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On the UK report into the Muslim Brotherhood 28, April 2014

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, UK.
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ikh

 

There is no certain truth as to what the Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan) is, what it represents, or what its ultimate goals are. Instead, its history is one of bifurcation after bifurcation, with differing ideologues promoting differing modus operandi for differing goals. One’s views on the Ikhwan are instead predominately determined by one’s perceptions, which inevitably stem from circumstance and context: what you say depends on where you sit. For the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) the Ikhwan is a diverse actor that is difficult to pin down, while according to a former head of the UK’s foreign security intelligence service MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, it is ‘at heart terrorist organisation”. Under pressure from middle eastern allies deeply concerned at the rise of the Ikhwan, the UK government has come under pressure to either brand the organization illegal or at least clamp down on its activities. David Cameron’s recently announced investigation into the organization’s activities in the UK thus faces a difficult job summing up this nebulous organization.

The Ikhwan’s roots

Historically, the emergence of the Ikhwan is relatively straight-forward to track, at least compared to the theological and conceptual divisions that emerged as the twentieth century progressed. Hassan Al Banna founded the Ikhwan in 1928. Initially, he was more of a scholar, an author and a poet. The organization he ran worked closely with the Egyptian Monarchy to avoid being repressed. It used educational outreach both formally (schools and mosques) and informally (establishing clubs and social organizations) to spread its word, while its social aspects ranging from establishing health clinics to running sports clubs, were to be a feature of its success. By the late 1940s, this tactic had accrued approximately half a million followers in Egypt and its influence had spread throughout the region.

Indelible to the Ikhwan’s ideology was an anti-Colonial streak. This motivating factor, spurred on by increasing repression, prompted the creation of a specialized military wing, the Special Apparatus; essentially a paramilitary organization. The activities of this wing, which included assassinations, poisoned an already worsening relationship with the government and exacerbated the cycle of repression, relaxation, and repression; a feature of the Ikhwan and its governmental relations to this day.

Al Banna was killed in 1949 and though Hassan Al Hudaybi took over as the second ‘general guide’ it was Sayyid Qutb whose works were to become synonymous with the Ikhwan. Qutb was virulently anti-Colonial and anti-Westernisation, bitterly resenting the perceived Western influences on the Arab World. Spurred on by sporadic incarceration by the Egyptian authorities, his writings became increasingly radical to the point where he summarily rejected any corporeal power coming in between God’s divine rule and ordinary people. Because Governments interfered in this direct link, he reasoned, opposing them in any way possible was ipso facto justified. Qutb’s thought and reason along these lines remains one of the foundational plinths of radical Islam to this day and is an influence for the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda.

Aware that such a trend would lead to the Ikhwan’s permanent marginalization from Egyptian rule, Al Hudaybi eventually issued a riposte. ‘Preachers not Judges’ was released under his name but is thought of as collective work by a range of scholars. It sought to undercut Qutb’s logic by arguing that governments were a legitimate form of rule and it insisted that declaring someone apostate – i.e. non-Muslim and therefore with Qutb’s logic without rights of protection – was infinitely more complex than Qutb’s simplistic logic. Though Qutb’s ideas have been expressly rejected by the Ikhwan leadership, his works remain in the Ikhwan canon of literature; a paradox that concerns many to this day. Indeed, though jurisprudential and theological arguments have evolved, this Qutb-Hudaybi dividing line remains at the base of issues concerning the Ikhwan.

Some point to former Egyptian Ikhwan President Mohammed Morsi’s clear policy to avoid undercutting or otherwise changing Egypt’s decades-old policy of normalizing relations with Israel as evident proof that the Ikhwan are prudent rulers; that they are not necessarily hijacked by religious fervor or at the whim of theological demands. Others point to Morsi’s appointment of Adel Assad mayor of Luxor even though Assad was a member of Gamaa Al Islamiyya, a terrorist group that killed 62 people in Luxor in 1997, as proof of the Ikhwan’s real sympathies.

 What you say depends on where you sit

In short, there is no ‘truth’ as to the Ikhwan. It is a group that retains the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Though there may be an official overarching dogma denouncing violence, given the breadth of its support a smorgasbord of beliefs and actions can be found and carried out under its aegis. The Ikhwan’s leadership retain this ambiguity on purpose, to a degree. This allows them to be all things to all men (or women).

One of the central questions surrounding the Ikhwan is whether it is some kind of a conveyor belt to further extremism or a firewall against greater radicalization. The obvious answer is that given its breadth and weight of numbers, both aphorisms are true, yet what is equally certain is that the vast majority of its membership err more towards the Hudaybi school. This fact is underpinned by simple appreciation of the isolated nature of attacks in Egypt and elsewhere in the aftermath of the military coup against Morsi.

This debate and decisions surrounding how to interact with the Ikhwan need nuance. The British government must not allow itself to be pushed into making a stance by allies with a particular calculus and a lack of nuance of their own. The conclusions of this government study into the Ikhwan are important as they may unearth links and other associations that are detrimental to the UK’s security. Yet given the broad nature of the Ikhwan it is difficult to see how it could reasonably act as a foundation for an outright ban. Any such decision would result from a deep shift in HMGs attitude towards the Ikhwan. While such a tough policy would curry favor in key regional capitals, the whiff of HMG dancing to the tune of Middle Eastern autocracies would be nigh-on undeniable.

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The Genesis of Qatar’s Foreign Policy 19, June 2013

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Foreign Policies, Qatar.
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The following article appeared in Sada, Carnegie Middle East’s super online journal under the title ‘Qatar’s Global Bargaining Chips’.

The fundamental thrust of Qatar’s foreign policy stems from two interrelated factors: the limitations of its location and the elite’s appreciation of how best to overcome these constraints. Historically, Qatar has always been a small power among larger ones and this mismatch has forced the ruling elites to seek a range of protective agreements, while maintaining as much autonomy as possible.

The latest incarnation of an external guarantor for Qatar is America, whose protection was sought in the aftermath of the invasion of Kuwait. While Qatar gratefully accepts the US security blanket, its leadership nevertheless assiduously seeks to diversify its dependency on America. Not only does this potentially offer Qatar more freedom of action, lowering its ability to be pressured by the United States, but given that history clearly dictates that each and every suzerain will eventually leave, it is prudent for Qatar to prepare for this eventual possibility.

Qatar’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export strategy is a good example of this; it’s a savvy economic policy, a good use of Qatar’s prodigious gas supplies, and it ties Qatar into the economic-energy nexus of a range of important states around the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2011 Qatar delivered over 2000 million cubic metres of LNG to Belgium, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the US and the UK, while it delivered smaller quantities of LNG to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Greece, Kuwait, and Mexico. This list includes four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and two temporary members. This is a useful set of countries with whom to have an energy relationship.

Countries like the UK, Japan, and China—who receive a significant percentage of their energy needs from Qatar—would be compelled to support the state if its energy security were threatened. In a volatile region where Iran frequently rattles the sabre, often threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, tying such important countries into Qatar’s continued prosperity is important. Similarly, whether Qatar wants support in international forums or with international investments, relations based on deep energy-interdependence can be a stepping stone.

This rationale can also explain to some extent Qatari-Egyptian relations in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution. Before the overthrow of Mubarak, the bilateral relationship was poor with Egypt blocking Qatari initiatives in the Arab League and in peace talks in Darfur, regardless of their merits. Yet now Qatar has restarted its relations using its connections with the Muslim Brotherhood to forge a close relationship with key actors in Egypt’s new elite. Moreover, Qatar has matched its rhetorical support with billions of dollars of aid for Egypt’s economy. By so overtly backing the new government in a time of crisis, for a short time at least the Qatari leadership can expect some combination of support for their diplomatic initiatives and plumb economic investment opportunities. While Qatar will not be buying the Pyramids or the Suez Canal as some scurrilous reports have suggested, it may have the opportunity to invest in the Suez Industrial Zone. Similarly, there are rumors that Qatar may obtain favorable exemptions from investment laws in Egypt in much the same way that it avoided certain property taxes in France.

While it may seem unlikely for a state to operate in such a way and to expect some kind of reciprocity, the Qatari perspective assumes otherwise. Policy is perennially made at the very top of the elite structure and the personal convictions, discussions, and agreements of the Emir can have profound effects on Qatar’s policies.

Indeed, as unfashionable as it is to note the importance of an initial humanitarian impulse, given the personalized nature of Qatari politics, it may have been of key importance when Qatar so assiduously and quickly supported the opposition forces in the Libyan uprising. Yet it is not the only factor in the equation. Aside from potential understandings of reciprocity, Qatar also boosts its image and soft power immensely by being so closely associated with the revolutionary movements, which is a potential boon, both externally and internally. And if Qatar can establish normal or perhaps privileged relationships with the new governments across the region, replacing the previously fraught relationships (i.e. with Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya) then this too may bring economic benefits with greater trade and investment.

The highly personalized nature of Qatar’s politics and foreign policy is why the recent rumored changes in Qatar’s elite (allegedly involving the Emir and the Foreign Minister) are so important. While Qatar’s strategic direction has been set by the Emir, with Qatar resolutely focusing on this international arena, always seeking to involve itself where possible, there is still significant room for personal conviction to alter trajectories. For example, the Crown Prince of Qatar, the son of the Emir and his influential wife, Sheikha Moza, will sooner or later guide Qatar’s policies by himself and has been imbued with the Qatari vision. In the areas where he has had control of policy, notably in the sporting arena and Qatar’s food security project, he has pursued innovative and striking policies, striving to place Qatar in the midst of international discussions and events focusing these topics. Initial assumptions, therefore, can only conclude that while a future Emir Tamim may not have the zeal of his father or the current Foreign Minister to controversially propel Qatar into ever more international incidents, he is unlikely to retrench Qatar’s internationalist position.

The Saudi-Egyptian Causweay 17, July 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Saudi Arabia.
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So plans are vaguely afoot for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, or rather Saudi Arabia, to build a causeway linking the two countries together. What a wonderful joint venture undertaken in the spirit of good, fraternal and long-term friendship.

What, do we think, are the odds of this actually coming to pass; of it actually being built? Snowball’s chance in hell? Accrington Stanley winning the Champion’s League? Me ever finishing my sodding PhD? Sumfin’ like that, methinks.

Egyptian fears realised? 12, July 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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Back when all this started, like a crotchety old git, I bemoaned the perils of Egypt’s transition. Of course it is a good thing that Mubarak is gone, I said to anyone who would listen, but I have a great and profound fear that people automatically expected things to get better…immediately. Sure, Mubarak retarded Egypt’s growth, say, or certainly he and his crony-elite creamed off billions which ought to have trickled down, but simply removing him will change sweet FA in the near term.

The fact that it was a largely youth-led revolution, combined with my crotchetyness, made me even more concerned. I tritely mashed together notions of the MTV generation’s legendary attention span (measured in seconds) and general youth attributes of impatience and impetuousness, to conclude that when everything didn’t suddenly end up smelling like roses immediately, there would be another flare up of indignant anger. Indeed, this chronic youthful naivety was profoundly in evidence at the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha earlier in the year, with at least one of the ‘Egyptian youf’ noting that it was only a matter of time before Pan-Arabism was revived off the back of the Egyptian revolution. Bless.

Well, perhaps my melancholic fear is coming true. While I’m well aware of Fisk’s penchant for exaggeration these days, he perhaps might have a point here.

 

 

Egypt’s Stasi moment 6, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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After the fall of the Berlin Wall the East German secret police headquarters was ransacked, much like is happening now in Egypt. Back then people were staggered at the levels of spying that the secret police had conducted. Something like 1 in 20 Communist Party members was an informant and I even remember people’s ‘odour’ being bottled as some kind of way to track people or for some such silly reason.

The picture below, if it is what it purports to be, carries similar overtones. Who knows what’s next? Apparently there are salacious videos of Kuwaiti Princesses in hotel rooms in Alexandria…mish kways, as they say.

On Egypt’s cancer 24, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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I suppose that everyone has a few topics on which they find it difficult to be balanced and polite. For me, I simply can’t help referring to Libya’s delinquent despot as the idiot Gaddafi. I also find it challenging to be civil about Italy’s joke of a leader. Yet one topic which angers me more than anything is undoubtedly the treatment of women in Egypt.

An odd topic you may think. Clearly I have never personally been affected by the legions of gropers and harassers that throng Cairo. Do I exaggerate? Well, ask any – and when I say any, I really do mean more or less any – woman who has, say, studied Arabic in Cairo for any length of time and you will get a litany of tales; most minor, some serious.

Within 6 hours of arriving in Cairo, one woman in my group of Arabic students had been harassed and groped on the street. She was walking by herself, well covered up, incidentally. Harassment of one form or other is a practically daily hourly occurrence. Actual physical assaults are, of course, rarer but will come eventually.

My wife, to take another example*, went the national museum in Cairo by herself. Having lived in Kuwait for a few years and travelled extensively thought the region, she was covered up in a basically shapeless outfit with her hair somewhat covered by a scarf. At the museum she was followed continuously by the security guards who worked there. They ignored the American tourists bussed in from Sharm in hot pants and skimpy tops, and, instead, decided to pursue her throughout the museum. How this cannot be seen as a predatory trait – going after the woman on her own not skimpliy clad women in groups – I just do not know. She was also physically assaulted on the way back from the museum by a random man in the street.

It is also important to point out that it is most certainly not just foreign women that suffer in this way. Egyptian women suffer day in day out, as I have noted before.

I write this now having just read another report of the attack on CBS’s correspondent last week. I did not write at the time fearing that it would just descend into a rant that looks essentially exactly like this… It turns out that as well as being stripped naked, punched, kicked and nearly raped, she was beaten with flag-poles.

This attack is, of course, of a different order to the attacks that I was referring to earlier. Its motivations are largely from a different place but still there is an underlying evil pathology of epic misogyny at play in Egypt that I have not come close to seeing anywhere else on earth. Were I to have a daughter one day, Egypt is – quite literally – the only place on earth where I would not want her to grow up. I’d take Kim Jong Ill and the lecherous Berlusconi’s rule before subjecting her to living in Cairo.

*For what it’s worth, I had a healthy ire for this topic well before this incident.

 

 

Egypt’s Revolution on Twitter 22, February 2011

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Where were you on the day when… 29, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Egypt.
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At the tender age of 28 years old, I can only really claim to remember two events in the ‘where were you when?’ category. On 11th September 2001 I was about to go to work in the Rusacks Hotel in St. Andrews to confront tens of bewildered and worried Americans and (trivially, by comparison) when Diana died I had just returned from a holiday in Turkey. Somewhat shamefully when the Berlin Wall came down, despite my mum’s protestations that ‘you’ll want to remember this moment’ I was just nagging her to go out as planned.

Perhaps the last week of January 2010 will become one of these synonymous events that reverberates for decades. It is certainly looking that way.

I am not an Egypt expert and do not claim to be so, hence my lack of posting on the topic (though this leaves me in the minority). I will just make a few notes:

– The notion of dominoes falling is ahistorical. We seem to have this inbuilt notion that an event in one country usually cascades around a region. This is simply not the historical record, especially so without any kind of supra-national involvement. However, it seems that the domino effect is actually coming to pass in Egypt. This will be an issue that intrigues Middle Eastern scholars for generations.

– Thus far, so far as I have seen, there has been essentially no Islamist involvement in this proto-Revolution. However, clearly the Muslim Brotherhood have a commanding organization network which will advantage them in the future.

– Al Jazeera’s role in this is interesting. At first they desperately avoided televising the burgeoning revolution. Clearly they were under some kind of orders not to exacerbate tensions by broadcasting events in Cairo and elsewhere. Indeed, there was some kind of accommodation reached by Al Jazeera/Qatar and Mubarak in recent months where many believe it was agreed that Al Jazeera’s coverage of Egypt would be toned down. Only when the elephant in the room reached epic proportions did they then cover it and since they have covered it extremely well.

– To follow events you must follow: @SultanAlQassemi  @nolanjazeera  @arabist  @shadihamid  @bencnn @themoornextdoor

– So where’s next? I’d not be sitting pretty if I were in Jordan and Yemen, that’s for sure. Saudi Arabia? I doubt very much that there are enough angry and unhappy Saudis willing to put in the necessary graft to instigate some kind of reform. Bahrain would be the only other of the GCC countries that I could at all see having issues but there too I’d be surprised if much came of it.

– One of my great fears about these revolutions is that people seemingly automatically expect things to get better. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it is a good thing that Tunisia and Egypt are in the process of seemingly throwing off their dictatorial yoke, but how exactly people think things will ipso facto get better I just don’t understand. Essentially, you can’t eat or pay the rent with democracy.

– Sky news: it’s not Tahir Square, it’s Tahrir Square

The nadir of Egyptian conspiracy theories 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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As many of you will know, the Middle East is riddled with conspiracy theories. Perhaps the general untrustworthiness of the press in the region and the lack of government transparency fosters such a ripe climate for such theories.

The latest one to be doing the rounds states that the recent spate of shark attacks in Egypt is actually some kind of diabolical Mossad plan to destroy Egypt’s tourist industry. This theory was recently given credence by the governor of South Sinai.

Yes. I agree. Words fail.

 

 

 

Egypt & Qatar: a quick background 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Qatar.
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One of thegulfblog’s esteemed readers and frequent commentors asked for a quick background on Qatar and Egypt. So voilà. If anyone else wants any brief background pieces, in case I gloss over things too quickly, please just drop me a line: if I know enough, I’ll give it a go! Thanks:

Nasser in the 50s and 60s made Egypt the most important and leading nation in the Arab world. However, it has been downhill since they were wholly mullered by Israel in 1967 (yanni: beaten very badly). Though nominal pride was restored in 1973, Sadat’s visit to the Knesset in 1977 wholly finished off Egypt as a regional power.

Mubarak and indeed ‘all’ Egyptians long for the time of Nasser; when it mattered what Egypt said and did, when it was the leader. While in recent times they – by virtue of their history and their population size – still try to throw their weight around as if they were preeminent, they are not and what is worse is that they know they are not (and they know that others know that they know that they are not – if you see what I mean);)

So, when little – if not microscopic – Qatar comes along in the late 1990s and hosts a TV channel that repeatedly slams Egypt, they are less than amused. At a profound level, Qatar’s power (growing ever since; at its apogee now) really annoys Egypt as they are in many ways more powerful than ‘mighty’ Egypt. (Why did Al Jazeera repeatedly slam Egypt? Cause it was easy, fun and, most importantly, great, salacious TV).

Egypt’s anger has erupted frequently over Al Jazeera. One of the worst breaks happened in Jan/Feb 2009 when Qatar held parallel peace conferences after Israel’s Cast Lead operation. This was seen by Egypt and other ‘traditional powers’ (Saudi) as this little cheeky state once more trying to usurp the natural order: they didn’t get to call conferences!

(Incidentally, Egypt views Al Jazeera as little more than the publicity department of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs: which is essentially wrong.)

A couple of interesting snippets emerged from the Wikileaks cables. The Emir or HBJ (I can’t remember) said that he believes that Egypt is purposefully not seeking as fast a solution to the Palestinian question as they want to prolong their time ‘in the spotlight’. He also said that he would close Al Jazeera down for a year if Egypt facilitated peace in Palestine!