Political Islam Groups, GCC countries: Good Deeds Gone with the Wind

Abdelkader Zaoui
Abdelkader Zaoui

Political Islam Groups, GCC countries: Good Deeds Gone with the Wind

A large number of leaders and members of political Islam groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have found a safe haven in most GCC countries, as they ran away from security and judicial harassments and scrutiny in their native countries. During the 60s and 70s of the past century, GCC capitals welcomed members of political Islamic groups and provided them with livelihoods. They were offered job opportunities and integrated in various sectors, especially education, justice, and Awqaf and Islamic affairs.


The GCC countries were so welcoming of these groups, including the Brotherhood and the Salafists, to the extent of allowing them to practice Da’wah through various religious platforms and media, as well as local organizations whose names had religious connotations, such as “Irshad” (Guidance)” and “Islah” (Reform). These organizations were headed by GCC nationals, some even members of the ruling families, and most of them were taught at the hands of supporters of these currents. Therefore, many members of those political groups grew close to high authority figures in the countries of refuge. This provided them with a comfortable atmosphere to carry out their jobs and Da’wah activities, even the political ones, with ease and without any disturbance. Some of them were even granted citizenships in the countries of refuge.


The proximity among members of these groups and decision makers, as well as the open economies of GCC countries and the proper utilization of the steadfastness of values in GCC communities, are all factors that facilitated the access of affiliates of Islamic currents to the financial markets. They accordingly managed to make huge fortunes, which later turned out to be vital sources of financing of political Islam groups across the world, not only in the countries of these affluents.


In return for such hospitality and generous treatment, GCC countries had hoped that the Islamists would take the initiative in times of hardship. They expected that these groups would take supportive stance in solidarity, which would not have cost them anything. However, the first ordeal that hit the GCC – Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – left these expectations down.


As the invasion wreaked havoc, GCC leaders and people stood in shock in front and were bewildered to see that the political Islam currents did not denounce the offensive. Instead, they put their focus on appealing to the Muslim masses by criticizing the foreign force that was coming to liberate Kuwait, deeming it a barbaric imperialist invasion that represents another evidence of what they called "the surrender of Arab and Muslim leaders to the West." The position of Jordan's Islamists was the most noticeable stance in this regard, as they called on Muslims not to bow to then-US President Bush Sr. or to anyone else whom they described as the “enemies of Islam.”


The stances taken by the Islamic currents, which the GCC countries deemed a manifestation of ingratitude, served as a wake-up bell for the GCC regimes to discover that the supporters of the political ideology disguised in religion residing in their midst mastered the practice of taqiya. Afterall, these groups did not perceive the welcoming of the GCC countries as generosity or sympathy. Rather, they saw it as a price that these countries paid to exploit them as a tool to perplex the Arab regimes, which had mostly nationalist and leftist tendencies at the time. The aforementioned regimes did not hide its hegemonic tendencies against other Arab countries, which they deemed as retrograde.


Naturally, this blatant ingratitude pushed most GCC countries to shift their positions on the Islamic phenomenon. They began realizing its danger and the need to swiftly dissolve them as a political movement or to contain it if such a task was impossible. The plans for this mean differed from one GCC country to the other, depending on the extent of the penetration of the Islamic currents in its political and social life and the specific circumstances of each country.

In this regard, one can distinguish between two approaches that GCC countries adopted in dealing with political Islam groups and their different repercussions. These are:

Containing these groups by allowing them to take part in elections where there are electoral systems and then having some of the members assume some governmental responsibilities in service departments. The electoral participation has unearthed the actual popularity of these currents, which turned out to be less they promote. As for allowing them to handle executive responsibilities, it has proved the incompetence of these groups, in contrary to their claims.


* Dissolving these groups and stripping them of any legal status. Two different approaches were taken here. The first was voluntary by the groups themselves, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. One of its branches in the region agreed to dissolve itself without giving any reasons, except for discussing the futility of struggle in an already conservative social environment, and the desire to enjoy a comfortable living. As for the second method, it used legal tools to dissolve the various branches of Islamic groups and reduce the influence of its members by not renewing the employment contracts of expatriate members and referring national members to retirement.


Even though the two approaches differed, they proved successful and helped eradicate the prowess of political Islam from these countries. Such elimination process allowed them to move forward with modern developmental plans, unhindered by a religious cloth.

It has become clear that in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions and protests, the second approach has become a popular option among countries in the region. They became focused on seeking the stability necessary for their development plans, based on economic visions that aim to diversify sources of income away from dependence on oil and gas exports.

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