The Gulf agreement which resulted from the Riyadh summit last Sunday [Nov. 16], in addition to the Egyptian openness regarding Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz’s invitation to settle the conflict between Cairo and Doha, raised questions concerning the future of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is well-known that Qatar has been the first and strongest supporter of the Brotherhood, whether through financial and political support — which it provided Mohamed Morsi — or through the stance which followed the collapse of the Islamist regime after the June 30 Revolution. Back then, Doha rejected the ouster of Morsi and considered the events of July 3, 2013, as a military coup. Doha then opened its doors to receive the wanted Brotherhood leaders and provided them a media podium. In addition, Qatar withdrew the economic support it had provided Egypt before the Brotherhood’s regime collapsed.
All of this resulted in a major deterioration in Egyptian-Qatari relations, which was not limited to mere media campaigns, but also led to the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador from Qatar.
The importance of Qatari support for the Brotherhood is not about its magnitude, as Qatar is considered the only Arab country to support the prohibited group. Consequently, in the event that the group loses this support due to the rapprochement between Cairo and Doha, the Brotherhood’s isolation and suppression would deepen.
However, there is another possibility that does not quite contradict the first. The tensions in the Egyptian-Qatari relations practically led to the absence of any party that would be able to play the role of a mediator between Egypt and the Brotherhood, especially since the relations with Turkey — the second regional sponsor of the Brotherhood — became more tense. Meanwhile, the rest of the Gulf and Arab countries were sharing the Egyptian fear of this group and its local subgroups.
The improved Egyptian-Qatari relations would result in the need to tighten the grip on the Brotherhood in Qatar. In return, it could also provide an opportunity to find a regional mediator between the group and Egypt, which makes it possible to reach a future agreement.
The arrest of Brotherhood leader Mohammed Ali Beshr yesterday [Nov. 20], is also linked to both these possibilities. Perhaps the purpose of this was to send a message claiming that the Qatari-Egyptian reconciliation would provide an opportunity for Egypt to tighten the grip on the Brotherhood, and the arrest may be a preamble for a political settlement.
A political science professor at Cairo University, Hassan Nafia, tols As-Safir, “The rapprochement is not yet over; the next Gulf summit is a month away, during which Qatar has to prove its good intentions.”
“Would this rapprochement end all kinds of relations with the Brotherhood and declare it a terrorist group such as the United Arab Emirates did? We don’t exactly know what Qatar is willing to offer, and the Egyptian side would also have to take measures of its own,” he said.
“If the relations between Egypt and Qatar reach a great level of understanding, Doha’s role could change from opponent into mediator,” Nafia said. “However, this would take time as well as a certain vision from the Egyptian political leadership in order to make concessions and reach an agreement.”
It is noteworthy that the morning after the Egyptian presidency issued a statement welcoming the Saudi call on Egypt to support the Riyadh agreement, Beshr was arrested. He was one of the most prominent Brotherhood leaders still on the loose, and he had always been a candidate to play the mediator in any negotiations between the group and the government. This raises doubts about the possibility of reaching an understanding.
However, Nafia said, “Beshr’s arrest is indeed unfortunate, but I think it was only precautionary to the [Islamist] protests which occurred on Nov. 28. I do not believe it had anything to do with the developments in the Egyptian-Qatari relations.”
If there were a possibility to have any future Qatari-mediated agreements, it was certain that the Brotherhood would fall under major pressure due to the Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement, and it would lose at least a portion of the support it has.
A politics professor at Cairo University, Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, told As-Safir, “I do not see the Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement leading to a change in the position regarding the Brotherhood in the near future.”
“I believe the change within the Brotherhood itself would take time. The recent developments might encourage certain parties from the group to reach an understanding, while other parties may refuse to do so, which means that there is a possibility of having divisions within the group, on the medium term,” Sayyed said. “It also depends on Qatar’s behavior during the following period, since there are many decision-making parties in Qatar; what can be agreed upon by a party, can be rejected by another. However, it is certain that things are going to change between Qatar and the Brotherhood; Doha will at least refrain from publicly supporting the group. This means that during the first period, the group will suffer negative repercussions, which might last. In fact, it is hard for Qatar to take back the commitments it had made to the Gulf countries, since the Brotherhood’s influence is not only limited to Egypt but also reaches the Gulf.”
According to Sayyed, Qatar would not play the mediator role anytime soon, since “Beshr’s arrest might indicate that the time for [establishing] an understanding and settlement has not come yet.”
The Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement will definitely result in a loss for the Brotherhood, on both the short and long term. The settlement will be subject to new balances and will surely not be in favor of the Brotherhood.