Article by Abdallah al-Rashid in Dubai: “The complete story of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE that began in the late 1960s; since 1988, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the strongest voice in the state educational institutions”
It is an old story, but these days it occupies a wide space of controversy in the Gulf and Arab scenes; its news and reports flow every minute. It is a hot accelerating story that has moved from the elite circles of politicians and intellectuals to become the talk of the street. It is the subject of public queries where opinions and trends as well as countries differ. “The United Arab Emirates and the Muslim Brotherhood” represents unprecedented candor; it is a story saturated with details. The most recent of its details may make one forget its original details; some of its chapters are distinguished by its images in the middle of boisterous developments and successive events. A reader may stop and wonder: What is happening? What is the story? What is going on? How did it begin and why did it begin? We will attempt to answer these questions in this article. What is the Muslim Brotherhood Movement planning and why has it targeted the UAE”?
In May 2012, Khalifah al-Nu`aymi, a young UAE activist and blogger, posted an article on his private blog headlined “Five recurrent questions on the call for reform”. In his article, he wondered: “Does Da`wat al-Islah have an organization?”. He answers his own question in the same article, saying that “Da`wat al-Islah must have an organization”. In elaborating on the approach and thinking of Da`wat al-Islah – that is described as representing the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in the UAE – Al-Nu`aymi says: “The advocates of Da`wat al-Islah are holders of higher education university diplomas. Some have studied in Egypt and were influenced by the ideology of Imam Hasan al-Banna; others were influenced by the ideology of Sheikh Abu-al-Ala al-Mawdudi (Islamist thinker in British India, died in 1979). In August 2012, and as if responding to Al-Nu`aymi`s article, young UAE blogger Muhammad al-Marzuqi wrote in his private blog: “Let us speak frankly; everyone knows that organizations – no matter how innocent and no matter under what benevolent labels they operate – are banned by law unless they are under the supervision of the state. So, what is so odd if some of their members are arrested? I know that the state and its senior officials have warned the leaders of this society (Society For Reform and Social Guidance) that their activities violate state laws. However, they persisted and forgot that the stick of the law is a heavy one”. These two blogged articles summarize much of what can be said about the two sides of the story of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE. This is particularly true if we keep in mind that social media sites, blogs, and panels were the most important sources of this story and its heroes. However, one of the principal turning points in this story is the petition that was issued by UAE activists and academicians the majority of whom are proponents of the thinking of the Muslim Brothers. The petition that coincided with the events of the Arab Spring came to be known as the “Petition of March 2011”. The petitioners demanded elections for the UAE National Council and amendments to the constitution that guarantee total legislative powers and oversight.
As a result of these moves, the reaction of the UAE authorities was firm and swift. In December 2011, the authorities revoked the citizenship of a number of “naturalized UAE citizens” associated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement and accused them of involvement in “acts that threaten national security and association with organizations and figures on the terrorism lists”. This development was followed by the candid speech delivered by Dubai Police Chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan entitled “A Vision From Within” at the conference of national and regional security of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states that was organized by the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International, and Energy Studies on 17 and 18 January 2012. In his address, Khalfan said: Allow me to put diplomacy aside; I am a security man. The Muslim Brothers represent one of the threats to Gulf security and are as much a threat as Iran”. After that speech, the UAE detained 60 members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization in the UAE. In September 2012, the public prosecution accused them of “forming and administering an underground organization and a military wing that undermines the security and principles of the state as well as association with foreign quarters and receiving instructions and funds to seize power and establish a religious government in the UAE”. But on 25 October 2012, Da`wat al-Islah issued a statement rebutting the public prosecution`s charges. It said that all forms of acts of violence, including armed struggle, totally violates its principles and goals. It emphasized that “the theatrical that the security organ is enacting will not deceive the people of the UAE”.
The First Beginnings: The Journey of the 1970s
Going back to the early beginnings of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE, Opinions and analyses differ in determining these actual beginnings of their activities and their basic funding sources. In a study entitled “The Muslim Brothers and the UAE” published by the Al-Misbar Center for Studies and Research, Saudi researcher Abdallah Bijad al-Utaybi says that the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the UAE goes back to the end of the 1960s or the middle of the 1970s. He cites the late Brotherhood leader Ali al-Ashmawi addressing Sayyid Qutub, most likely in 1965, as saying the brothers in the Gulf emirates have selected brother Izz-al-Din Ibrahim as an official”. Talking about Al-Hudaybi`s pilgrimage in 1973 in his study “The Muslim Brothers: The Experiment and the Mistakes,” Dr Abdallah al-Nufaysi writes: “During this pilgrimage, the first expanded meeting of the Muslim Brothers was held. In view of the fact that most of the Brothers abroad had immigrated to the Gulf region, committees were formed Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE”. Referring to the tasks of the Muslim Brothers in the Gulf, he says: “The delegates of the Gulf countries were not always used to raise funds for the Muslim Brotherhood international organization”. In the same year that witnessed the first expanded international meeting, the UAE witnessed the immigration of a number of (Muslim Brotherhood) educators and teachers from Egypt looking for work, as UAE writer and researcher Salim al-Nu`aymi confirms in a private interview. He says that the first beginnings of the presence of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE go back to 1973 when Arab cadres from the Muslim Brotherhood arrived in search of work and to flee the political persecution in their country. Saudi researcher Mansur al-Nuqaydan reviews the first beginning of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE in a study entitled “The Muslim Brothers in the UAE: Expansion and Contraction” published by the Al-Misbar Studies and Research Center. Al-Nuqaydan cites former International Law Professor Muhammad al-Rukn, a prominent leader of the UAE Muslim Brothers, who said that the return of UAE students in the late 1960s from their studies in Egypt and Kuwait marked the beginning of the formation of a Brotherhood organization in the UAE that “hoped to establish a movement that practices its activities and open its educational institutions in the country in order to attract youths to the ideology of the movement and prepare to be influential cadres in the nascent UAE society”. Al-Nuqaydan adds: “The group succeeded in establishing one of the oldest private societies in the UAE (the Reform and Social Guidance Society), the natural organizational extension of the Muslim Brothers. The Brothers in Kuwait extended paternal sponsorship and symbolic support to the nascent society when the Kuwaiti Al-Islah Society furnished its headquarters. This organic relationship between the UAE and the Kuwait branches continued through meetings, exchanged visits, field trips, and summer camps in Kuwait”. Going into more detail, Al-Nuqaydan adds that in 1974, a group of businessmen, prominent figures, elders, and Islamic preachers – such as Sultan Bin-Kayid al-Qasimi, Muhammad Bin-Abdallah al-`Ajalan, Abd-al-Rahman a l-Bakr, Hamad Hasan Raqit Al Ali, Hasan al-Duqqi, Sa`id Abdallah Harib al-Muhayri – submitted a request to the authorities to license the society.
Although in his study, Al-Nuqaydan refers to the role of the Brothers in Kuwait in establishing the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE, UAE writer Abd-al-Ghaffar Husayn, chairman of the UAE Human Rights Society, disagrees with him. He says that it was the Muslim Brothers in Qatar that carried out that role. In an article published in the UAE Al-Khalij newspaper, Husayn says that the activities of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE were launched from the Qatari education mission in Dubai that came in the form of financial aid to Qatar from the UAE in 1962. Sheikh Abd-al-Badi Saqr, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, played a prominent role in establishing these premises and selecting its instructors and administrators. He also established a school called the Al-Iman School in the area of Al-Rashidiyah in Dubai. Husayn adds: “Sheikh Abd-al-Badi and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi lived in Qatar and made repeated visits to the UAE. They were two prominent lecturers in the public library that was established by the municipal council in 1963”.
The Muslim Brothers in the UAE: The First Generation
In his book “From the Scholars of the Contemporary Islamic Movement and Da`wah” in which he cites most of the scholars of the first generation of the Islamic movement, particularly the general guides of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and their men in the Muslim world, Counselor Abdallah al-Aqil gives the biography of UAE scholar Sheikh Abdallah Bin-Ali al-Mahmud, one of the oldest leaders of the Islamic da`wah in the Arab Gulf. Sheikh Mahmud had a very early prominent and effective presence in Islamic action and the establishment of mosques and Islamic endowment foundations in the Al-Sharjah Emirate. Sheikh Al-Mahmud (1902 – 1982) was the first director of Islamic affairs and endowments in Al-Sharjah. His deputy in this department at the time was Azhar-graduate Sheikh Abd-al-Wadud Shalabi, one of the symbols of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. He and a number of other members of the movement were jailed in 1948 after it was disbanded. Al-`Aqil says: “Sheikh Al-Mahmud was a unique character and model. He exerted many blessed efforts in supporting Islamic preachers against the practices of tyrannical despots. He hailed the Muslim Brothers and strengthened their steadfastness before adversity. He had a close relationship with the Brothers in Kuwait. I met him in the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood there and was happy for his visit to Kuwait in the early 1970s. He honored us with a visit to the Social Islah Society and met with Brothers Yusuf Jasim al-Hajji, Abdallah Ali al-Mutawwa, Umar Abd-al-Razzaq al-Dayil, and other members and youths of the society”. Al-Aqil refers to the relationship between Sheikh Mahmud with the Kuwaiti preacher Abd-al-Aziz al-Ali alMutawwa, the founder of the first organizational structure of the Brothers in Kuwait where “they competed in providing support for the preachers. They also bought many churches in Britain and converted them to mosques where Muslims could worship and practice their Muslim rites”.
The Spark of Confrontation: Dialogue First
After the Al-Islah societies were founded in the UAE, the cadres of the Muslim Brothers became active in the education sphere by setting the curricula and controlling student activities. This was confirmed by Salim al-Nu`aymi who said: “Their goal was to attract students in their early years and plant the seeds of their beliefs in the scholastic and educational curricula. Researcher Mansur al-Nuqaydan affirms that in 1988, the Muslim Brothers were the strongest and only voice in the state educational institutions and in The Imarat University. According to a reliable source, the spark that alerted the UAE authorities to the infiltration of the Muslim Brothers of the education sphere in the two emirates came when a government employee wanted to continue his higher education abroad. This was in the early 1990s. His application to the scholarship committee was turned down although his university average was very good. This started raising questions: Does this mean that all the students on scholarships have an average of excellent and that there is no place for one with an average of very good? Or is there another reason? This case led the authorities to investigate and they discovered that the cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood movement have seized control of the education sphere, including winning a scholarship. Only those who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood or had the same beliefs deserved a scholarship. According to the source, this aroused the wrath of the authorities and drove them to take measures to confront the Al-Islah Society and curtail its influence. In the same vein, researcher Al-Nuqaydan points out that the investigations of the Egyptian security organs exposed people involved in terrorist operations from the Egyptian Al-Jihad group. They had received financial donations through the relief and external activities committee of the UAE Al-Islah Society. As a result, the authorities suspended all the external activities of the Al-Islah Society in 1994. This was followed by a decision dissolving its board of directors and the administration of its branches were turned over to the Ministry of Social Affairs. Al-Nuqaydan adds: “The decision ended the 21-year-old story of the establishment of the Muslim Brothers in the UAE of the Al-Islah and Social Guidance Society. But the issue of “Al-Bay`ah” and association with an organization clashed against the UAE`s federal laws and legislations since they were considered as violation of sovereignty. At first, the government tried to resolve the issue of the Muslim Brother members through dialogue first and by persuading to change their stands. This took place at a series of meetings between the Muslim Brotherhood cadres and Heir Apparent Sheikh Muhammad Bin-Zayid in 2003. This was confirmed by Dr Ali Bin-Rashid al-Nu`aymi, the president of the UAE University, in remarks to “Hadith al-Khalij” talk show with host Sulayman al-Hatlan. Al-Nu`aymi says: “The state has been engaging the UAE Muslim Brothers in dialogue for a long time to convince them about two points: To stop their organizational activities inside the country and to break off their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood organization abroad. In return, the state promised to support them financially and provide them with a decent living and work opportunities. But the intransigence of the Muslim Brothers, their activities that coincided with external organizations targeting the UAE, and in view of the circumstances through which the region was passing, the state had no choice but to take a firm stand against the Muslim Brothers in order to protect civic peace and national security”.
Rashid al-`Uraymi, chief editor of the UAE Al-Ittihad newspaper, agrees with Al-Nu`aymi and sets two binding conditions to accept and welcome the calls for reform. He says: “Reform should be undertaken under the umbrella of the homeland with the goal of protecting its interests and safeguarding its unity without any external agendas or allegiances. We all welcome reforms on these terms”. Al-`Uraymi affirms that since the establishment of the country, the UAE experiment went through a real spring represented in sustainable development and civic construction renaissance. It achieved prosperity to the citizens making it the land of dreams and the homeland of creative energies and ideas”. On the political side, Al-`Uraymi refers to the “Participation and Empowerment” program announced in 2005 and sponsored by President Sheikh Khalifah Al Nuhayyan. This program aims at expanding the participation of the UAE citizen in the political process through the election of half the members of the National Council, since “the UAE leadership knows very well that democracy is a process of gradual measures. The UAE has achieved big historic gains that should be safeguarded through a mature and graduated process in democratic participation”. Muhammad al-Hamadi, UAE writer and chief editor of the Arabic edition of The National Geographic Magazine, affirms: “The UAE citizen is strongly tied to his land and leadership and clings to his national, pan-Arab, and religious constants. A UAE citizen does not accept external groups to exploit him and exploit conditions in the region to take his country to the unknown”. (Rest of the article omitted repeating previously reported information).
(Description of Source: London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic — Website of influential London-based pan-Arab Saudi daily; editorial line reflects Saudi official stance; URL: http://www.asharqalawsat.com/)
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