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Why is Saudi Arabia at War With Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

On July 3, 2013, Egyptian General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi staged a coup d'etat against Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood. On June 3, 2014, Egypt’s Electoral Commission declared al-Sisi president of Egypt with 97% of the 47% who voted in the presidential election a week earlier.


It is important to examine Saudi Arabia's role in Mr. al-Sisi’s ascension. The consequences of this development can be far reaching on dimming the prospects for Islamic and democratic reforms in Arab countries and for taming the Wahhabi ideology that produced al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the atrocities of September 11. 


The al-Sisi coup prevented the Arab Spring in Egypt from instituting an Islamic parliamentary democratic alternative to non-representative absolute rule. In al-Sisi’s coup, the world has lost an opportunity to discredit the Wahhabi propaganda for the past eighty years that democracy is a Western conspiracy to destroy Islam. 

Ever since 1932, when Wahhabi clerics and their al-Saud benefactors formed the kingdom that bears the al-Saud family name, Riyadh has proclaimed representative democracy un-Islamic. By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood declared political parties, elections, and parliamentary democracy as a part of Arab Islam, as they are a part of non-Arab Islam. Its candidate for president, Mohamed Morsi, won 51.7% of the votes cast in the June 2012 elections. In Tunisia’s parliamentary elections, the Islamic al-Nahda party achieved 41% of the votes cast (October 2011). In Morocco, the Islamic Justice and Development Party achieved 27% of the votes cast (November 2011), more than any other party. In Tunisia and Morocco, the leaders of the winning parties became prime ministers. 

In Jordan’s September 2016 parliamentary elections, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), a Brotherhood chapter, won 16 out of 130 seats. Significantly, the Brotherhood joined Christians and other candidates to form an alliance in the elections: the National Coalition for Reform. In Kuwait’s November 2016 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated opposition won 24 of the 50 seats in the parliament. In Syria, the Brotherhood has had long democratic roots. Its officials were a part of democratically elected parliaments in 1954 (with eight other political parties) and in 1961 (with ten other political parties), until an air force decommissioned captain, Hafiz Asad and comrades destroyed Syria’s democracy on March 8, 1963.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the one intellectual force with the religious credibility and popular standing to challenge Wahhabism over the soul of Sunni Islam and to lead Arab societies towards an age of Islamic enlightenment. Formed in 1928 and operates in 70 countries under different names, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and largest Islamic political party in the Arab world. Its intellectual roots are anchored in Egypt’s age-old progressive culture. 

Until the advent of Wahhabism, Islam was, in the main, tolerant of the other. But, Wahhabism changed all that. To justify the al-Sauds’ rebellion against Ottoman rule, the Abdulwahhab clan constructed an extreme Islamic doctrine for their al-Saud benefactors to use against the moderate Hanafi doctrine of the Ottoman sultans. Under Ottoman rule (1280-1918), religious sects lived with each other rather harmoniously. Under Muslim Mamluk rule in Egypt and Syria (1250-1517), art and architecture stand till this day as witness to its sophisticated high culture. On Muslim Spain (711-1492), Britain’s prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli (1868 and 1874-1880), wrote in hisConingsby: “That fair and unrivaled civilization in which the children of Ishmael rewarded the children of Israel with equal rights and privileges with themselves. During these halcyon centuries it is difficult to distinguish the followers of Moses from the votary of Mohamet.”

The al-Saud Wahhabi regime developed a cult-like obsession with the intolerant and the violent as a way of life, unseen anywhere else in the Muslim world. Despite their deep pockets and active proselytization, Wahhabis represent only around 3% of world’s Muslims. 

For the Saudi regime to lump the Muslim Brotherhood with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State and Hezbollah is a distortion of the facts. The so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda are Wahhabi terrorist organizations. Hezbollah is a Shi’ite terrorist organization under Iran’s command. The Brotherhood is neither Wahhabi nor terrorist. 

The Muslim Brotherhood poses an existential threat to the Wahhabi regime. This argument is grounded in the belief that to accelerate Egypt’s economic and social developments, the Muslim Brotherhood’s majority in parliament would enact modern laws compatible with modern interpretations of Islam. Muslim Brotherhood’s religious scholars, especially in Islam’s oldest center for learning, the eleven-century old al-Azhar University, would articulate impressive reasoning and references in support of the Islamic nature of the new laws. Wahhabis and their salafists and jihadists cohorts would assail such laws as being un-Islamic. The confrontation would energize a major debate around the Arab and non-Arab Muslim worlds in academia, the media, and Web social networks over subjects considered taboo in Islam for generations. 

Saudi enmity towards the Muslim Brotherhood reached its climax as a confluence of regional and domestic developments combined to threaten the survival of the Riyadh regime. Its confrontations with Shi’ite Iran since the Khomeini revolution in 1979 have become magnified by Tehran’s success in controlling the Baghdad government, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Asad regime in Damascus, and by Bahrain’s Shi’ite strife since 2011 and the decade long Houthi rebellion in Yemen. Adding to the external threats, there are the struggle since 2011 for human rights in the Shi’ite dominated oil-rich Qatif Region and the hatred al-Qaeda and its incarnations harbour toward the al-Saud clan and the discontent Saudis feel toward their government for its absolute rule and the squandering of tens of billions of dollars annually on the more than eleven thousand members of direct descendants of the founder of the Saudi dynasty, King Abdulaziz. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other Arab countries in winning majorities in democratic elections. 

The Muslim Brotherhood’s modern Islamic outlook and democratic political governance could inspire Saudi Arabia’s Internet generation to cast away the Wahhabi straightjacket for the less austere Islam from Egypt. Riyadh fears the growing demand by Saudis for parliamentary democracy, even a republic. 69% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30 years, and 56% is between the ages of 10 and 40 years. 

While Riyadh is incapable of neutralizing Iran, silencing the Muslim Brotherhood became crucial. Riyadh financed General al-Sisi’s coup d’etat. Cairo and Riyadh declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

The al-Sisi coup interrupted the developing contest over the soul of Islam between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabi rulers. In Egypt’s poverty and desperate need for financial aid, Sisi has reduced his homeland to a vassal state of Saudi Arabia.  




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