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Egyptian Revolution Triggers Unexpected Regional Realignment

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The revolution (not a coup) that toppled Egyptian President Morsi isn’t just a decisive defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; it has triggered events that may signal a regional realignment. Just a month ago, the Muslim Brotherhood was ascending as it had never before; now it is in a downward spiral.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s reign has managed to align the fractured non-Islamist opposition. A Zogby poll taken from April 4 to May 12 showed that only 29% of Egyptians had confidence in Morsi. This poll was taken weeks before his July 3 overthrow when an estimated 17 million people took to the streets.

The U.S. criticized the military’s intervention, with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) going so far as to recommend the suspension of aid to Egypt. You can judge the wisdom of this recommendation by those that agreed with it:

The Islamist government of Turkey, facing its own internal challenge from non-Islamists, immediately condemned the Egyptian military and took the Muslim Brotherhood’s side. The Islamist government of Tunisia is urging the Muslim Brotherhood to stay in the streets until Morsi is reinstated.

The countries that immediately congratulated the Egyptian people were Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Jordanian government embraced its liberal opponents in order to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah fears a “Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey” and says Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Morsi are false democrats.

The United Arab Emirates has called for a Gulf coalition against both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. The Saudis, though they are Islamists themselves, distrust the Muslim Brotherhood and have been supporting the Brotherhood’s rivals in Syria. These are the countries who took the side of the Egyptian people, not the U.S.

The biggest change in the strategic landscape since Morsi’s ouster is the position of Qatar, a U.S. “ally” that was more allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatari support for the Islamists was so massive that the three above countries (including Saudi Arabia!) complained about it.

The developments in Egypt apparently convinced Qatar that it bet on the wrong horse. The Qatari government, which supported Mubarak’s overthrow, congratulated Morsi’s replacement. 

The Qataris had been the Brotherhood’s biggest governmental supporter. Shortly after Morsi fell, it was reported that Qatar shut down the Brotherhood activity in its territory, revoked Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi’s citizenship and expelled Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal. It was from Qatar that Qaradawi reached 60 million people each week on Al-Jazeera. If it is true that Qatar has switched sides, the damage to the Brotherhood is incalculable.

The Brotherhood’s loss in Egypt will affect its popularity in Syria, where a three-way power struggle is taking place. And if it is true that Qatar has defected, the balance of power among the rebels may rapidly shift in favor of the Free Syria Army and away from the Islamists, especially if plentiful U.S. aid to the Free Syria Army arrives (Congress is currently holding it up).

We may already be seeing this reshuffling of power among the Syrian rebels taking place. On July 8, only five days after Morsi’s removal, the interim prime minister of the Syrian rebels, Ghassan Hitto, resigned. As the Clarion Project reported at the time, he was part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network and won the position with the backing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. The Brotherhood’s non-Islamist opponents amongst the Syrian rebels were outraged.

Hitto admitted he failed to form an interim government that could replace Assad. He was replaced by secular activist Ahmad al-Jarba, who has “close links” to Saudi Arabia. He is allied to the anti-Islamist Democratic Bloc led by Michel Kilo, a Christian secular-democratic activist. Another leader of the bloc is Kamal al-Labwani, who the Clarion Project interviewed in April 2012.

It is highly unlikely that all of these events just happened to coincide. Apparently, the Brotherhood’s dramatic setback in Egypt led to major losses in Qatar and Syria, as well.

There are other ripple effects that are causing the Brotherhood pain.

The bias of Al-Jazeera towards the Muslim Brotherhood has discredited it in the eyes of many Arabs and even its own employees. Twenty-two employees from its Cairo office, including at least one anchor, resigned. Another four from Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha joined them. The employees complained that they were being directed to favor the Muslim Brotherhood in their broadcasts. One of the journalists who resigned said Al-Jazeera was “airing lies and misleading viewers.”

The Palestinian Authority, including President Abbas, celebrated Morsi’s overthrow and other Fatah officials encouraged Palestinians to overthrow Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that rules the Gaza Strip.

“Now it’s Gaza’s turn to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood branch. The dark era of political Islam has ended. The era of hypocrisy and lies has ended and Gaza will soon witness its own revolution against Hamas,” one Fatah official predicted.

That is a complete reversal of how Fatah had been trying to make amends with Hamas. President Abbas had been saying that Hamas isn’t a terrorist organization and spoke at a rally in Gaza in January encouraging the two factions to unite.

The Muslim backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood raises the hopes that the region will increasingly scrutinize Islamist interpretations, fatwas and religious rulings.

One Muslim who is loudly doing so is the son of Qaradawi. He wrote a public letter taking his father to task for his pro-Morsi fatwa. “I know some people would treat my letter as a sign of disobedience to you but I can’t keep silent because it is a fatwa,” Abdul Rahman al-Qaradawi writes.

As the year began, the Muslim Brotherhood was enjoying its brightest days since its founding in 1928. It led Egypt, Tunisia and the Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood was leading the Syrian opposition against Assad and had Jordan in its crosshairs.  The Turkish government was riding high and Fatah was bowing to Hamas.

Now, it has lost control of Egypt; lost the premiership of the Syrian rebels, reportedly lost the vital sponsorship of Qatar and, most importantly, lost the popular support it used to propel itself to power. Its remaining allies in Tunisia, Gaza and Turkey are plummeting in the polls.

The Brotherhood went from scoring some of its greatest victories to suffering some of its biggest losses. This sudden reversal in fortunes should provide both hope and caution; the ascendancy of the West’s enemies can be quickly altered, but so can their descendancy.

 

Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.

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Ryan Mauro

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's Shillman Fellow, national security analyst and the director of Clarion Intelligence Network. Mauro is also an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.