Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood: a conditional return
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal
The recent statements made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in which he said, "Our problem is not with the Muslim Brotherhood per se but with a small faction of the group and our concern that they will not pledge allegiance to a higher power", gave the Brotherhood renewed hopes that they might be able to return to the kingdom and the neighbouring Emirates after a campaign was launched against them to ensure that they do not gain a seat in power where possible.
Over the course of the last week, there have been many media leaks regarding the kingdom's decision on how to classify the Muslim Brotherhood and these statements have given the movement a renewed sense of hope after it was leaked that Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi had described the Gulf states as a group of "half-states". Sisi went on to lament that the Gulf states had so much money that their wealth was "as abundant as rice" and went on to emphasise that his relationship with them was a "give and take" relationship.
With Saud Al-Faisal's new statements, the question that everyone seems to be asking is what will the renewed relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood look like and what are the Kingdom's terms for the group's rehabilitation. We must keep in mind that the Gulf states have already placed the Muslim Brotherhood on their list of terrorist groups and that the group's dynamic in the Arab world has largely changed post Arab Spring. Yet, it is important to note that the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one that has its own long-standing history.
The history of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia dates back to the group's establishment with Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna, who had developed a strong relationship with the kingdom in order to take advantage of the Hajj season, which Al-Banna was keen to attend every year. However, the relationship changed in the middle of the 1950s when the group clashed with the common opponent, Gamal Abdel-Nasser. After members of the group attempted to assassinate Abdel-Nasser, the Egyptian government forced many of the Brotherhood's members into jail while others fled to the Saudi Arabia, which provided them with a safe haven. In fact, the kingdom at the time, allowed Brotherhood members to control some of the state's institutions, such as religious and educational affairs, and provided them with the opportunity to strengthen their economic ties, create their own companies and even granted some of the group's leaders Saudi citizenship.
But the pure nature of this relationship was negatively affected by a series of regional circumstances, among them being the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to support the Iranian Revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. Soon after came the Gulf War to add more fuel to the fire. The then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and set his sights on the country's borders with the kingdom and it was at this point that the Muslim Brotherhood announced its allegiance to Saddam Hussein on the basis that it rejected King Fahad's decision to allow American and foreign troops to enter the country. This marked the first moment in history where the Muslim Brotherhood had visibly mobilised against the kingdom and in response to this declaration, Saudi Arabia considered the Muslim Brotherhood to be a group that was not thankful for the many favours that had been done for them.
Certainly, the nature of the relationship was a "give and take relationship" for just as Saudi Arabia allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to operate within its territory through its official and semi-official institutions, the group also crystallised a political religious ideology that it was able to use as a steel arm against the kingdom's and its own political opponents both at home and abroad. There is nothing preventing the Muslim Brotherhood from returning to the heart of the kingdom so long as it agrees to abide by certain terms of a political re-positioning.
We must bear in mind the greater regional circumstances that are occupying the minds of the Saudi Arabia as many of the country's leaders are concerned with fighting ISIS, and with the growing Iranian presence as well as US-Iranian rapprochement. There is also the issue of the increasing chaos in Yemen. In light of all these situations, it is impossible for us to expect that the kingdom will re-consider its foreign policy; however, the Muslim Brotherhood will have to meet certain conditions if it wants to make a comeback in the kingdom and if they want to survive in the Gulf at large.
This article was first published in Arabic by alaraby.co.uk