x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ruling marks the rejection of Brotherhood as force in UAE

The court verdict marks an end to years of vagueness about the nature of the Brotherhood organisation and its place in the UAE.

On July 17, 2009, Egypt's state security prosecutors charged 36 people on suspicion of threatening the country's security. The defendants included three businessmen from the UAE's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were accused of sending money to Egypt.

Fast forward four years and the irony for the Brotherhood is obvious. On the same month, and in a similar state security case in the UAE, judges issued a landmark verdict yesterday against 94 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government here: 25 of the defendants were found not guilty, eight were sentenced to 15 years and the other 61 were sentenced to seven to 10 years. And in Egypt, millions of people have taken to the streets this week in protests against the Brotherhood rule.

In the UAE, however, it is a mistake to view the case solely in the context of the revolts that have swept the region since 2011. The UAE's link to the Brotherhood has gone through a cycle of confrontation, punctuated by toleration and engagement.

A glance at the history of the organisation in the UAE helps to illuminate the significance of yesterday's verdict to the country and how confrontation was inevitable.

The UAE's Brotherhood franchise, known as Al Islah, was established in the 1970s by Emirati graduates who had studied in Egypt and had been influenced by the Brotherhood ideology there. Many Egyptian Brotherhood members had settled in the UAE, as well as in other Arabian Gulf countries, after they fled the ferocious campaign of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's pan-Arabist leader, in the 1950s.

By the 1970s, Brotherhood "committees" had been established across the region, although they tended to avoid the name "Brotherhood" and instead used "reform", or islah, to reflect their social and political agendas.

By the 1980s, the Brotherhood effectively controlled parts of the UAE's education system. Members also gained high-level government posts - including those of the ministers of education and justice, and the education ministry's curriculum development department.

But a process of de-ikhwanification (from the word ikhwan for Brotherhood) of the education system followed - in the 1980s by Dubai authorities and since 1994 in Abu Dhabi and federally. The campaign to overhaul the school curricula came at a time when the UAE began modernising its education system, and thus conflict with the Brotherhood was only to be expected.

In 2003, negotiations took place between Brotherhood members and senior UAE officials. The members, particularly in the education sector, were given three options, according to Al Mesbar, a Dubai-based research centre: the first was to continue working in education if they renounced the group and revoked allegiance to the Brotherhood in Egypt; members would then be able to preach a moderate Islam.

The second option was to renounce the Brotherhood as an organisation but keep their own convictions without promoting the ideology in schools or elsewhere. The third option was to find jobs outside education, if members chose to remain part of the group.

After a few months of meetings, the group's leaders rejected the conditions. According to Dr Abdullah Al Nufaisi, a Gulf analyst from Kuwait, the Brotherhood in Qatar advised their UAE counterparts more than once to dissolve their organisation (Qatar's Brotherhood had dissolved theirs in 1999). Many members have since renounced the group, although others still remain in conflict with the state.

That conflict has become more pronounced since 2006. In the process, hundreds of expatriate Brotherhood members or "fellow travellers" have been deported. Many of them worked in education.

In late 2011, UAE authorities revoked the citizenship of several members for their involvement in "acts threatening the national security through their connection with suspicious regional and international organisations and personalities". According to documents seen by The National, authorities have identified 24 Brotherhood-linked international organisations that coordinate with Emirati individuals - three of these individuals were convicted yesterday. These organisations include Cordoba Foundation, Human Relief Foundation and Emirates Centre for Human Rights.

The authorities have often accused the Brotherhood of militancy. In 1990, for example, junior members of the Brotherhood had plotted to attack the US consulate in Dubai but they were discouraged by senior members. In 2001, state security accused the group of forming a secret militant organisation but the Brotherhood denied the accusation. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, a member in Ajman delivered a fiery sermon about jihad in which he called on worshippers to send threatening letters to the US embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Apart from the Brotherhood's teachings and their influence in the education system, the main concern for the authorities has been the requirement of Brotherhood members to pledge allegiance to the international Islamist organisation's figurehead in Egypt, currently the eighth general guide and nominal leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badi.

Yesterday's verdict must be examined against the backdrop of these dynamics. The verdict marks an end to years of vagueness about the nature of the organisation and its place in this country - one of those convicted was a member of a ruling family, Sultan bin Kayed Al Qasimi, the chairman of Al Islah. In this sense, the ruling is a landmark for the Brotherhood's story in the UAE.

 

hhassan@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @hhassan140