By Kristin Smith Diwan, American University and George Washington University

*This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” conference, January 23, 2015. 

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is going through the most difficult stage in its political history since the Nasserist period. However, unlike the 1950s and 1960s, the Brotherhood can neither count on political support from nor find a safe haven in the conservative monarchies of the Arab Gulf. An intra-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) feud that pitted the pro-MB Qatar against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia has come down decisively in favor of the anti-MB forces. Combined with the significant challenges that the MB in the Gulf was already facing from disaffected youth cadres and Salafist competitors, the current hostile environment will make it impossible for the MB to maintain their previous level of social and political influence inside the Gulf countries.

The MB has a long and influential history in the Arab Gulf. It was brought to the region during the MB’s earliest days, in some cases through personal contacts with the MB’s founder, Hassan al-Banna. The group deepened its presence in the 1950s and 1960s as crackdowns on the MB organizations in Egypt and Syria forced activists to seek refuge in the Gulf. Their influence grew as governments found them suitable allies in countering Arab nationalism and manning rapidly expanding state ministries. Brotherhood members organized in informal networks and where possible established societies for social reform along with Islamic charities. In those states that had political openings and active parliaments – Kuwait, Bahrain – the MB formed political societies which competed in elections and came to increasing political prominence in the 1990s. While their experience varies significantly from country to country, it is fair to say that the MB played a substantial role in shaping Gulf societies and had a significant impact on national politics. Read more on the Monkey Cage.

The future of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf

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