With reporting by Riham Sheble
Over the weekend, several senior Muslim Brotherhood members announced that they will be leaving Qatar – a development that is being seen by many as a sign of mending relations between the Gulf country and its neighbors.
However, despite the imminent departure of the leaders, Doha continues to be home to dozens of the organization’s members.
On Saturday, Amr Darrag – a senior Brotherhood leader – said he he was honoring a request by local authorities to relocate outside the country “to avoid causing any embarrassment for the State of Qatar,” which he described as “a very welcoming and supportive host.”
He did not indicate when he and his colleagues would leave the country.
Qatar has not made any official announcement regarding the pending departure, but reports citing unnamed government sources say the Brotherhood members are actually leaving voluntarily and are not being forced out.
Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has been a source of friction between it and other GCC states, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Those countries view the Brotherhood’s brand of political Islam as a threat to the authority of their own governments and have banned the organization, designating it a terrorist group.
It’s unclear what impact the departure of the seven Brotherhood members will have on the organization’s operations in Qatar, where “dozens” of their colleagues are still based, according to Andrew Hammond, an analyst with European Council on Foreign Relations.
He told AFP that the apparent ousting is likely a compromise measure does not indicate that Qatar is changing course.
“I don’t think it signals a major shift in policy, it looks like incremental concessions to placate (Qatar’s) neighbours and prevent the dispute from getting out of hand,” he said.
Similarly, Jabir al-Harami – the editor-in-chief of Al Sharq newspaper, who said he was asked by the Qatar government to speak publicly about the issue – suggested that the Brotherhood still has a critical mass in Qatar.
Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Egyptian broadcasting arm, he argued the fact that so few Brotherhood members were leaving Qatar is proof that they men are departing voluntarily and were not forced to exit.
“It is unrealistic that the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar is only seven people … History has shown us that Qatar does not succumb to pressure and that when Doha takes a decision, it is one that is out of conviction.”
Al-Harami’s comments run counter to the argument that this is a pragmatic move aimed at improving relations within the Gulf.
Qatar supported former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood party and was deposed by the military last year. That put Qatar offside with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which favor the current government.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March as a public rebuke of Qatar’s foreign policy. While tensions are believed to still be simmering, GCC ministers publicly declared the dispute resolved in April and again last month.
How the feud was resolved has not been made public. However, several reports have speculated that Qatar’s expulsion of senior Muslim Brotherhood members is a key component of the agreement.
All seven of the Muslim Brotherhood members leaving Qatar are Egyptian, according to Al Sharq, which cited the Turkish news agency Anadolu. They are:
- Mahmud Husein, secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood;
- Amr Darrag, an executive member of the Freedom and Justice Party – the Brotherhood’s political wing – and former minister of Mursi;
- Hamza Zawbaa, another executive member of the Freedom and Justice Party;
- Ashraf Badr-al-din, a member of the party’s supreme committee;
- Gamal Abd al-Sattar, the former undersecretary of the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments;
- Wagdi Ghoneim, a preacher;
- Isam Tillima, known to be an Islamic scholar.
After the news broke, Zawbaa tweeted his appreciation for Qatar’s support:
خير الكلام ما قل ودل
شكرا قطرالتي استضافتنا واكرمت وفادتنا
ولا ينكر المعروف الا حاقد أو جاهل
والحمد لله الذذي عافانا من هاتين الخصلتين
— د. حمزة زوبع (@drzawba) September 13, 2014
(Translation: Since brevity is a virtue, I’ll be brief: Thanks to Qatar for its generosity in hosting us. It’s only spiteful ingrates or ignorant individuals who deny good deeds and thanks be to Allah, we are neither.)
It’s not clear where the men will go after they leave Qatar. One source close to the Brotherhood in Qatar told Doha News that a likely destination is Turkey, which has been called a “regional hub” for the Brotherhood’s international organization.
Late last month, Darrag tweeted a photo with a caption saying he was meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan – who happened to be in Doha today meeting with Qatar’s Emir.
لقاءي مع اردوغان ضمن وفد المجلس الثوري المصري pic.twitter.com/TD70uqPOOC
— Amr Darrag (@amr_darrag) August 27, 2014
(Translation: Meeting with Erdogan as a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council)