RECOMMENDED READING: “Saudis Divided Over Egypt”


Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed has written an article titled “Saudis Divided Over Egypt ” which looks at the reaction in Saudi Arabia to the ongoing Egyptian crisis. The article begins:

July 30, 2013 The Egyptian crisis continues to divide Saudi society after its elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed by the military on June 30. While the Saudi government made it clear that it supported the coup and rewarded Egypt with $5 billion, a disenfranchised society had different views on foreign policy. Three trends are discernible: One put its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood, one sided with the government decision and one showed caution in celebrating the end of a short-lived democratic experiment. However, all were equally passionate about the crisis. Their heated passions may not have been about Egypt. To a large extent, Saudi responses clearly reflected a growing tension and polarization in Saudi Arabia itself.

A Saudi Muslim Brotherhood constituency remains unrecognized in formal societies or political parties since those are banned in Saudi Arabia. Yet, religious scholars and lay activists known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and its discourse were quick to condemn the coup in Egypt and their own government’s lavish financial support offered only hours after the Egyptian coup. Veteran Islamists quickly organized an online petition to gather signatures in support of the Egyptian president and condemned the killing of more than 100 Egyptian protesters. The Saudi government called in the organizers of the petition for interrogation and banned a couple of television shows on Islamist television channels. Saudi foreign policy is too important to be questioned by activists.

Deprived of any channel for formal debate in the public sphere, Saudi activists sought refuge in the virtual world to launch attacks on their own government and several other groups. They condemned the Egyptian Nour party, which supported the Egyptian coup, because it was considered an extension of the local Saudi Salafis, opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood activism. They also launched attacks on Saudi writers in the official Saudi media who celebrated the demise of Morsi. The battles of Rabia al-Adawiya where pro-Morsi supporters gathered were juxtaposed on an equally bloody yet virtual Saudi terrain.”

While Saudi Islamists continue to demand the return of Morsi to power, many so-called Saudi liberal writers concentrated their efforts on celebrating the end of Islamist politics not only in Egypt but in their own society. Demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood, magnifying their mistakes in power and writing premature obituaries of political Islam became regular features of Saudi print, visual and virtual media, all in support of the official Saudi foreign policy. It was clear that an official green light was given to end any kind of tolerance for Islamist politics. Most of these attacks reflect local politics where the euphoria of Saudi Islamists had to be curbed following the success of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia. The demise of Islamists in Egypt was seen as a great victory that had to be replicated at home.

Read the rest here.

Unfortunately, the article does not provide any historical context for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, the Muslim World League was established in 1962 as a means for the propagation of Saudi “Wahabbi” Islam. Muslim Brothers played an important role in its founding and, to date, the League has always been strongly associated with the Brotherhood. However, Brotherhood/Saudi ties were strongly tested at the time of the first Gulf War when many elements of the Global Muslim Brotherhood supported Saddam Hussein.

In 2008, French scholar Giles Kepel traced he origins of what is referred to here as the “Global Muslim Brotherhood” to the fusion of Muslim Brother and Saudi “Wahhabist” influences. In May, Ahram Online published a very useful history of the tumultuous and sometimes difficult to understand relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Global Muslim Brotherhood.  

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