Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood today is the political group that calls the shots, affecting not only Egypt but also countries where the organization has active chapters. Contrary to popular belief, it could be argued that the Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt wasn’t necessarily a good thing for its regional affiliates.
During one of his multiple inauguration ceremonies, President Mohammed Morsy pledged that Egypt would not “export the revolution” nor would it interfere in other countries’ affairs. The pledge was immediately welcomed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that has launched a severe crackdown on political Islamists believed to be affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The recent rapid deterioration of Egypt’s relationship with the UAE culminated with the summoning of the UAE ambassador to Egypt, something that has never happened in the four decades since relations were established. The row was a result of critical comments made about Yusuf al-Qaradawi by Dahi Khalfan, the police chief of Dubai. A childish tit-for-tat followed between both sides, which escalated when Mahmoud Ghozlan, the official spokesman for the Brotherhood, said the entire Muslim world would “move against the UAE.” Regardless of the hyperbole, the fact is the Brotherhood today is the chief political force in Egypt and statements made by their spokesmen affect the entire country. Perhaps as a result, the crackdown on the UAE Brotherhood members only got stronger.
In Jordan, a planned visit by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to its Egyptian counterpart to mediate over the stalled Egyptian gas exports to Jordan caused embarrassment for both sides. It was odd for a Jordanian opposition group such as the Brotherhood to mediate in such a sensitive matter on behalf of the kingdom. Interestingly, however, the announcement that Egypt would resume pumping gas to Jordan was made by Zaki Bani Rasheed, deputy leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood. The episode gives the impression that there are two parallel states at play here, the official state and the Brotherhood state.
Furthermore, I have been specifically told by more than one Gulf official that much of the apprehension about assisting the Syrian rebels comes from the fear that the experience with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would be replicated in Syria. The Egyptian Brotherhood’s sidelining of non-Islamists in their political decisions and appointments has raised red flags about the group’s commitment to sharing power.
In Kuwait, the Muslim Brotherhood is still reeling from the mother organization’s decision back in 1990 not to back a Western force to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, and demanded that Western forces withdraw from the Gulf. The Kuwaiti Brotherhood are accused today of sponsoring a brigade under the Free Syrian Army’s command, named after Saddam Hussein — a highly sensitive issue that naturally intensifies the anti-Brotherhood sentiments in Kuwait.
In the Maghreb region, the BBC’s Libya correspondent spoke to numerous voters prior to the elections for the General National Assembly who had voted for the independent National Forces Alliance, rather than the Brotherhood-affiliated party. Many have said that they were affected by the Brotherhood’s actions in Egypt and Tunisia where the “Islamists hijacked the Arab Spring” and that they were “tired of preachers.”
Ironically, those who were hoping the most for a Brotherhood victory in Egypt are the most disappointed today. Many news outlets reported cheers in Gaza when Morsy was announced as president of Egypt. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum had said, “The Egyptian nation did not elect a president just for Egypt, but for Arab and Islamic nations too.” A few months on, there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate. The border restrictions haven’t been lifted, and Gaza’s “allies” in Egypt destroyed the tunnels that the Gazans depended on for their livelihood — tunnels that had survived the despotic Mubarak years. “I think it’s a mistake that some people expected a lot from the new political regime (in Egypt),” Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister finally said, breaking the Gazan government’s long weeks of silence.
In fact, it was Qatar who moved faster in Gaza than its Brotherhood allies. In the past few weeks, Qatar has opened a diplomatic office in Gaza, announced the financing of over a quarter of a billion dollars of infrastructure in the besieged strip, and announced a visit by its Emir to the strip. By early October, Hamas’s frustration with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood led them to remove a giant poster depicting Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh with Morsy, replacing it with one that read “Thank you, Qatar.”
The Brotherhood has done extremely well in Egypt, Tunisia and even in Morocco, but their momentum seems to have slowed down. It is time now for the Egyptian Brotherhood to turn their attention towards the pressing issues that Egyptians are facing such as unemployment, tourism, health and education. Rather than coalesce with regional affiliates, Egypt’s Brotherhood needs to streamline their message, cut down on unnecessary rhetoric and dual language and get to work on rebuilding their country. After all, Egypt’s Ikhwan should soon realize that what’s good for the Brotherhood is not necessarily good for Egypt, but rather, what’s good for Egypt is good for its Brotherhood.
Sultan al-Qassemi is a commentator on Arab affairs based in the United Arab Emirates.
This article was originally published by Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.