(Reuters) – The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists.
While the ruling families in the Gulf are currently vital U.S. allies who buy large amounts of American military hardware and facilitate a significant U.S. military presence, some are apprehensive Washington may apply pressure on them to accommodate Islamists who could end up challenging their exclusive rule.
In a number of colorful online outbursts, Dubai’s outspoken police chief Dhahi Khalfan has warned of an “international plot” to overthrow Gulf systems of government with Western complicity. The Brotherhood, manipulated by the United States, is working to take over the Gulf by 2016, he said.
“Today the Americans are mobilizing the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab nation, for the benefit of America, not the Arabs,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday. “There is an American plan that has been drawn up for the region.”
Though Khalfan insists his tweets are his personal views, analysts and diplomats say they reflect largely unspoken concerns among the United Arab Emirates’ ruling elite about the regional popularity of the Islamists and the possibility that the West will sympathize with them as political underdogs.
They also reflect fears among the region’s Sunni Muslim rulers that, despite being Sunni itself, the Brotherhood is soft on their arch enemy Shi’ite Iran. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi tried to dissipate such fears at a Tehran conference last week by condemning Iran’s ally Syria and urging attendees to back rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite pockets of Western-style liberalism in cities like Dubai, most Gulf ruling elites seek to project an image of Islamic conservatism.
So the threat they see is not religious or social but political: the Brotherhood advocates playing by the rules of parliamentary politics as a path to government, threatening inherited rights to rule and state-backed clerical establishments.
An opposition movement that gains ground in Gulf states could perhaps find the U.S. administration newly disposed to speak out in its favor.
Such an opposition has already emerged in the UAE, where more than 50 Islamists linked to Brotherhood thinking have been arrested since late last year. So far Washington has kept mum.
“While the U.S. security umbrella protects the UAE against threats from Iran, Washington would be much more reluctant to support a widespread crackdown against a local opposition movement,” said analyst Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group.
“This is making the political leadership in the UAE much more nervous about domestic threats,” he said.
The Brotherhood also has potential to draw support from Gulf Arabs who may see their countries’ foreign policies as overly pro-Western and are concerned about the social influence of their large Asian and Western expatriate communities.
SEEKING U.S. REASSURANCE
Washington was initially hesitant to openly support the uprisings that toppled Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, partly because of concerns they could bring Islamists to power.
President Barack Obama’s administration has since overcome its reluctance, and has made extensive efforts to engage Egypt’s Brotherhood over the past year.
Analysts say Washington is simply pursuing realpolitik given the new power centers in the region.
“I don’t think the West is keen on having a bunch of Islamists coming to power in the Gulf anytime soon,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute based in Doha. “It’s more the case that Washington is working with who they can work with, because Islamists are in power and they have to be dealt with.”
U.S. officials said privately that they addressed the Gulf’s concerns last year after Mubarak fell and that subsequent conversations have not focused on the issue. They declined to go into specifics.
“Gulf governments realize both the United States and Iran will want to have relations with the new regimes,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior analyst with Cornerstone Global. They just needed to be reassured that those regimes’ gain was not their loss, he said.
Diplomats said they were confident that building good ties with the Brotherhood was unlikely to strain the long-term strategic relationship between the U.S. and Gulf states.
“They (the Gulf states) need the Americans to protect them against Iran. Iran is the biggest worry for them in the whole region right now,” one Gulf-based Western diplomat said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
YES, BUT …
Still, rumblings persist.
Saudi Arabia, which has long seen itself as insulated from political Islam because of its promotion of more conservative Salafi Islam, is feeling less secure these days, said Abdulaziz Alkhamis, a London-based Saudi analyst.
“After the Arab Spring they (the Islamists) are rising again. They start to use Islamist political rhetoric to gain publicity in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Prominent clerics such as Awadh al-Garni and Salman al-Odah, viewed as sympathetic to the Brotherhood, have become more outspoken, cheering Islamist gains in social media.
Brotherhood-linked Islamists are well-established in Kuwait, where parliamentary politics is most advanced in the Gulf. And in Bahrain the government has drawn closer to the Minbar party, another group inspired by the Brotherhood, as it shores itself up against a protest movement dominated by Shi’ite Islamists.
The angst over what the United States plans for the region is at its most public and visceral in Bahrain, whose government Obama has urged to enter dialogue with leading Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq, citing the group by name.
Sunni clerics and commentators in official media regularly raise the fear that Washington, currently at odds with Tehran over its nuclear program, is plotting to create a Wefaq-led government in a regional reordering of power that would open a new page of cozy ties with Iran.
TV presenter Sawsan al-Shaer denounced a “Satanic alliance” between Tehran and Washington in an article in the al-Watan daily last month, claiming Wefaq was a “Trojan horse, used by the U.S. administration and Iranian regime to redraw the region.”
The wild card in the region is Qatar. It has actively promoted the Brotherhood and its affiliates, giving them coverage widely seen as positive on its satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera.
At an early stage in the uprisings Doha stuck its neck out much further than other Gulf states in its support for protests in Egypt and Tunisia, and then rebel movements in Libya and Syria, supporting those among them close the Brotherhood.
Earlier this year the Dubai police chief railed against Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a popular Brotherhood-linked Egyptian cleric based in Doha who criticized UAE policy towards Islamists on Al Jazeera. Khalfan threatened to arrest the cleric if he ever entered the country.
Alkhamis said opinion in Saudi Arabia was split over whether Qatar’s close links to the Islamists was a smart move to keep a close eye on a rising movement whose historical time has come, or a ruse to sow discord for its neighbor and sometime rival.
“The Qataris say that if we don’t have the Brotherhood (operating) openly then they will go underground and that it’s not against Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are not happy with this,” Alkhamis said pointing to Qatar-backed Islamist seminars. “Some think the Qataris are not an honest friend, but have an agenda.”
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Sonya Hepinstall)
- Dubai police chief warns of Muslim Brotherhood threat (dailystar.com.lb)
- Egypt’s Outreach to China and Iran Is Troublesome for U.S. Policy Makers (jafrianews.com)
- ‘Brotherhood’ threatens Gulf (arabtimesonline.com)
Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan, Dubai’s police chief was quoted yesterday in an interview published in the Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas as saying that the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist force that emerged after the Arab Spring, is plotting to take over Gulf countries.
“My sources say the next step is to make Gulf governments (their ruling families) figurehead bodies only without actual ruling. The start will be in Kuwait in 2013 and in other Gulf states in 2016,” Khalfan said.
Khalfan sparked a controversy after threatening earlier this month to arrest renowned Islamic scholar and leading Brotherhood figure, Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi, for criticising the United Arab Emirates for deporting Syrian protesters.
Reacting to the developments in the UAE, Mahmoud Ghazlan, Spokesman of Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the arrest warrant for Dr Al Qaradawi, Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
Challenging the UAE establishment, Ghazlan said: “The United Arab Emirates cannot dare to arrest Sheikh Al Qaradawi. It is just a physiological war and propaganda. The cleric cannot be arrested.”
Meanwhile, the UAE government has asked the Egyptian authorities to explain its stand on the statement of Ghazlan.
Notably, Dr Al Qaradawi recently criticised the decisions of UAE government to cancel the residency permit of Syrian expatriates for staging protests against Syrian regime in Emirates and withdraw the citizenships of six Islamists who were found involved in terrorism funding.
General Secretary of GCC Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayyan also criticised Ghazlan’s account as an ‘irresponsible statement’.
He added that the statement is also against the efforts of UAE and Egypt to strengthen the bilateral relations.
Khalfan, highlighting the credibility of his statement, said his information is based on “leaks” from Western intelligence sources and said this “had been known to us.”
“If these leaks from Western intelligence were to be correct, by 2016 all Gulf rulers will be just figureheads with no actual power. I am warning Gulf states about these groups”, Khalfan said.
All of the six hydrocarbon-rich GCC member states namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been governed for centuries by ruling families.
Khalfan said the alleged plot will begin in Kuwait because “it is ready more than any other Gulf state… this is a strategy.”
Sunni Islamists made an impressive show in a February 2 snap election in Kuwait, securing more than 20 seats in the 50-member parliament.
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- France launches hunt for Islamic extremists after attacks (vancouversun.com)
- Muslim Brotherhood- History and Ideology (lettingfreedomring.com)
- Kuwait: Ahmad Mansoor, a UAE blogger denied entry (advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org)
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As Egyptian officials prepare to send to trial 19 American democracy and rights workers, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Cairo last week where she suggested Egyptian revolutionaries not use the U.S. Constitution as a model in the post-Arab Spring.
“I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” Ginsburg said in an interview on Al Hayat television last Wednesday. “I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done.”
As Egypt prepares to write a new constitution, Ginsburg, who was traveling during the court’s break to speak with legislators and judges in Egypt as well as Tunisia, spoke to students at Cairo University, encouraging them to enjoy the opportunity to participate in the “exceptional transitional period to a real democratic state.”
Read more: FOX
- Ginsburg to Egyptians: I wouldn’t use U.S. Constitution as a model (foxnews.com)
- USSC Justice Ginsburg To Egyptians: Don’t Model Your Constitution After America’s, It’s Too Old… Try South Africa’s Instead (thedaleygator.wordpress.com)
- Quote of the Day: Why Do You Hate America, Justice Ginsburg? (abovethelaw.com)
- US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Egyptians: Look to the Constitutions of South Africa or Canada, Not to the US Constitution (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)
By Andrew Hammond and Tarek Amara
(Reuters) – Islamists are expected to do well in Tunisia‘s first democratic election Sunday, 10 months after the ouster of autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in a popular uprising that set off protest movements around the Arab world.
The Ennahda party will almost certainly win a share of power after the vote, which will set a democratic standard for other Arab countries where uprisings have triggered political change or governments have tried to rush reforms to stave off unrest.
Sunday’s vote is for an assembly which will draft a new constitution to replace the one Ben Ali manipulated to entrench his power. It will also appoint an interim government and set elections for a new president and parliament.
Polls open at 2 a.m. EDT and close at 2 p.m.
The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man whose self-immolation last December set off the Tunisian revolt, said the elections were a victory for dignity and freedom.
“Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice,” Manoubia Bouazizi told Reuters. “I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.”
Ennahda, banned under Ben Ali who is now in exile in Saudi Arabia, is expected to gain the biggest share of votes. But the Islamist party will probably not win enough to give it a majority in the assembly and will seek to lead a coalition.
The North African country’s elite fear the rise of Ennahda puts their secular values under threat. The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) has centered its campaign on stopping the Islamists, vowing to seek alliances to keep it out of power.
Ennahda has been at pains to assuage the concerns of secularists and Western powers, fielding several women candidates including one who does not wear the hijab, or Muslim head scarf, and promising not to undermine women’s freedoms.
Tunisia was a pioneer of secular modernization among Arab and Muslim countries in the post-colonial period, banning polygamy, equalizing inheritance rights, giving women the right to vote and discouraging the veil.
Fundamentalist Islamists known as Salafists have attacked a cinema and a TV station in recent months over artistic material deemed blasphemous. Ennahda says they have nothing to do with them, but liberals do not believe them.
Observers says Ennahda’s intentions are not clear. Its election campaign has scrupulously avoided offering policy details that mark it out as much different from its rivals.
At a final election rally Friday, Suad Abdel-Rahim, the female candidate who does not wear a veil, said Ennahda would protect women’s gains.
But illustrating the party’s contradictions, many of the books on sale on the fringes of the rally were by Salafist writers who believe women should be segregated from men in public and that elections are un-Islamic.
“In the country’s interior, where it’s more conservative, they use different rhetoric,” said commentator Rachid Khechana. “It’s about stopping culture from outside, moral corruption of youth, defending Islam, which they say has Shura (consultation), not democracy.”
“ARAB SPRING” REPERCUSSIONS
An Ennahda victory would be the first such success in the Arab world since Hamas won a 2006 Palestinian vote. Islamists won a 1991 Algerian election the army annulled, provoking years of bloody conflict.
Ennahda’s fortunes could bear on Egyptian elections set for next month in which the Muslim Brotherhood, an ideological ally, also hopes to emerge strongest.
Libya hopes to hold elections next year after a protest movement that transformed into an armed rebellion with NATO backing managed to oust Muammar Gaddafi. Unresolved violent conflict continues in Syria and Yemen, and many other governments have begun reforms to avoid civil unrest.
With so much at stake, there are concerns that even the smallest doubt over the legitimacy of the Tunisian vote could bring supporters of rival parties onto the streets.
Ennahda’s leader, Muslim scholar Rachid Ghannouchi, riled opponents this week when he described the party as Tunisia’s biggest and warned that the Tunisian people would start a new uprising if they suspected any poll rigging.
Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi said in a televised address Thursday that Tunisians should vote without fear of violence or cheating, a feature of Ben Ali’s police state.
“No one can doubt the elections, they will be transparent and clean. Rigging will not be possible. The ballot boxes will be open to everyone,” Sebsi said.
The government says 40,000 police and soldiers are being deployed to prevent any protests escalating into violence. Shopkeepers say people have been stockpiling milk and bottled water in case unrest disrupts supplies.
- Tunisian Islamists to do well in first “Arab Spring” vote – Reuters (news.google.com)
- Tunisian Poll To Provide Bellwether For Arab Spring (npr.org)
- Tunisia to vote in historic poll (bbc.co.uk)
- Campaigning ends for Tunisia’s first free elections (ctv.ca)
- Pride, tears as Tunisians in Canada vote in first ‘real’ election (thestar.com)
- Enthusiasm builds for Tunisia’s 1st free elections (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
By Peter Apps
(Reuters) – The uprisings that swept the Middle East this year have cost the most affected countries more than $55 billion, a new report says, but the resulting high oil prices have strengthened other producing countries.
A statistical analysis of International Monetary Fund (IMF) data by political risk consultancy Geopolicity showed that countries that had seen the bloodiest confrontations — Libya and Syria — were bearing the economic brunt, followed by Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen.
Between them, those states saw $20.6 billion wiped off their gross domestic product and public finances eroded by another $35.3 billion as revenues slumped and costs rose.
But as the major oil producers such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait avoided significant unrest — often through increasing handouts as oil prices rose — they saw their GDP grow. Oil prices rocketed from around $90 a barrel of Brent crude at the start of the year to just short of $130 in May before retreating to around $113 now.
“As a result, the overall impact of the ‘Arab Spring’ across the Arab realm has been mixed but positive in aggregate terms,” the report estimated, saying overall the year to September saw some $38.9 billion added to regional productivity.
Libya looks to have been the worst affected, with economic activity across the country — including oil exports — halted at an estimated cost to GDP of $7.7 billion, or more than 28 percent. Total costs to the fiscal balance were estimated at $6.5 billion, roughly 29 percent of gross domestic product.
In Egypt, nine months of turmoil eroded some 4.2 percent of gross domestic product with public expenditure rising to $5.5 billion just as public revenues fell by $75 million.
HANDOUTS NOT REFORM?
In Syria, where protests have continued throughout the year in the face of a bloody crackdown, the impact is hard to model but early indications suggested a total cost to the Syrian economy of some $6 billion or 4.5 percent of GDP.
The report said the number of Yemenis below the poverty line was expected to be pushed above 15 percent as a result of currency falls and protracted unrest. Total cost to the economy was estimated at 6.3 percent of GDP, with the fiscal balance deteriorating by $858 million, 44.9 percent of GDP.
Tunisia, where the protests began in late 2010, lost some $2.0 billion from its GDP, roughly 5.2 percent, with negative impacts across almost all sectors of the economy including tourism, mining, phosphates and fishing. Tunisia’s government increased expenditure by some $746 million, pushing its fiscal balance some $489 million into the red.
Saudi Arabia’s newly instituted handouts and wider public investment program, the report estimated, amounted to some $30 billion — perhaps seen by the kingdom’s rulers as a way of avoiding real reform. But increased oil prices and production helped boost gross domestic product by more than $5 billion and push up public revenues by $60.9 billion.
In Bahrain, oil helped cushion the impact of weeks of protest, with the fall in GDP relatively low at some at 2.77 percent. Public expenditure rose some $2.1 billion, partly because of cash transfers of $2,660 to each family.
None of these steps, the report argued, addressed the underlying causes behind the unrest. A better solution, it said, was much broader international support through the G20 or United Nations aimed at much wider reform.
- Arab Spring upheaval ‘cost $55bn’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Foreign direct investment for Arab region expected to fall; Iraq projected to double (thecurrencynewshound.com)