A few weeks back I wrote about the shifting balance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the salafi trend in Kuwait, and tied it to a broader set of questions about how this might affect al-Qaeda and other forms of radicalization. So I was very interested by an article last week (June 3) on Islam Online written by the Saudi Islamist Mohanna al-Hubayl about the state of the Ikhwan throughout the Gulf.
Hubayl writes that the Kuwaiti election results should come as a major shock and wake up call to the MB, demonstrating that the general rise in Islamic sentiment in the Gulf will not necessarily translate into support for their organization. The decline in the MB's popularity is not limited to Kuwait, he argues. It extends across the entire Gulf, and is tied to the rise of the interlinked threats of America's military presence, the rise of Iranian power, and the ascension of competing salafi movements.
He looks at each country in turn:
- Saudi Arabia: 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. (Is that true? I wish he had said more than that - he gives only a very perfunctory note on the Saudi case.)
- Oman: the MB lives in an ongoing transitional period, ever since a confrontation with the Sultan over a visit by Shimon Peres. After that, the MB faced a harsh security crackdown. But in what he calls a historic decision, the MB refused to be dragged into a sectarian conflict with the Ibadis and Shia despite efforts to push them in that direction.
- UAE: despite some interesting developments among the cadres and youth of the MB, intense security obstacles prevented them from doing much by way of renewing their thought or engaging in popular actions.
- Bahrain: the salafi trend rose up and overwhelmed the MB - to the point of hegemony over the Sunni Islamist field.
- Qatar: despite being formally dissolved (cf Abdullah Nefissi) the Qatari MB retains a powerful presence intellectually and in the media. But he sees the 'nahda' efforts of Dr Jassem Sultan as effective only beneath a clear ceiling, lacking a wider reform vision.
He therefore sees the Kuwaiti Islamist movement as better positioned than its Gulf counterparts because of the democratic elections and political parties there, so uncommon throughout the Gulf region, which makes its evident decline all the more shocking. He claims to see some encouraging signs of a critical spirit emerging among the MB youth in Kuwait (and to some extent further in the Gulf, though nowhere as developed as the reformist youth in Egypt, who clearly impress him). But he fears they will be stifled by the organizations and by their lack of either a well-developed concept of internal reform or of a political strategy.
He notes that despiting playing no formal role in the Gulf organizations, the Egyptian (international) MB has nevertheless had a negative impact because of its controversial stances on Iraq (the Iraqi Islamic Party under Tareq al-Hashemi taking part in the political process but remained part of the MB, the performance of the MB-linked insurgency factions); Palestine (many in the Gulf saw the MB's efforts on behalf of Hamas and the blockade of Gaza as inadequate); and Hezbollah (its support for Hezbollah shocked a lot of people in the Gulf, who are less favorably inclined to Shia).
He concludes that the MB in the Gulf lacks a strategic vision and is losing its ties to the people. By imposing doctrinal and organizational conformity, and refusing alliances with other reformist trends, the Gulf MB was losing its appeal to the youth and failing to renew itself. He therefore calls for internal reforms and a renewal of the movement's thought and political discourse - but doesn't seem particularly sure as to where such new energy might come from.
In short, a pretty grim diagnosis of the state of the MB in the Gulf from this "friendly critic". It would be interesting if he performed the same exercise on the salafi competition and other political trends. I would be very curious to hear from people studying the MB in any of these countries. Does Hubayl get it right? What does he miss? And if he's right, what are the implications for Islamism more broadly in the Gulf? Thomas H? Stephane L? Bernie H? I'm looking at you! (But not only at you... anyone out there, drop me a note.)