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Reversal of fortune: Riyadh and the Brotherhood

For Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood is a boon, which is why they are running to provide assistance to post-30 June Egypt

Hicham Mourad , Wednesday 11 Sep 2013

Since the dismissal of Mohamed Morsi and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood on 3 July, the Gulf States, except Qatar, rushed to offer their financial aid to Egypt — a country in acute economic crisis since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. Saudi Arabia, leader of the six nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, all monarchies, together promised Egypt $12 billion of multiform aid — of which $5 billion has been disbursed — distributed between $6 billion in interest-free deposits at the Central Bank of Egypt, $3 billion in grants and $3 billion in supplies of petroleum products. While Riyadh has provided $5 billion, Kuwait has allocated $4 billion and the Emirates $3 billion.

As a result, foreign exchange reserves of the central bank, to pay for imports and support the Egyptian pound, immediately jumped from $14.9 billion at the end of June to $18.9 billion at the end of July, the highest value since November 2011. The Egyptian government has, for its part, submitted to these rich monarchies a "Marshall Plan" to help the Egyptian economy out of its crisis.

The willingness of these oil-producing countries to support the interim government in Egypt is partly intended to cut short, and to reduce, the effect of threats of reducing or interrupting financial aid wielded by the United States and the European Union after the dismissal of the Islamist president and the violent dispersal 14 August of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal has been clear on this issue, noting that the Gulf countries would compensate any reduction in Western aid to Egypt. Providing diplomatic support to Cairo, the Saudi official warned Western capitals against placing economic pressure on Egypt. "We will achieve nothing by threats," he warned.

The strong political and financial support by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait is explained by their strong opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, in power in Egypt from 30 June 2012 to 3 July 2013. The unexpected reversal of their fortunes in the largest Arab country was for these monarchies an historic opportunity to prevent their possible return to power. The Saudi king, Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz, was very explicit in his support for the new Egyptian regime and his hostility to the Brotherhood, describing them as "haters" and accusing pro-Morsi protesters of "terrorism, extremism and sedition."

These offensive remarks contrast with the usual restraint of Saudi diplomacy, but show the seriousness — real or perceived — of the threat felt by the Royal family of Saud vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood. Riyadh believes that the Brotherhood is at the origin of Islamist militancy, which sometimes turns to terrorism, throughout the Arab-Islamic world. This activism threatens authoritarian governments in the Arab world, including hereditary regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. In the 2000s, the Saudi monarchy faced a wave of terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda. In the 1990s, it has repressed the Al-Sahwa (renaissance) movement, inspired by the Brotherhood in Egypt, who were demanding political reforms likely to weaken the ruling family.

The United Arab Emirates were the most publicly outspoken against the regime of the Brotherhood in Egypt. The violence of their position is due to the political activism of Al-Islah (Reform) association, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. Galvanised by the Arab Spring, Al-Islah seeks the introduction of political reforms, including the creation of a semi-elected consultative council in a country that has no parliament and where political parties are banned. Some 94 members of Al-Islah, and 11 Egyptians supposed to belong to the Brotherhood, were arrested by the UAE police. They are accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.

The financial support of Kuwait to the interim Egyptian government is substantial, but more discreet. This policy is explained by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood movement is the main opposition in the parliament of the emirate. Its members are well integrated into political life and the state apparatus.

Saudi Arabia, as well as the UAE and Kuwait, had given refuge to members of the Brotherhood who fled the repression of the Nasser regime in the 60s. But the Brotherhood were disgraced when they refused to condemn the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. A position considered ingratitude by these monarchies, which were also alarmed by the Brotherhood's regional activism and their willingness to extend, via local supporters, outside the borders of Egypt, posing threats to the political regimes of the Arabian Peninsula.

The interest of the three Gulf countries is to avoid at all costs the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt; hence their unwavering support for the current crackdown on the Brotherhood. The failure of the experience of the Brotherhood in power in Egypt is thus very positively seen by these monarchies, meaning that its model of political Islam will be more difficult to export to Gulf countries.

The fall of the Brotherhood will also change the regional order in favour of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom had taken umbrage at the accession to power of the Brotherhood in Egypt, to the benefit of Qatar — the mainstay of the latter in the Arab world and Riyadh's rival — and of Turkey, the first Middle Eastern ally of the Brotherhood outside the Arab world. Today's turnaround is thus taking place to the chagrin of Doha and Ankara.

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