The Obama White House and the world media are pre-occupied with Russian President Putin’s grab of the Ukrainian autonomous province of Crimea. There are undertones of “Back to the Future”- meaning a possible return to Cold War era geopolitics with Russia.
Despite that overriding ruckus there was a less well publicized series of events in the Persian Gulf region among members of the Gulf Cooperating Council (GCC). Does this spell trouble ahead for President Obama’s Middle East policies?
At the GCC meeting on March 5th in Riyadh, Qatar was effectively isolated by “sisterly” Sunni Arab states. The Emir of Qatar, a member of the GCC, has been prominent in supporting financial aid and assistance to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliates in Egypt under Morsi, Hamas in Gaza and the Syrian Opposition Council, one of whose leaders is a dual American Syrian citizenLouay Safi.
Virtually on the heels of the squabble at the GCC gathering, Saudi King Abdullah announced decrees on Friday, March 7th. They listed the MB as a terrorist organization along with several AQ affiliates in Syria and Iraq, as well as Shia terrorist groups in North Yemen and in the oil rich Eastern Province. The latter are backed by both Iran’s Qod Force and Hezbollah. This should present problems and potential conflicts of interest for President Obama’s senior National Security advisor Robert Malley and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Both of these men espouse outreach to the MB, Iran and proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
This train wreck about to happen has been in development since the July 3, 2013 ouster by Egyptian Gen. al-Sisi of President Morsi in Egypt. Morsi was a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood endeavoring to create a Sharia compliant constitution with him as Emir. Egypt’s interim government in December 2013 outlawed the MB. This week an Egyptian court went after Hamas, the Gaza affiliate of the MB banning activities in Egypt. Following, the ouster of Morsi, Saudi Arabia and several of members of the GCC provided upwards of $12 billion in financial assistance to the interim Egyptian interim government. The stage now appears set for Gen. Abdel Fateh al-Sisi to run as the country’s President, a harkening back to the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the possible return of military autocracy in Egypt.
The flashpoint for the GCC isolation of Qatar was the notorious aged Egyptian MB preacher Yousuf al Qaradawi who had been in exile in Qatar before temporarily returning to Egypt in February 2011. He issued Fatwas for the reconquest of Al Quds (Jerusalem) and preached anti-Semitic hatred to crowds in Tahrir Square. In a January 2009 broadcast from Qatar, al Qaradawisaid about Jews: “kill them, down to the very last one.” While in Doha, Qatar he steadfastly refused to participate in annual International Interfaith Conferences.
A news report by Radaw noted the isolation of Qatar by “sisterly” Sunni Arab states because of the mischief of al Qaradawi and sanctuary provided by the Emir:
The Arab states of the lower Gulf are engaged in the latest and potentially most serious of their periodic family squabbles, which this week provoked three of them to withdraw their ambassadors from tiny Qatar.
The Qatar government expressed regret and surprise at Wednesday’s decision by the “sisterly countries” of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but said it did not plan to retaliate by pulling out its own envoys.
All four states, together with Kuwait and Oman, are members of the GCC.
The official reason for the diplomatic spat is Qatar’s alleged failure to live up to a recent commitment not to interfere in the internal affairs of fellow GCC states.
The three conservative states are particularly distressed that Qatar continued to provide a platform for Yousuf Al Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian cleric, to use his fiery sermons to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite Riyadh’s threat to freeze relations unless he was silenced.
The scope of King Abdullah’s terrorist designations was reported by Al-Jazeera:
Saudi Arabia has listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization along with two al-Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Syria.
The decree against the Brotherhood, whose Egyptian branch supported the deposed Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, was reported on Saudi state television on Friday.
Egypt in December listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, prompting the arrest of members and associates and forcing the Islamist group further underground.
Saudi Arabia also listed Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Sham) (ISIS), which has been disowned al-Qaeda, as “terrorist organizations”.
It also listed Shia Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and the little-known internal Shia group, Hezbollah in the Hijaz.
Early in February, 2014, Ayman al Zawahiri at Al Qaeda Central announced that the global Islamic terrorist group had no association with ISIS, instead providing support for the Al Nusrah front fighting against the Assad regime in Syria. ISIS however has rampaged across the Anbar province in neighboring Iraq overtaking the Sunni town of Fallujah.
About the same time as the AQ ISIS declaration, King Abdullah had announced new counterterrorism policies that were directed against so-called reform movements in the Saudi Kingdom. The Washington Post reported the new law “states that any act that ‘undermines’ the state or society, including calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia, can be tried as an act of terrorism.” This Saudi law appears to be in violation of human rights taken for granted in the West, but clearly viewed as seditious in the autocratic and Sharia compliant Wahhabist Kingdom.
These latest Saudi initiatives could have significant implications for the Obama Administration and Secretary Kerry. Kerry is endeavoring to fashion an Israel- Palestinian final status agreement and resolution of the 37 month civil war in Syria. We noted earlier the presence of Louay Safi as spokesperson for the Syrian Opposition Council at the recent Geneva II plenum talks. Safi was Research Director at the northern Virginia- based MB supported International Islamic Institute of Thought. Moreover, he was also Leadership Development Director at the MB front, the Islamic Society of North America, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008 Federal Dallas trial and convictions of leaders of the Holy Land Foundation. The Muslim charity group had been accused of funneling upwards of $35 million to MB affiliate Hamas. Safi was also invited by the US Army Chief of Staff to lecture troops on Islam at Fort Hood in early December 2009 following the massacre perpetrated by Maj. Nidal Hassan a month earlier. Clearly, Safi’s rise to prominence in the Syrian Opposition Council is indicative of the MB controlling presence.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and senior National Security Aides were present at the May 2012 meetings of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. They were engaged in outreach to MB officials from Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab states and facilitated assistance to ousted President Morsi. Obama Appointments of MB members, especially Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy, Arif Alikhan and Senior Advisory board member Mohamed Elibiary have been problematic. National Security Advisor Malley was a former Middle East foreign policy aide to President Clinton during the failed 2000 Camp David Israel-Palestinian negotiations between former Israeli PM Ehud Barak and the late Yassir Arafat. Malley had accused Israel of nixing the agreement, when it was evident that Arafat had purposely sabotaged it. Malley went on to become head of the Middle East and North African program of the International Crisis group and later advised then Senator Obama and was part of the President’s transition team. He holds views that may further complicate Administration Middle East policies. Malley propounded speaking with terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the MB. Malley, was recently appointed to the National Security Council. He has the portfolio for Israel -Palestinian peace talks and the Iran nuclear P5+1 diplomatic initiative.
Now that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have designated the MB as a terrorist group, would the Obama Administration dare follow their lead? How Messrs. McDonough, Malley and Secretary of State Kerry will contend with a plethora of problems arising from efforts by the Egyptian government and now the Saudi led GCC targeting the MB is a ‘puzzlement’.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.