White House support of Muslim Brotherhood leaves some in Middle East puzzled

Last month, the White House, in response to an online petition signed by more than 213,000 people calling for the Muslim Brotherhood to be designated a terrorist organization, issued a brief statement that simply stated, “We have not seen credible evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced its decades-long commitment to non-violence.”

The very same day, INTERPOL reportedly issued a ‘Red Notice’, a provisional international arrest warrant, for 40 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures including 88-year-old firebrand cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi, the leader of the Global Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi’s virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Western rhetoric is lapped up by, and inspires Sunni affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood around the world. His messages are granted regular airtime by Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

In a January 2009 speech, Qaradawi - banned by the Clinton administration from entering the United States since 1999 yet, according to last week’s White House statement his organization has a “decades-long commitment to non-violence”, implored his followers to rise up against Israel and against Jews. “Oh Allah” he said, “Do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

“Despite the ban, Qaradawi's message still reaches the American public via satellite television and the Internet,” ADL, the Anti-Defamation League notes.  He continues to write “articles and religious rulings which support violence against non-Muslims, as well as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American content.”

Across much of the Arab world the Muslim Brotherhood has been marginalised in recent years, seen as a direct or indirect party to Sunni Islamist terrorism, and a destabilising influence across the region.

On Dec. 2, it was revealed by London-based international Arab newspaper Al Hayat that a major plot by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to smuggle weapons into the West Bank had been foiled by Jordanian security services. The weapons would likely have been used by Hamas terrorists to attack Israeli targets or to destabilize the Palestinian Authority with whom Hamas – supposedly governing partners in Gaza – is once again at daggers drawn.

A week earlier Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, together with the Israeli military, revealed it had arrested 30 Hamas members involved in a highly advanced plot being directed from Hamas’ new command centre in Turkey. Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state as part of its charter and has provoked a series of wars against Israel since coming to power in Gaza in 2006, was established in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; essentially, Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group in December 2013, a matter of months after the U.S.-supported government led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, had been forced out of power after only a year. Millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets and demanded the army take action to stop a rapid economic collapse and a clear agenda to Islamize the country.

Despite new Egyptian president Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi’s determined efforts to counter both ISIS and Al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups in the Sinai Peninsula, many regional observers feel the Obama administration has been luke-warm at best in its support of his robust anti-terror offensive. Egypt has repeatedly highlighted Turkey and Qatar – both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood – as being behind efforts to destabilize the country.

“We have a struggle against... terrorist ideologies like the [Muslim] Brotherhood and all these organizations support each other,” Sameh Shukri, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper in October. “We have seen terrorists from [ISIS] move from Iraq and Syria to Sinai, even Nigeria. The interconnected nature of all these organizations has to be recognized.”

In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, as it does in many other countries, uses affiliates such as the benign-sounding Commission for the Protection of Civilians (CPC) to carry out its work as part of the Free Syrian Army, as highlighted in a November 2013 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report. “[The CPC] seems to have played an important role running guns from Libya, via Turkey – apparently with the support of Turkish authorities and allegedly with backing from Qatar.”

“[The CPC] soon began putting pressure on those groups that wanted the money and ammunition to keep coming, demanding that they conform to Ikhwani [Muslim Brotherhood doctrine] policy,” the Carnegie report added.

And as the U.S. and others continue to pin their hopes on the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) fighting disgraced President Bashar el-Assad’s Iranian, Hezbollah, and Russian-supported regime, only last week, in a report titled ‘The destructive ascendancy of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood’, Now website’s Ayman Sharrouf observed, “Over the last 10 years the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has consistently shown that its only desire is to dominate all other opposition forces, regardless of the consequences.” Sharrouf reported a senior SOC member as stating, “[The Brotherhood] showed no respect for the opposition’s plurality.”

While on the one hand U.S. forces attempt to stem the march of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, regional leaders warn that not appreciating the essential ties that bind the many extreme Sunni Islamist organizations together – including the Muslim Brotherhood – is a grave error.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has maneuvered itself into a position of power in Libya's fractious General National Congress despite only enjoying minority support among the electorate. Its militias are among the most powerful in Libya,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies stated in June this year. The Muslim Brotherhood is alleged to have plundered Libyan oil revenues to further its agenda in Libya and across the region.

Recently voted out of power in Tunisia, declared a terrorist organization by the seven-state Gulf federation of the United Arab Emirates, and by Saudi Arabia (where for many years it had been an integral part of Saudi politics), having little support in Lebanon, and in an uneasy relationship with Jordanian authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood’s only remaining regional supporters now are Qatar and Turkey. Both openly fund Hamas, and both are mired in allegations of direct or tacit support of ISIS and other ultra-violent jihadist groups.

Yet, to the consternation of many in the Middle East, (and apparently a growing number of concerned parties in America), both Qatar and Turkey remain U.S. allies and appear to have the ear of the president despite ample evidence that suggests they are playing a double game.

Last month, 23 members of congress signed a letter urging David Cohen, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to step up the pressure on Hamas sponsors Turkey and Qatar. The signatories are all members of either the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, or the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.

“Qatar... allows Hamas’ top leader, politburo chief Khalid Mishaal, to operate out of its territory knowingly and with impunity. It was even widely reported in the press that Qatar threatened to deport Mishaal if Hamas had accepted an Egypt-backed ceasefire agreement to end this summer’s conflict in Gaza,” the congress members wrote. “Turkey serves as the headquarters for Saleh al-Arouri, who is believed to head Hamas’ terrorist operations in the West Bank... In addition to Hamas figures that knowingly and openly operate in Turkey, numerous charities, front companies, and possibly even banks provide some form of support from Turkey for the terror group.”

Qatar, in particular, relies heavily on the protection afforded its autocratic regime by the presence of the massive U.S. Al Udeid airbase on its soil. Regional expert Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, this summer told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on terrorism and the Middle East, that Qatar is “currently seen as Hamas’ ATM”, and added that threatening to pull out of Al Udeid would convey to the Qataris “that they will not enjoy the protection of the United States forever, so long as this relationship continues with Hamas.”

Such a threat appears not to have been made despite ample evidence of Qatari meddling throughout the Middle East.

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com