In case you didn’t notice, 2014 was a bad year for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Economist has the story, and it is well worth passing along.
When the Arab Spring began in 2011 the Brothers were ascendant. They received warm embraces from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Economist reports:
Indeed, in the Arab Spring of 2011 Brothers and their fellow travellers won elections in Tunisia and Egypt, and took a lead in the bloodier uprisings of Syria, Libya and Yemen. The Palestinian branch, Hamas, had resorted to armed violence against Israel since the 1990s and took control of the Gaza Strip. Turkey, in the electoral grip of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK party, seemed to offer an economically successful model of democratic Islamist rule: a bigger, modern-looking Brother.
Now, as 2014 draws to a close, the Brotherhood is in serious trouble:
The Brothers’ dream has come apart with stunning swiftness. Beginning with the popularly backed military coup that ousted President Muhammad Morsi from power in Egypt in mid-2013, the Brotherhood’s brand of political Islam has suffered a stinging sequence of setbacks. In Tunisia voters have turned back to secularists. The apparent loss of Qatar as a patron leaves only Mr Erdogan as a bastion of support for them, but his increasingly autocratic government has few other friends left.
How did it happen?
But in places like Tunisia and Egypt, the Brotherhood misread election wins as endorsement for its Islamist project, when they equally reflected the weakness, after years of dictatorship, of other political actors. The Brothers overplayed their hand and alienated support. Elsewhere, the Brotherhood found its white-collar brand of Islamism outflanked by harder-line groups that demanded instant rather than gradual application of Islamic law, or rejected democracy as a deviation from God’s commands. Among poor, traumatised Sunnis in Iraq and Syria extreme jihadists with guns proved to have greater appeal. Seen as the strongest opposition group at the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, the Brotherhood now wields little influence on the ground.
While naïve Westerners saw the Brothers as an acceptable form of Islam, people who were living under their rule saw something different:
Whereas many Western governments saw them as a potentially tolerable face for Islamism that might safely sponge up radicals inclined to terrorism, some Arab governments saw them as a mortal threat. This was the belief within Egypt’s “deep state”, which since the coup has killed hundreds of Brothers, arrested thousands and put the group’s entire leadership on trial. Egypt has squeezed Hamas, throttling Gaza’s licit and illicit border passages.
And then, the Brotherhood lost its patrons:
More quietly, wealthy Gulf states have moved to stamp out Brotherhood influence. “It is a fascist group,” flatly declares one senior Gulf official. “They have been a gateway, a recruiting device for every kind of extremism.” Propelled by such hostility, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have joined Egypt in banning the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. Gulf monarchies have not just poured money into Egypt to prop up its post-coup government, and heaped pressure on Qatar by recalling ambassadors and threatening sanctions. In places such as Libya and Syria they have also backed factions opposed to the Brothers; in the case of the UAE they have even conducted undeclared long-range bombing raids to thwart Islamists in Libya.
Such pressure has worked. Qatar has quietly expelled senior Brothers and muted media coverage that was favourable to them. Jordan, whose branch of the Brotherhood has long been the strongest opposition party, has lately arrested several members, including a party leader charged with insulting friendly Arab states. In another, unrelated setback Shia rebels in Yemen, who in October seized the capital, Sana’a, have mounted a campaign of harassment against the Brotherhood-affiliated, and once powerful Islah Party.
Of course, this is desirable. Since the Muslim Brotherhood is the godfather of many Islamist terrorist organizations, suppressing it is a step in the right direction.
As it happens, the Obama administration has either been marginalized or had been backing the Brotherhood.
This might vindicate the Obama policy of selective disengagement. In the absence of American leadership others step up to take charge.
In some cases, this is for the best. In others it is not.
At the least, we know that the process will be long and arduous. It will certainly not happen without major and minor glitches.
Even though things appear to be moving in the right direction, the dispossessed members of the Brotherhood are now flocking to Turkey and to ISIS. And, let's not forget that Iran is on the verge of acquire nuclear weapons.
Surely, this does not mean that the Brotherhood should not have been deconstructed. Sometimes selective disengagement produces positive effects. And yet, these two need to be managed, lest they produce very bad outcomes.
When it comes to the Obama administration's selective engagement with countries like Turkey and Iran, the outcomes do not seem to be quite so constructive.