Time is Running Out for the Muslim Brotherhood

(Cairo) – Gulf states are becoming unsafe for the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, after Kuwait repatriated eight members of the Islamist organization, almost the largest in the Arab region with branches everywhere in the world, to Egypt.

On July 12, Kuwaiti authorities said they had arrested eight organization members who had committed terrorist attacks in Egypt, including the 2015 assassination of the Egyptian public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat.

The Kuwaiti cabinet said in a statement later that Kuwaiti authorities would repatriate the eight Brotherhood terrorists. It added that the authorities would also search for Kuwaiti nationals who might have been involved in hiding these terrorists.

The arrest of these Brotherhood operatives is a security triumph for Kuwait, and the result of close cooperation with Egypt, the mother country of the Brotherhood, whose theoreticians, including founders Hassan al-Banna and Sayyed Qotb, are important terms of reference for almost all Islamist organizations, including al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Kuwait has a strong Brotherhood presence. Some influential political movements in the small, but oil-rich, Arab Gulf state share the same ideology of the organization. This is why the arrest of the eight members is a strong blow against the local Brotherhood branch, and may have its internal repercussions, analysts said. “Brotherhood-affiliated movements are strong inside Kuwait,” said Tharwat al-Kherbawi, a former longtime member of the Brotherhood in Egypt. “These movements are even represented in the Kuwaiti parliament.”

The arrest of the eight Brotherhood members has filled their organization with fear. It sparked calls for members of the Brotherhood to leave the whole Gulf region for other places that could be safer. “The whole of the Gulf is no longer safe for us,” wrote one Brotherhood member on his Facebook page. “We do not need to wait here, otherwise we will end up being handed over to Egyptian authorities,” wrote another.

Egypt has been waging an all-out war against the Brotherhood since mid-2014, when Egyptians rose up against Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian crackdown on the Islamist group has caused thousands of its members to be put in Egyptian jails, and thousands of others to escape to other countries, especially to Turkey and Qatar. Nonetheless, in clamping down on the group, Egypt has not stopped at its borders, but taken this clampdown to regional and international levels.

It worked to convince other Arab and international governments of the dangers posed by this group, which has its own militias, most of them active in Egypt. Saudi Arabia designated the group a “terrorist organization” in March 2014. The United Arab Emirates followed suit in November of the same year. Nevertheless, Kuwait bucked this trend, apparently for internal security reasons, given the strong presence of the group inside the country.

Egypt also tried to convince the administration of US President Donald Trump to label the Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organization. Reacting to the arrest of its members in Kuwait, the Brotherhood issued a statement on July 13 in which it said that it had never thought of harming Kuwait’s security or stability. It added that it had confidence that Kuwaiti authorities would not repatriate its eight members, expressing fears that once in Egypt, these members would not receive a fair trial.

However, with the noose tightening around them in Kuwait, as well as in other states of the Arab Gulf, except for Qatar, a regional sponsor of political Islam, the Brotherhood have limited options.

This is especially true with the political changes taking place in Turkey, another regional sponsor of the group. Turkey is by far the largest recipient of Brotherhood members convicted by Egypt and wanted by Egyptian authorities. Nonetheless, the Turkish opposition has been growing intolerant to Brotherhood presence in Turkey, and also to the pro-Islamist policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The fact is that the members of the Brotherhood do not know where to go,” Kherbawi said. “The world is changing around them, and their options are becoming very limited.”