Why Gulf nations are pressuring Qatar to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the fallout of al-Sisi’s military takeover in Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have scattered in search of refuge, with many ducking under the protective arm of Qatar. This tiny, predominantly Sunni Gulf nation has little military clout to speak of, and is rated by the Global Peace Index as the 19th most peaceful country in the world. Despite this generally non-aggressive stance, its long-standing policy of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood—which includes providing them a save haven—has rankled Qatar’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE—stirring so much ire that the Riyadh-led bloc recalled its ambassadors from Doha last month.
Facing so much heat, so close to home, Qatar agreed to make a number of changes to its foreign and domestic policies. Purportedly, concessions included preventing Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood leaders from appearing on Al Jazeera, deporting the Brotherhood-sympathizer, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and restricting Al Jazeera’s criticism of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other states. To what extent Qatar will comply with this Kuwait-brokered reconciliation—sometimes referred to as the Riyadh Agreement—remains to be seen, but in the interim, the much-discussed accord raises crucial, if fundamental, questions for analysts of international politics.
First, why would Saudi Arabia, with its deep Islamic roots, oppose the Muslim Brotherhood—the same organization it protected during the 1950s and 1960s? Second, why do these states—and particularly the regional hegemon, Saudi Arabia—feel threatened by the actions of a country, like Qatar, with a very small population occupying a tiny geographic area?
The answer to both questions underscores the role of ideology, and more broadly, ideas, in international politics. It is about how ideas can be a national security threat and a different type of power wielded by states. In 2011, the idea that the status quo was no longer possible and that political change was necessary brought together disparate groups across the political spectrum. Ideas about how individuals were connected across political borders through their shared experiences and identities also facilitated the transnational diffusion of these protests—protests that led to the overthrow of a number of highly entrenched regimes backed by powerful coercive apparatuses, and the world’s strongest power, the United States. In some places, such as Syria and Yemen, the fires are still burning, in other places, such as Libya, the embers may flare up at any time.