetrated to the KSA in 1954, when thousands of Brothers fled from persecution of Nassers regime in Egypt. Saudi Arabia has just started its economic growth after the discovery of oil in the region. At the same time, overwhelming majority of the population was illiterate, and richer families sent their sons to Cairo or Beirut for better education. King Faisal welcomed conservative teachers and scholars. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood occupied the educational system of Saudi Arabia (House, 2012). Gradually, the Brotherhood spread its ideas among the population of the KSA, both to the impoverished rural regions and the highest intellectual circles.
Meanwhile, King Faisal generously supported the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. The KSA rulers wanted to restrain Arab nationalism of Egyptian president Nasser. The confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Egypt occasionally came to military phase, as it happened during the civil war in Yemen. Since MB formed a strong, though an outlawed opposition to Nasser, this support was a state matter (House, 2012).
As the Muslim Brotherhood within Saudi Arabia chose a militant direction, the Saudi ruling family perceived it as a threat. Meantime, in 1981, when Muslim Brotherhood in Syria suffered violent repressions from the Syrian government for its terroristic activities, around 800,000 brethren and their supporters found refuge in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon (Servold, 2003). Moreover, the flow of immigrants from Syria has currently increased because of the Syrian crisis. Thus, legal and illegal immigration of MB sympathizers strengthened the positions of the movement. In addition, young people from poor and illiterate background readily embraced the fundamentalist ideas and joined Al Qaeda or other extremist groups (Dorsey, 2015).
The relations between MB and the Saudi ruling family grew cold since the Gulf War. The Brotherhood supported Iraqs invasion of Kuwait, while the Saudi opposed it and provided its backing to the U.S. anti-Iraq actions. The government saw a particular threat in the organization when it supported demands for political changes in the KSA. As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia was condemned in 2002 as the importers of terrorism (House, 2012). The government realized that limiting radicalism and reversing young Saudis from the militant path is vital for survival of the state and preservation of power of the royal family. Further, government concerns grew after the Arab Spring of 2011 though there were the protests only in Eastern Province (Lacroix, 2014). Hence, Arabia did not lend support to the democratically elected President Morsi who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Lastly, in 2014, Saudi government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait
Kuwait is another rentier state that gets its profits from the export of crude oil. Currently, it faces serious challenges connected with lack of diversification of economy, massive amount of immigrants and persons of unknown identity. Besides, its stability is under the threat, because of the rise of radical Islamism in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood has gone a similar way from the accord with the ruling family to the opposition. However, in Kuwait, it demonstrates another pattern of relation with the state and a modified political program. Moreover, the relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and its Kuwaiti branch became controversial after the Gulf war, when MB at first disapproved Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but then embraced its popular anti-American moods. Admittedly, the Kuwaiti MB organization is the largest and the most influential in the Gulf (Freer, 2015).
The first branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait was founded in 1951 and called Islah. Like everywhere in the Gulf, in the first decades it enjoyed full support of the ruling family. The members of the Brotherhood took high offices in the Ministries.Especially, they had a particularly strong influence in education where they formed a curriculum that persists until now (Freer, 2015). Besides, the society promoted and implemented such reforms as importing a ban on alcohol in 1965 and restriction of nationality to Muslims in 1982 (Freer, 2015).
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The Kuwaiti branch participated in parliamentary elections in 1981 for the first time. Later, it formed a strong political block called the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) or Hadas. While Islah carries out social activities, Hadas struggles for political reform. Currently, the ICM constitutes a larger part of Kuwaiti opposition. Therefore, the Brotherhood demonstrated its political flexibility and pragmatism by allying with other oppositional parties. ICM also shares religious views of the Brotherhood; however, it has changed the focus of its political program from implementation of Shariah as the source of legislation to democratic reform. In addition, Islah declares their national loyalty that prevails over the loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood. It should be noted that the Gulf War tested the allegiance of the Kuwaiti organization to their country. In other words, failure of the mother society of the Muslim Brothers to support the liberation of Kuwait resulted in a formal break with the mother society.
Kuwaiti government does not encourage opposition, and ICM cannot take part in the elections on the legal basis. In 2014, the government tried to banish Islah and announce the Muslim Brotherhood a terroristic organization. However, it continues its activity. Although it has never had a majority of seats in the parliament, ICM forms the blocks with other political parties and, thus influences the legislation process (Freer, 2015). Specifically, the partys popularity reduced after the Arab Spring. For example, in the post-December 2012 vote, the block of Sunni Islamist parties including the ICM won only 14 places in the National Assembly against 23 in the post-February 2012 vote (Katzman, 2013).
The Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates, unlike the KSA and Kuwait, is a multinational country. Its non-Muslim minority forms one-third of the population. Moreover, in its economic policy it went further than its neighbors in direction of diversification did. As the Emirates create a Muslim state on the principles of cultural and racial tolerance (Dorsey, 2015), the radical program of the Brotherhood is in discord with the governments vision.
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Although today the UAE sees political Islam as a threat to the state stability, historically it welcomed the Muslim Brotherhood as well. In 1974, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum sponsored the foundation of MB branch in the Emirates called Al Islah (Dorsey, 2015). The first MB society was created in Dubai followed by branches in Ras al Khaimah and Fujarah. It does never have a permission to settle in Abu Dhabi, and it has a limited representation in Ajman and Sharjah. Namely, only some members of the Brotherhood occupied a high position, especially in the sphere of education and justice.
In the first decades, the activities of the Brotherhood in the UAE were similar to those everywhere in the Gulf. They engaged in social work, education, and promoted Islam. The early Al Islah press in the Emirates was concerned with the development of Islamic education, censorship of Western materials such as magazines and television programs, restriction of the sale of alcohol, corruption in government spending, and the encroachment of foreign (particularly Western) businesses and culture in Emirati society (Freer, 2015). However, in the early 80s, MB started positioning itself as a political opposition to Islamic principles. The Emirati government perceived it as a threat because of the Brotherhoods influence in educational sphere. To prevent it to become a serious opposition force, the UAE government decided to put an end to this organization.
In 1990s, processes and investigation against the UAE Muslim Brotherhood began. Alleged connections with the Egyptian Jihad allowed the government to argue that the aim of the MB is to establish an Islamic state. Moreover, the investigators discovered some shocking pervasiveness of the Brotherhood in the UAE educational system. The government had to dissolve the management of the Abu Dhabi branch of the Brotherhood and suspended its external activity. Though the events affected MB in other Emirates, the extent of restrictions differed. For example, the Sheikh of Ajman sympathized with the organization for its role in preservation of youth (as cited in Freer, 2015, p. 13).
The terrorist attack of 9/11 launched a new wave of investigations. In 2002, over 250 followers of the Islamic movement were arrested; by 2004, most of them were set free (Freer, 2015). However, the UAE Muslim Brotherhood felt pressure from the state structures. For example, Islamists were arrested, persecuted, and harassed in various ways. The Brotherhood members had to stop teaching in the countrys universities. In 2012, all branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE were closed. Currently, the UAE considers MB to be a terrorist organization (Freer, 2015).
The Muslim Brotherhood reached the Gulf countries with political emigrants from Egypt in the early 1950s. In all the three countries the KSA, Kuwait, and the UAE it had a full support from the government in the first decades. The MB members developed the system of education in the countries and many of them held ministerial positions. As the organization became clearly oppositional and entered the politics, it became a target for the governments. Moreover, the Brotherhood compromised itself as the inspirer of Islamic terrorism. As a result, the Society was outlawed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Kuwaiti Brotherhood, in its turn, diverged from the Pan-Islamic goals of the mother organization and broke the ties with it. Instead, it engaged in pro-democratic political activity.