The United Arab Emirates may be hard to spot on a map and it may only have a population of 8 million, but its government is flexing its muscles when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. It is proposing the formation of a coalition against the Brotherhood and is threatening to send saboteurs into Iran.
The UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, publicly suggested that the Gulf countries to unite against the Muslim Brotherhood because it “does not believe in the nation state. It does not believe in the sovereignty of the state.”
This is very significant because the pro-U.S. Arab governments haven’t loudly vocalized their concern about the Brotherhood since the Arab Spring began. Calling out the Brotherhood is a risky move because it antagonizes large elements of the Gulf societies. It also fractures the Sunni bloc because the Brotherhood now runs Egypt. In addition Qatar, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is a chief backer of the group.
In July, the UAE arrested 60 members of Islah, the Brotherhood affiliate in the country. The government claims that the detainees confessed to belonging to a secret military wing that was working with the Brotherhood branches in three other Gulf countries to establish Islamist governments. About $3.67 million was allegedly transferred to Islah by one of these branches.
Islah denies the UAE’s accusations. The UAE isn’t a democracy so the government may be using trumpeted up charges to dismember Brotherhood operations, but nonetheless this language potentially signals a new hard line.
In March, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan said he had intelligence that the Brotherhood plans to take over the Kuwaiti government next year with the objective of replacing all of the Gulf governments by 2016. The strategy is to “make Gulf government (their ruling families) figurehead bodies only without actual ruling,” he said.
His explanation of their strategy makes a lot of sense. Only dictators have been overthrown as a result of the Arab Spring. The monarchies are more stable, so the Brotherhood must try something different. Instead of overthrowing the royal families, they’ll just make them irrelevant. Instead of demanding regime change, an initiative lacking support, the Brotherhood will push for popular reforms that bring it to power and allow it to control the levers of power.
Most of the Gulf Arab governments have a desire to crush the Brotherhood. Its members are regularly rounded up and harassed. In 2002, the Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia at that time said, “Without any hesitation I say it, that our problems, all of them, came from the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The appetite for what the UAE is proposing is there.
The UAE’s more aggressive stance is due to the fact that its government is relatively popular and attempts to spark an Arab Spring there have failed to gain traction.
A Gallup poll in April 2011 found that 55% of the population feels that their country is “thriving,” a rating higher than the U.K. (54%), Germany (44%), France (42%) and Italy (37%). Sultan Al-Qassemi writes, “I see these UAE political Islamists as having failed. They failed in measuring the level of support for their vision—an Islamized state that neither the government nor the citizens want, not even in the long term—and assumed that people will be happy to have something ‘good’ done to them by force.”
In September, the Dubai police chief accused Iran of dispatching terrorist cells to the UAE. He told Al-Arabiya that “we will eventually operate squads in its [Iran’s] territory, since we won’t allow anyone to harm us while we sit idly by.”
That’s not just bluster. Iran’s Khuzestan Province is where about 90% of its oil production takes place and the majority of the population there is Arab. A flow of money, supplies and other forms of support from the UAE and other Gulf states to this area or even other regime opponents could cause the regime some very serious problems. The UAE has the option of helping Arab militants to sabotage the oil infrastructure if it desires.
The UAE shouldn’t have to stand alone. The West should embrace the concept of regional cooperation against the Muslim Brotherhood and, more importantly, the Islamist ideology driving it. An opportunity is being lost. Some of the U.S.-allied Arab governments understand that the ideology they have promoted could swallow them. The ideological problem is being recognized.
Unfortunately for them, the U.S. government refuses to recognize the “Islamist” ideology of the Brotherhood (that’s already become a politically incorrect) word and instead prefers to look at the Muslim Brotherhood like an antidote to Al-Qaeda.
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.