The Arab Spring ended in ignominy many months ago, but one policy relic from that faux reformation was the notion that the US and the west could work with the Muslim Brotherhood. Former DNI James Clapper even went so far as to claim that the MB was “secular” — a bit of lunacy that he had to hastily walk back.
Saudi Arabia harbors no such delusional thinking. They have declared the Muslim Brotherhood and two other Syrian Islamist groups as terrorists. And they have told their own citizens fighting against Bashar Assad’s rule in Syria that they have 15 days to return home or face imprisonment.
As a major financier and supplier of weapons to the rebels in Syria, the Saudis are trying to clean up the Syrian opposition under pressure from the US while trying to prevent blowback from terrorists who may try to destabilize the Kingdom.
A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said King Abdullah approved the findings of a committee entrusted with identifying extremist groups referred to in a royal decree earlier last month. The decree punishes those who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom or join extremist groups or support them.
The king’s decree followed the kingdom enacting a sweeping new counterterrorism law that targets virtually any criticism of the government.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been targeted by many Gulf nations since the July 3 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, himself a Brotherhood member. Saudi Arabia has banned Brotherhood books from the ongoing Riyadh book fair and withdrew its ambassador from Qatar, a Brotherhood supporter, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Saudi Arabia’s decision.
“It is one of the founding principles of the group not to interfere in matters of other states, and this new position from the kingdom is a complete departure from the past relationship with the group, since the reign of the founding king until now,” the statement read.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Attie praised the decision, saying it “reflects the coordination and solidarity” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He said he hopes that other countries make the same decision.
“We expect other countries to fulfill their responsibilities in the fight against terrorism,” Abdel-Attie told journalists Friday.
The Saudi statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, identified the other terrorist groups named as al-Qaida’s branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Saudi Hezbollah and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis. It said the law would apply to all the groups and organizations identified by the United Nations Security Council or international bodies as terrorists or violent groups. It said the law also would be applied to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom for propagating atheism or pledging allegiance to anyone other than the kingdom’s leaders.
The counterterrorism law bans meetings of the groups inside or outside of the kingdom and covers comments made online or to media outlets.
The administration has been insisting that the Brotherhood has given up violence and doesn’t support terrorism. They conveniently leave out the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood helped create and still supports Hamas — the Palestinian group still designated as a terrorist outfit by the State Department. And where they got the idea that the Brotherhood was “moderate” in anything is a mystery. One need only look at the constitutional changes they tried to impose in Egypt to see that their radical, pro-Shariah law agenda was anything but “moderate.”
But the White House ultimately saw the Brotherhood as a partner in the Middle East — even though the group maintained it was a sworn enemy of Israel and the west. The fact that the citizens of Egypt rose up and tossed them out — with the help of a military coup — gives the lie to the administration’s policy toward the Brotherhood and shows how badly they miscalculated.
The designation of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen and Iraq was to be expected. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — an extremely violent al-Qaeda offshoot — has been fighting everybody on all sides in Syria. The US has been urging the Saudis to stop funding these Islamist groups who have been buying weapons from Qatar. The Kingdom, along with Bahrain and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors due to Qatar’s continued support for violent Islamist groups, citing fawning coverage of the terrorists from Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV network.
The blacklisting of al-Nusra may affect the rebel effort to overthrow President Assad. Al-Nusra is considered to be one of the most effective fighting forces in the war and denying them money and supplies could hurt the rebel cause.
But US pressure — and the Kingdom’s own sense of self-preservation — has placed the terrorist group on the outside looking in.
The Brotherhood has now come full circle — from outcast political group, to running Egypt, to once again being blackballed. Let’s hope this cures our naive policy makers of any idea that we could work with Islamists dedicated to destroying Israel and establishing a caliphate from the Middle East to Indonesia.