Saudi Arabia designates Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist group
RIYADH // Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group on Friday along with two extremist groups fighting in Syria.
The move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudi extremists from Syria.
Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, whose fighters are battling the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, were also named terrorist organisations, the interior ministry said.
It also listed as terrorist groups Shiite Houthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and a little-known internal Shiite group called Hizbollah in the Hijaz.
The order penalises involvement in any of the groups’ activities at home or abroad, including demonstrations, and outlaws the use of “slogans of these organisations”, including in social media.
Saudis fighting abroad were given a 15-day ultimatum to return home or face imprisonment.
It also forbids “participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries”.
Mohammed Zulfa, a member of the Shura Council, said the decision was long overdue.
“The kingdom had opened its borders and its universities to anyone who claims to be a Muslim,” he was quoted as saying by Al Arabiya.
“We were deceived. Had such a decision issued long time ago, we would not have seen the rise of these groups.”
Saudi Arabia set up specialised terrorism courts in 2011 to try dozens of nationals and foreigners accused of belonging to Al Qaeda or being involved in a wave of bloody attacks that swept the country from 2003.
Yesterday’s announcement appeared to enforce last month’s royal decree where Riyadh said it would jail for between three and 20 years any citizen who fought guilty of fighting in conflicts abroad.
The kingdom’s authorities want to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria and posing a security risk once they return home.
The decision to brand the Brotherhood a terrorist group came after the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Wednesday recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.
Wayne White, a former US intelligence official who worked in the GCC and current analyst at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, said the move reinforced Riyadh’s anger towards Doha,
“Before, it would have been no surprise at all for the Saudis to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group … but now they also have the advantage of using the designation as a tool to smite Qatar politically,” said Mr White.
Doha had been a staunch supporter of Egypt’s deposed president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, and backs Brotherhood-linked groups across the region.
Qatar also hosts the firebrand Brotherhood cleric, Yousuf Al Qaradawi, who did not deliver his usual sermon on Friday.
The reasons for his absence were not made immediately public.
His past sermons, in which he criticised the UAE and other Gulf countries for their support of Egypt’s new government, led to outrage among Qatar’s neighbours who saw the comments as an attack on their sovereignty.
“It is no coincidence that every single designation that we see coming out today is the designation as a terrorist group of a group that the Qatari government has supported, whether it is the Brotherhood in Egypt … or key groups inside Syria that Saudi Arabia had long ago pulled away from giving any support to, which was never as significant as Qatari support,” Mr White said.
Egypt on Thursday welcomed the Gulf countries’ decision to recall their envoys from Doha.
It said its own envoy, who has been in Cairo since early February, “will not return to Qatar at the present time, and his remaining in Egypt is a sovereign political decision”.
“It is for Qatar to clearly determine its position, whether it will stand on the side of Arab solidarity, unified ranks and protection of national security ... or on the other side, and bear the consequences and responsibility for that,” a government statement said.
The army-backed government in Cairo designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist group in December after accusing it of carrying out a suicide bomb attack on a police station that killed 16 people.
The Brotherhood condemned that attack and denies using violence.
The UAE, which considers the Islamist organisation to be a destabilising force in the region, this month sentenced an Islamist from Qatar and his two Emirati co-conspirators who collected Dh10 million and channelled the funds to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have been sent to prison for up to seven years.
Syria and Russia have also declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.
* Reporting by Taimur Khan in New York, Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Updated: March 7, 2014 04:00 AM