Muslim Brotherhood Is at the Heart of Gulf Standoff With Qatar

By Caroline AlexanderCaroline Alexander and Sam Dodge

Seen from the capitals of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, Qatar is a source of instability: a tiny but rich nation that all too often opposes its neighbors’ efforts to isolate rival Iran, and which uses its resources to support “terrorist groups.” Whenever tensions flare, Qatari backing for the Muslim Brotherhood features prominently. Over nearly a century, the Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Arabic, has influenced the ideologies of dozens of movements from Morocco to Kuwait. Here’s a guide to the Brotherhood and some of the groups it has inspired.

Some countries in the region have banned the Muslim Brotherhood, while in many others, legal Islamist parties have roots in, or an ideological kinship with the organization. One militant offshoot, the Palestinian group Hamas, is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, among others.

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ITALY

SPAIN

GREECE

TURKEY

PORTUGAL

CYPRUS

TUNISIA

SYRIA

LEBANON

IRAQ

IRAN

MOROCCO

ISRAEL

Gaza Strip

Tripoli

JORDAN

KUWAIT

ALGERIA

LIBYA

EGYPT

BAHRAIN

QATAR

SAUDI ARABIA

U.A.E.

OMAN

MAURITANIA

MALI

NIGER

CHAD

SUDAN

YEMEN

500 miles

500km

Click each place for more

ITALY

PORTUGAL

SPAIN

GREECE

TURKEY

CYPRUS

TUNISIA

SYRIA

LEBANON

IRAQ

IRAN

MOROCCO

ISRAEL

Gaza Strip

Tripoli

JORDAN

KUWAIT

BAHRAIN

ALGERIA

LIBYA

EGYPT

QATAR

SAUDI ARABIA

U.A.E.

MAURITANIA

OMAN

MALI

NIGER

CHAD

SUDAN

YEMEN

500 miles

500km

TURKEY

SYRIA

TUNISIA

LEBANON

IRAQ

ISRAEL

MOROCCO

Gaza Strip

Tripoli

JORDAN

KUWAIT

BAHRAIN

ALGERIA

LIBYA

EGYPT

QATAR

SAUDI ARABIA

U.A.E.

500 miles

YEMEN

500km

Egypt
Muslim Brotherhood
Banned, designated a terrorist organization

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna, a schoolteacher and Islamist intellectual. It began as an attempt to place Islamic teaching at the center of life and carry out charitable work. But with the collapse of the Middle East’s major Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire, the Brotherhood developed a political role driven in large part by its opposition to European colonialism in the Arab world, Zionism, and the influence of western values on Islamic culture.

Allied with the Free Officers’ Movement that overthrew the monarchy in 1952, the Brotherhood was later suppressed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who saw it as a potent rival. He wanted a secular, socialist Egypt leading a pan-Arab movement; the Brotherhood saw Islam as the source of law. Following an attempt to assassinate Nasser, thousands of suspected Brothers were exiled or imprisoned. The views of one of its early, more radical ideologues — Sayyid Qutb, jailed and then, in 1966, executed — are said to have inspired Islamist militancy, including al-Qaeda. Yet the Brotherhood renounced revolutionary violence and became the most powerful political opposition in Egypt, winning support because it provided health care and other services that the state didn’t.

Aided by the anger that erupted with the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood won power with the election of Mohamed Mursi in 2012. But Mursi’s handling of the economy as well as the adoption of a new constitution rejected by critics as too Islamist stirred protest and he was ousted in a military-backed popular uprising a year later. Egypt’s most violent crackdown against the Brotherhood and allies in decades followed, with more than a thousand killed and thousands more put on trial, including Mursi and other top leaders. A subsequent increase in attacks targeting officials and installations was blamed by the government on the Brotherhood, though it denied involvement. It’s been designated a terrorist group.

Saudi Arabia
Muslim Brotherhood
Banned, designated a terrorist organization

The Brotherhood’s ideas spread to Saudi Arabia when Egyptians fleeing Nasser’s clampdown took up teaching jobs in the kingdom’s new public school system. Its supporters were allowed in by King Faisal in the 1960s, who used them to counter the Arab nationalism of Nasser. But Saudi rulers later grew concerned that Brotherhood ideas would undermine their absolute monarchy. Tensions heightened as Brotherhood supporters criticized the American military presence in the kingdom requested by King Fahd after Iraq invaded Kuwait. They backed protests and demands for political reforms.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and has provided economic assistance to Egypt’s El-Sisi as he cracked down on the group. Saudi and three neighbors cut off most economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, in a move designed to punish the country for its ties with Iran and support for Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood.

Syria
Muslim Brotherhood in Syria
Banned by Assad regime, part of opposition

Founded by Syrian students familiar with Banna’s ideas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria faced curbs after the 1963 coup that brought the secular Ba’ath party to power. In the 1970s, it became a visible opponent of President Hafez al-Assad. After a period of violence, it was banned in 1980 and the death penalty was imposed on members. Two years later, the regime razed the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama to crush an uprising, killing thousands. After Syria’s civil war began in 2011, the Brotherhood helped co-found the opposition Syrian National Council.

United Arab Emirates
Al Islah
Banned, designated a terrorist organization

Islah was formed in the 1970s by exiled Egyptians and Emiratis who had studied in Egypt. It gained importance, but relations with the government cooled over the next 20 years amid fears of Brotherhood influence in schools and courts. A crackdown was launched in 1994. This stance hardened after the Arab Spring. The group was banned in 2014 for alleged ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and it was designated a terrorist group. Islah denies any formal link to the Brotherhood but says it shares some of its ideology.

Algeria
Movement for the Society of Peace
Main Islamist opposition party

Brotherhood supporters fleeing Egypt began arriving in Algeria after its independence from France in 1962, and often worked as teachers. The MSP was founded in the early 1990s, influenced by the Brotherhood’s ideas. The MSP has consistently chosen a cooperative relationship with authorities over revolution and violence, even during the decade-long civil war, sparked in 1992 when the army annulled elections Islamists were poised to win. “We are active partners in the fight against terrorism”, MSP leader Abderazzak Makri said in an interview in Algiers.

Bahrain
Minbar
Represented in parliament

Minbar’s roots date back to the 1940s but it didn’t emerge as a political group until the 1980s. It has stood by the ruling family during political crises and helped unite Sunni Islamists in the Shiite majority country.

Israel
Islamic Movement, Southern Branch
Represented in the Knesset

The Islamic Movement began in the early 1970s and its ideological origins can be traced to the Brotherhood. Its founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish was jailed for membership of a terrorist organization. He began to publicly speak against violence after his 1985 release, focusing on social, religious and welfare programs that increased the movement’s popularity. He talks of the need to spread Islamic values among Muslim citizens within the confines of Israeli law. Internal divisions between moderates and hardliners increased as the movement grew and expanded, leading to a split in the 1990s. The Northern Branch boycotts elections and is outlawed. The Southern Branch fields candidates in local and national polls.

Jordan
Islamic Action Front
Represented in parliament

Founded in the early 1940s by members of Egypt’s Brotherhood, it has won representation in elections since the 1980s, securing support in poor urban areas and Palestinian refugee camps, in part through running hospitals and mosques. The Front had close relations with the monarchy, which used it to counter leftist groups. Cooperation weakened as it began to openly criticize the ruling elite. The Front’s opposition to Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel and calls for King Abdullah II to give some powers to parliament have provoked authorities. In April, security forces raided the Front’s offices after it vowed to defy a ban on its leadership race. The group in 2016 cut ties with its Egyptian counterpart and doubled its seats in parliament (winning around 15 of 130) in elections later that year.

Kuwait
Islamic Constitutional Movement
Represented in parliament

Building on an earlier presence, Brotherhood supporters set up the ICM after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait was defeated. It severed ties with the Egyptian organization for not having sufficiently backed their country’s liberation. Over time, the ICM became focused on gradual political reform, pushing for powers to be transferred from the royal family to elected lawmakers. After boycotting parliament for four years in protest against a change in the electoral law, ICM fielded candidates in elections in 2016, winning four seats in the 50-member assembly. Kuwait joined other Gulf countries in providing financial and diplomatic support to Egypt following the ouster of Mursi.

Morocco
Justice and Development Party
Ruling party

Founded in the 1960s and operating legally as a political party since 1992, the PJD has some roots in Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Today, it’s often described as a conservative democratic party that supports the monarchy and seeks to defend the country’s Islamic identity. The PJD won the most votes in 2011’s general election and secured the prime minister’s office four years later. It also came top in elections in October 2016.

Tripoli, Libya
Justice and Construction Party
Supports United Nations-backed peace deal

Brotherhood ideology arrived in Libya with students returning from Cairo. King Idris banned the group, and in 1973 military leader Muammar Qaddafi forced its leadership to announce the Brotherhood’s disbanding on TV. It resurfaced during the 2000s when Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam used the movement to help deradicalize jihadists. Politicians linked to the Brotherhood were appointed to senior positions following the 2011 revolution — when the JCP was formally created — but their move to ensure that all Qaddafi-era officials were banned from government posts was rejected by rivals and became a key factor in triggering a de facto civil war in 2014. The JCP says it has no formal links with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a claim rejected by opponents.

Tunisia
Ennahdha
Part of governing alliance

Ennahdha’s founders were influenced by the ideology of the Brotherhood. The party was banned in Tunisia for more than 20 years before the 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring, its members targeted by secular-leaning autocrats. After the uprising, exiled members returned and the party was legalized. It won elections in 2011, though later stepped down after being criticized for poor handling of the economy and failing to control radical Islamists. Its readiness to work with secular parties won praise and it helped draft a constitution heralded as a model for the region. Today, it defines itself as a party of democratic Islam.

Turkey
Justice and Development Party
Ruling party

Like the Brotherhood in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party and its Islamist-rooted predecessors cultivated grassroots support by providing social services, helping them win control of major cities in the 1990s and national government in 2002. After the Arab Spring, Erdogan saw an opportunity for his type of political Islam to win power across the region, a hope that was dashed by the coup in Egypt. Turkey was one of the few countries to speak out in support of Mursi, and offered a haven for Brotherhood leaders driven out of their own countries.

Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq
Parties with roots in Muslim Brotherhood
Play small roles

Yemen’s Islah party was created as a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. The group has played only a marginal role in the Saudi-led Sunni offensive against Shiite Houthi rebels, sidelined by the deep distrust of alliance member U.A.E. In Lebanon, the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya has ideological kinship with the Brotherhood and one representative in parliament. A Muslim Brotherhood-linked group was part of the resistance to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and after his ouster supported the U.S.-backed Provisional Coalition Authority.

Qatar
Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood have used Qatar as a base

Brotherhood members fleeing Nasser’s Egypt and later Syria’s massacre in Hama arrived in Doha, where they worked as teachers and civil servants. Qatar has supported Islamist groups in the region, chiefly the Brotherhood, as part of a drive to boost its influence. Pressure from other Gulf states to abandon its support came to a head in March 2014 when Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. withdrew their ambassadors. Seven top Brotherhood leaders left Qatar. In an interview with al-Hayat in 2015, former Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said Qatar didn’t back the Brotherhood.

Gaza Strip
Hamas
Designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, among others

The dominant Islamist group in the Palestinian territories is Hamas, which was founded in 1987 at the start of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel and traces its roots to Brotherhood ideology. Its military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, has carried out deadly suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. It won 2006 Palestinian elections. But the legislature became dysfunctional after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, setting up a rival government to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where it also has a presence. Hamas and other militants warred with Israel three times between 2008 and 2014. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, among others.