QATAR: Father Doesn’t Know Best

AHMAD ALKHUZAM WRITES – Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qardawi recently finagled his way onto Qatar state television to blast the United Arab Emirates for opposing Islamic influence in the region. (Yes, it’s complicated. Something like a Canadian getting on Mexican TV to blast the U.S.)

What’s not complicated is the threat that the UAE and other regional monarchies see in the Brotherhood, with its relatively egalitarian and civil society messages. These countries have been cracking down on the Brotherhood for many years, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE recently pledged $12 billion to the Egyptian government as a (none dare call it) reward for the coup that ousted Egypt’s Brotherhood-backed president.

The UAE’s State Security Court recently sentenced 30 Brotherhood advocates who tried to create a local branch to between three months and five years in prison. It’s a slightly different story in Kuwait, which while always standing behind Saudi leadership in foreign matters, has nonetheless officially recognized the well-organized Brotherhood in Kuwait.

The position of Qatar was very clear, especially through its prominent Arab news agency Al Jazeera. The broadcast agency plays an essential part in Qatari foreign policy, and it dominated the Middle East’s news sector before the Saudi rival Al Arabiya was established. While Al Jazeera openly supported the Brotherhood’s rise to power, Al Arabiya supported its collapse.

Moreover, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has usually followed similar foreign positions since their respective regimes’ survival depends on one another. Qatar, on the other hand (also a part of the GCC), saw an opportunity in gaining regional influence as the Brotherhood rose. Saudi Arabia has always played the role of the leading father, forcing Qatar to take an indirect stand against the council.

Although it did not end the way the Qataris hoped, the Brotherhood is still an influential force, and their alliance can be very beneficial for both. They may not be political geniuses, but the Brotherhood has perfected ways to gain power through civil society, unions, and the educational sector. There were rumors that the new Qatari leadership expelled al-Qardawi, in June of last year, but were found to be false.

Qatar still sees beneficial ties in this relationship. As the Brotherhood’s influence spreads through the country, it can serve as a legitimizing force for the monarchy. After all, the Wahhabis have had a power-sharing reign with the House of Saud for decades. Qatar may be looking to do the same, but with a modern twist. Nevertheless, the relatively progressive Brotherhood is feared to be a destabilizing rival of the Wahhabi movement as they are more open to modernizing. That is problematic for the GCC monarchies as a whole since the Wahhabi movement has long served as the backbone for these regimes.

al-Qardawi’s comments, which were made at a mosque in Doha, angered the UAE leadership. The government summoned the Qatari ambassador after the UAE Foreign minister claimed that, “It is shameful that we allow al-Qaradawi to continue his insults of the UAE and the ties (that bind) the peoples of the Arabian Gulf.”

Qatar may be gambling with its foreign policy in the region, but the gamble may be worth it in terms of stabilizing and empowering the monarchy.

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