Two weeks ago, Muslim Brotherhood leaders from across Africa and the Middle East gathered in Istanbul to regroup following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. (Morsi, as I noted previously here, was recruited into the group while studying in the U.S.) But after even more setbacks suffered by the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of countries this past week, another meeting might be in order.
Here’s a rundown of the week’s events:
Egypt: The most prominent example, the MB there rejected calls for reconciliation meetings by the interim government and demanded Morsi’s reinstatement as president before any negotiations. That’s not remotely likely. So that set the stage this week for a game of chicken, with the MB refusing to stand down and Defense Minister Sisi calling for rallies yesterday in support of the interim government, ostensibly to legitimize a crackdown on a terror campaign being waged by Morsi supporters against police and military targets in the Sinai. Of note is the statement last week by a senior MB leader that the terrorist acts would stop when Morsi is reinstated, indicating some degree of MB control over the terror cells.
The result yesterday was massive rallies supporting both sides, predominately backing the new anti-MB government, with as many as 35 million taking the streets in support of the army despite a fatwa issued by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the senior international MB jurist, prohibiting participation in the protests. Those protests led to a series of clashes last night and this morning that have reportedly left dozens dead. Meanwhile, Morsi was charged with murder and other crimes by the new government this week, and will probably be sent to the same prison currently housing former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.
The MB strategy appears to be leveraging the deaths of supporters killed during nearly continuous clashes with the police and army to gain domestic and international sympathy. Yet that doesn’t seem to be happening. Some clashes in which MB supporters were killed have not been with the government, but rather with residents of the areas occupied by the MB protests. And assaults on Egyptian and foreign journalists alike by Morsi supporters and news reports of torture and killing of so-called “infiltrators” at the MB protests aren’t helping either.
And while the MB might have temporarily taken comfort in the Obama administration’s decision this week to halt the transfer of a few F-16 aircraft to the Egyptian military (though the administration continued such military hardware transfers while Morsi declared himself dictator in November and was killing protesters earlier this year), any hopes of backing their “legitimacy” campaign were dashed when administration officials said that no determination will probably be made as to whether Morsi’s ouster was a coup or not, which would trigger sanctions against the Egyptian military under a law passed by Congress last year.
So the MB doesn’t appear to be gaining support, and the majority of Egyptians appear willing to hold their nose over the violence against the MB while the army and the police attempt to create some stability. The result will be an increase in the violence and more deaths, and the low-grade terrorism in the Sinai will also probably escalate into more acts of terrorism, prompting greater crackdowns.
Gaza: Another big loser in Morsi’s overthrow is the Hamas government in Gaza. In recent weeks the Egyptian military has put a stranglehold on trafficking through tunnels, which provides Hamas with considerable funds. A UN estimate this week said that 80 percent of the traffic through the tunnels running from Egypt into Gaza has been shut down. The Hamas economic minister said the Egyptian crackdown has cost the terror group $230 million – one tenth of the gross domestic product of Gaza. Things aren’t likely to improve with the Egyptian government either, as one of the charges against former President Morsi is collaboration with Hamas in his prison escape back in 2011.
Tunisia: The country was rocked on Thursday by the assassination of political opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, an open critic of the ruling Ennahda party’s Islamization policies. The assassination outside Brahmi’s home took place on the country’s Republic Day, so many Tunisians were not at work and began gathering around government buildings in protest. The Ennahda office in Sidi Bouzid – the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” – was torched by protesters.
Many in Tunisia are blaming Ennahda for Brahmi’s murder, particularly because of the inability on the part of the government to bring to justice the assassins of Brahmi’s political partner, Chokri Belaid, who was killed back in February. Reports indicated that the same gun used to kill Brahmi had also been used to kill Belaid. Now protesters are calling for the dissolution of the government led by Ennahda.
A government official this week blamed the assassinations on a cell of Ansar al-Shariah, but it’s not likely that Tunisians are going to buy the attempt by Ennahda to distance itself from the jihadist group. In the past, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi has played a public double game, denouncing Salafists to the Western press, and then colluding with them in private to push Islamization policies. He’s also known for making his own supremacist statements, such as his claim back in November that Islamists would rule the Arab world.
It should be noted that Ghannouchi has been greeted with open arms by top U.S. Islamic groups closely tied to the Obama administration, despite Ghannouchi being subject to a ban on entering the U.S. since the early days of the Clinton administration for terrorist activities until the Obama administration dropped the ban two years ago. Since, he’s been feted on Capitol Hill by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and he was recently the keynote speaker at an event with top Obama Muslim adviser and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) president Mohamed Majid outside D.C.
Libya: A wave of assassinations on Friday included the killing of reformist leader and outspoken MB critic Abdulsalam Musmari, who was killed Friday in Benghazi as he was walking home from his mosque. In what was apparently retaliation for Musmari’s assassination, a mob burned down the MB headquarters in Benghazi as well as the offices of the MB’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP). Protesters also stormed the JCP offices in the capital of Tripoli. Amidst political uncertainty in Libya and attempts by the MB to distance itself from the ongoing assassination campaign, many still blame the JCP of trying to overcome political opposition by murdering their opponents (a familiar claim that is also heard in Tunisia).
Morocco: The ruling MB Party of Justice and Development (PJD) suffered a major blow this week when King Mohammed accepted the resignation of five ministers from the Istiqlal party, the junior coalition member with PJD. Istiqlal’s withdrawal from the government coalition now sets up a cabinet crisis with the potential of PJD not being able to find another coalition partner and the government having to be dissolved and new elections held. So far no other party has been willing to step up to join PJD, with most seeing elections as an opportunity to gain from PJD’s current weakness.
UAE: Three MB Al-Islah members were arrested this week in an ongoing crackdown on the group, which is accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Sixty-eight members were convicted earlier this month on related charges as part of a widespread effort by the government to counteract the group.
As a result, one of Al-Islah’s co-founders has established the Ummah Party from exile in Turkey. It aims to marry al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions with the MB’s country-by-country platform. Ummah Party affiliates have sprung up in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and members are reported to be training with al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
Syria: The Syrian resistance, largely backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, continues to suffer losses this week, including in the strategic city of Homs. Syrian rebel leaders met with Secretary of State John Kerry this week amidst the Obama administration’s “half steps and mixed messages” in support for rebel forces. That frustration spilled over this week as Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Dempsey was grilled before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what the administration intends to do.
Meanwhile, a U.S.-based group dedicated to raising money to arm the Syrian rebels under a special license granted by the State Department last year refused to answer questions this week from investigative reporter Ryan Mauro about its practices. The Syrian Support Group is chaired by former Obama campaign Muslim adviser Mazen Asbahi.
Jordan: King Abdullah was the first head of state to travel to Egypt to meet with the new interim government there, much to the consternation of the MB Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition party that has been reeling from Morsi’s ouster. Abdullah is clearly hoping to capitalize on the Egyptian MB’s downfall to help ease pressure from the IAF, which has been stirring up trouble since last year, even inducing Syrian refugees to join in protest to destabilize the government there. The IAF has also announced plans to boycott elections scheduled for next month.
U.S.: Just weeks after top international MB cleric and terror supporter Sheikh Bin Bayyah was received in the White House, the Obama administration’s reliance on the MB has blown back on them. U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is universally reviled in the country, and Obama’s image is caricatured in protests on both sides. Meanwhile, the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, which has been advising the administration and crafting its disastrous Middle East policy, was well represented at Obama’s White House Iftar dinner this week.
One U.S. MB leader who wasn’t present at the White House or State Department Iftar dinners was former Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) secretary general and president of Imams of America Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who went on trial in absentia this week in Bangledesh for war crimes and genocide during the 1971 war. Khan has been an outspoken supporter of the Ground Zero mosque.
Canada: A report this week revealed that a federal audit of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Development Foundation found that the organization may have sent as much as $280,000 to a jihadist group in the disputed Kashmir region. Now the Canadian Revenue Agency, which conducted the audit, is considering revoking ISNA’s charity status. ISNA was founded in the U.S. in the early 1980s by Muslim Brotherhood leaders and was named unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism finance trial.
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So the Muslim Brotherhood has been set back on their heels, but while they may be down they’re by no means out. The organization thrives on the victimization narrative, and they’re getting it in spades.
The big winner from this week’s events is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who beat back widespread popular protests last month and has taken the lead in calling for Morsi’s reinstatement. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have expressed their hopes for the formation of a neo-Ottoman commonwealth, and Erdogan is one of the few leading international MB contenders still standing and able to direct leadership of the Islamic movement.
I predict the pressure of the MB in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Gaza, Syria, and in other countries will lead to the escalation in the use of violence, and not necessarily through the MB’s usual “Salafist” proxies but by the organization itself. Back here at home, the Obama administration’s catastrophic policies in the Middle East allying the U.S. with the Muslim Brotherhood have left us with rapidly declining influence in the region and increase our profile as a target for terrorism. Meanwhile, a single spark could ignite the whole Middle East tinderbox into a full-scale regional war. And a no-show American president could leave the region wide open for other competing superpowers to exert their influence at our expense.