A shift is taking place in the Middle East that may culminate in a powerful Iranian-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. The two are killing each other in Syria right now, but an emerging split in the Sunni bloc offers an opportunity for them to make amends once the fight is over.
The Sunni bloc has devolved into two factions, separated by their relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt is now governed by the Brotherhood and has passed a Constitution that institutes Sharia (Islamic) Law. Qatar lavishly blesses the Brotherhood, though it is led by a monarchy that the U.S. considers an important ally.
Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi writes, “Qatar is today the Muslim Brotherhood’s banker and personal financier, bankrolling its budget and investing heavily in the group’s project.” It is home to Al-Jazeera, the anti-American “news” network where Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi has his own weekly show. Qatar has come to the economic rescue of Brotherhood-run Egypt and supported the Libyan Islamists’ bid for power. The Qatari Royal Family is supporting the Brotherhood but, like the Saudis, is bound to regret it one day.
The other faction is led by pro-U.S. Sunni governments that oppose both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The loudest member of this faction is the United Arab Emirates, which is arresting suspected Brotherhood operatives and publicly called for an anti-Iran/Brotherhood alliance in October. The police chief of Dubai is especially forceful in his language, warning that the Brotherhood has a plan to try to wrest control from the Gulf monarchies by 2016.
The Jordanian government is in the anti-Brotherhood bloc as well. King Abdullah II is trying to outmaneuver the Jordanian Brotherhood by embracing its more secular-oriented opponents. Jordan just held elections and there was high turnout even though the Brotherhood endorsed a boycott. The Brotherhood is trying to capitalize on Jordan’s economic troubles, prompting the United Arab Emirates to urge the Gulf Cooperation Council to provide financial aid. Interestingly, the Emirates haven’t delivered on its pledge of $3 billion in aid for Egypt.
The Saudi Royal Family is just as concerned about the Brotherhood but is less vocal about it. The Saudi government still supports the Islamist ideology, but fears its manifestation in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. In February 2011, the Saudi government ordered libraries to get rid of books by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and the Brotherhood cleric that inspired Al-Qaeda named Sayyid Qutb.
The split within the Sunni bloc is reflected in Syria. The Sunni bloc agrees with supporting the rebels in general, but the Saudis and Qataris are supporting rival elements within the Syrian opposition. Qatar is backing the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, while a rebel military official says the Saudis “don’t want any ties to anything called Muslim Brothers.”
The civil war in Syria prevents an Iranian-Brotherhood alliance against the pro-U.S. Sunni governments, but only for now. If Assad falls, which many analysts consider inevitable, there are two scenarios that could unfold.
The first scenario is that prolonged sectarian warfare breaks out and very possibly spreads to Lebanon, threatening Hezbollah. The Sunni-Shiite proxy war continues, precluding a strategic realignment from happening.
The second scenario is that the civil war in Syria ends. Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood make amends, with Iran accepting the fact that Syria will be Sunni-run. The two sides join forces against a common enemy: The pro-U.S. Sunni governments.
The Iranian regime would rather the Muslim Brotherhood rule the Sunni world than the governments it views as American puppets. In "The Coming is Upon Us," the documentary produced by Ahmadinejad’s office in 2011, it is stated that the Brotherhood’s coming to power in Egypt is the fulfillment of prophecy. The Brotherhood’s rise is depicted as an Allah-ordained event that paves the way for an Iran-led coalition to destroy Israel.
This rapprochement seems to already be happening. Iran had cut funding to Hamas because of its anti-Assad stance but later armed the terrorist group with rockets. Hamas publicly thanked Iran for its support during the latest round of fighting with Israel. Ahmadinejad accepted Egyptian President Morsi’s invitation to come to Cairo and will arrive early next month.
If Egypt and Qatar align with Iran, the remaining Sunni governments will face extraordinary pressure to change their policies on Islamism, the U.S. and Israel. An Iran-Brotherhood alliance could dictate the region’s course without having to take it over.
If this realignment happens, the West must convince the remaining governments in the region that it is in their interest to resist and not to capitulate.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.