Last week I wrote about an interesting piece by Mohanna Hubayl on the state of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf. I was curious about the accuracy of his descriptions, and asked some colleagues for their take. I got some informal thoughts on the subject from Thomas Hegghammer, one of the best young(ish) scholars working on Saudi Islamism. Recall that I summarized Hubayl's brief comments on Saudi Arabia like this: "the MB peacefully and voluntarily liquidated itself, he claims. The main pillars of MB thought remain but many of its former members have moved to the conservative salafi trend. "
Hegghammer: The MB in Saudi Arabia is a mysterious entity that is extremely difficult to pin down, because they do not have a formal organizational presence. Nevertheless, some people and communities are known to have more or less of a MB orientation. As such, the MB blends into the Sahwa and the two are often lumped together, especially by liberals (and by Prince Nayif). It is useful to think of the Sahwa as a spectrum with pure MB ideology on the one hand and pure wahhabism on the other. Muhammad Qutb would be far out on the left, Musa al-Qarni three-quarters to the left and Salman al-Awda somewhere in the middle. Two implications follow: first, it is extremely difficult to assess the state of the MB, and second, you never know what people mean when they speak of the MB in Saudi.
If by the MB al-Hubayl means the Sahwa, which I suspect, then I would agree with the assessment. The Sahwa, already out of steam in the late 1990s, has been further weakened by Hawali's hospitalisation and al-Awda's near-total cooptation. They still remain relatively popular and there is a new generation of Sahwists coming up, but their politics are not very contentious any more. I am not sure exactly who al-Hubayl has in mind when he says MB figures have moved to the salafi trend. I should say I don't follow the Sahwa very closely; I am sure Stephane has a lot more to say about this. [editorial note: Stephane, consider this a call to action! Please phone home.]
Me: That sounds about right to me - what I can't figure out is what it means to have the MB without an organization? Is it still the MB if it's just a bunch of like-minded individuals?
Hegghammer: Your questions are spot on. Apart from ideological leanings, the most operational way to identify MB-oriented people would be to look at their international contact network. Some Saudis are more closely in touch with Muslim Brothers abroad than others. Hence the international Islamic organizations such as the Muslim World League are said to be bastions of Ikhwanism in the Kingdom. But I am not sure whether this means much for domestic politics.
UPDATE: ask and ye shall receive: Stephane Lacroix, elevated from comments (thanks!):
The MB has traditionally existed as an independent network within the Saudi Sahwa - and I have met several persons claiming to be affiliates of the Saudi MB while in the kingdom.
During the last few decades, however, many consider that the Saudi MB have lost their ideological specificity, and have drawn much closer to the mainstream salafi trend found in the Sahwa - to the extent that they have become pretty indistinguishable. This is, I suppose, what al-Hubayyil means when he writes that the "the MB peacefully and voluntarily liquidated itself".
The criticism formulated here by al-Hubayyil is quite common among the young generation of Saudi MB sympathizers, who consider the current context (post-9/11 widespread criticism of salafism/wahhabism, etc...) as favorable to the emergence of the MB as a religious alternative in Saudi Arabia. However, these calls for an "MB renewal" haven't yet led to any significant change in the Saudi political-religious sphere.