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It’s a Bad Time to Be in the Muslim Brotherhood

Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization on Friday, piling more misery on the organization as it staggers from a vicious crackdown in Egypt. Reuters reports:

Riyadh … fears the Brotherhood, whose conservative Sunni doctrines challenge the Saudi principle of dynastic rule, has tried to build support inside the kingdom since the Arab Spring popular revolutions in the Arab-speaking world.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood, which won every election following the toppling of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has been driven underground since the army deposed President Mohamed Mursi, a longtime member of the group that also endured repression in the Mubarak era.

The declaration by the Saudi authorities is about more than fear of the Brotherhood, it’s also part of a geopolitical and ideological rivalry heating up in the Gulf. The battle pits upstart Qatar, the tiny Emirate that juts off the Arabian peninsula into the Persian Gulf, against the more muscular and established Gulf sheikdoms like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Over stern reprimands from elsewhere around the Gulf, Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt with diplomatic support and billions of dollars worth of aid. When Morsi fell, the Saudis jumped in with offers of funds and support for the coup leaders. “Let the entire world know,” proclaimed the Saudi King, “that the people and government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stood and still stand today with our brothers in Egypt against terrorism, extremism and sedition, and against whomever is trying to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.” He accused Qatar of “fanning the fire of sedition and promoting terrorism, which they claim to be fighting.” For weeks, a group of journalists from the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera news network have languished in prison in Egypt, accused by the new regime of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

Earlier this week the division between Qatar and the other Gulf sheikdoms was thrown into sharp relief with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE all withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The Qatari government responded with “regret and surprise” and said that it was “absolutely keen on brotherly ties” with its neighbors in the Gulf. For the Muslim Brotherhood, that’s not great news. As David Kenner, an editor at Foreign Policy, put it: “It’s perhaps the worst time ever to be a Muslim Brotherhood member in the Middle East (and that’s saying something).

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