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Newfound Friends? Muslim Brotherhood and Shi’ites

Lebanese supporters and members of the Islamic group Jamaa Islamiya (some of them Shi'ite) wave Turkish and Lebanese flags and flash the four finger Muslim Brotherhood symbol known as "Rabaa" during a demonstration to support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (portrait) following a deadly but foiled coup attempt by an army faction on July 16, 2016 outside the Islamic Turkish hospital in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. (Photo: MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP / Getty Images)
Lebanese supporters and members of the Islamic group Jamaa Islamiya (at least some of them Shi’ite) wave Turkish and Lebanese flags and flash the four finger Muslim Brotherhood symbol known as Rabia during a demonstration to support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (portrait) following a deadly but foiled coup attempt by an army faction on July 16, 2016 outside the Islamic Turkish hospital in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. (Photo: MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP / Getty Images)

Given the constant alignment and realignment of interests in the Middle East, is it the right time for the Muslim Brotherhood and Shi’ites to coalesce?

If you’ve taken a look at this video from Clarion Shillman Fellow and Clarion Intelligence Network Director Ryan Mauro, you’ll understand that Iran, which heads the Shi’ite world, is in bed with Turkey, which happens to be a major backer of the Muslim Brotherhood. My colleague Mauro is of the opinion Iran and Turkey are in the process of divvying up the Muslim world between them along Sunni-Shi’ite lines.

But does that necessarily mean, as some analysts are suggesting, Shi’ites and the Muslim Brotherhood are increasingly in cahoots?

When we say Shi’ites, what we really mean is political Shi’ism as controlled by the mullahs of Tehran.

Iran and the Brotherhood do share certain regional enemies, particularly in the guises of Egypt and the Saudi-led block of U.S.-supporting Gulf countries. The ongoing Western sanctions against Iran and the pursuit of the Brothers are likely to bring the pair closer to one another.

This is not necessarily a new pattern though. The seminal writings of Sayyid Qutb in favor of violent jihad were equally lauded by the Brotherhood and Iranian ayatollahs, even being translated into Persian by incumbent Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Tehran and the Brothers share similar views on the role Islam should play in society. Further, the pair firmly oppose Western hegemony in the Middle East and particularly that of the United States. They are deeply uncomfortable with American cooperation with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.

The Shi’ite axis could be strengthened with a tighter bond with the Muslim Brotherhood, especially as Turkey and Qatar join the party. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking a central role in the Muslim World and as such has become the main patron of the Muslim Brotherhood and gained Qatari support.

Don’t forget the U.S. is in the process of withdrawing from Syria, raising questions about its continued presence in other regional countries. At the same time, Russia has raised its profile in the Middle East in recent years. The idea that Russia could support such an alliance is deeply troubling.

Let’s Stop for a Moment

Wait! There’s a problem here: Sunnis and Shi’ites hate one another. They’ve been fighting for 1,400 years. So why are we suddenly talking of cross-confessional collaboration?

The bottom line is politics trumps religion. And there’s at least one precedent.

Let’s go back to December 1992, when Israel expelled to Lebanon 415 Hamas (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Islamic Jihad activists. Not only did this fail to weaken the terror organizations, it actually strengthened them. They forged relationships with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah. As a result, the Palestinian terrorists learned how to build car bombs and other explosive devices.

Why Should I Care?

So if Shi’ites and the Muslim Brotherhood get even cosier, what effect will that have on the U.S. and the West?

In the United States there are mosques and Islamic centers under the tutelage of either Iran or the Brotherhood (to say nothing of others heavily backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey). Each has its own ability to influence in certain areas. However, if the two were to unite and merge their plans to affect the American political discourse and embolden radicals, that would be deeply troubling for the United States. Today, it’s difficult enough to tackle them in isolation. Once consolidated, this pairing would be extremely difficult to tackle.

 

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RM
Ran Meir
Shillman Fellow Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst.

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