To draw the political map of the Gulf, one is always asked to use the terms set by a shared Arab reality; Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), Salafis, conservatives, liberals, leftists, and so on. As someone from the Gulf, I always wonder: How can the Ikhwan of Kuwait brag about the power of their counterparts regionally when they do not hold the same position on certain issues as their brethren do? How can you be a Kuwaiti Ikhwan and support Saudi Arabia, Hamas, and fight Iran that supports Hamas and is the enemy of Saudi Arabia? Do the Ikhwan of Kuwait even have a political program other than their rhetoric of “reclaiming Islam”? Can the Ikhwan of Kuwait win any elections without the support of their candidates’ tribes? This pushes us, as a result, to redefine our political map in the Gulf differently; or at least attempt to.
I do not wish to talk about all the other political forces in the Gulf: leftists being dead or petty-bourgeois, liberals being old-money capitalists, Salafis being the troops of Saudi Arabia, conservatives pushing for the power of the tribe, etc. The Ikhwan are now the most dominant in the Arab region and are surely pushing to be more powerful in the Gulf under a Qatari-Turkish project that can present nothing but a ‘capitalist Islam,’ yet dangerously, with less individual freedoms and more oppression than that of contemporary Turkey.
Years ago, Saudi Arabia made a wave of arrests of Ikhwan youth who were mostly objecting to their country’s relationship with the west, to the “immorality” of the ruling family, and to their corruption. Right after that, suddenly, we had a huge group of liberals coming out of Saudi Arabia; becoming a liberal was the only option for Saudi Ikhwan to escape jails. Their rhetoric changed and we were faced with people calling for “shared power,” reforms, and accountability. After the Arab spring, the ghost of the Ikhwan is once again haunting Saudi Arabia and it is not able to fight it back except through oppression and flooding revolting countries with conditional funds.
Just next door, the UAE holds more than 60 men in detention. Its centralized media consistently uses one accusation in their propaganda against the detainees: they are Ikhwan, traitors, want to overthrow the regime; they are loyal to the Murshid in Cairo. The UAE’s Ikhwan do not differ much from their Saudi counterparts; they have the same problems with the ruling family. Surely, though, the Ikhwan of Bahrain have a whole different story, they are even more irrelevant and inconsistent than the Kuwaiti ones as they see their battle against the Shia and no one else.
Where can the Ikhwan go with their ‘struggles’ in the Gulf? Nowhere really! None of the political powers in the Gulf can be more powerful than the ruling families. This particular region consists of a bunch of monarchies supported by the US, who hold all the economic power to survive for at least several decades. Both the regimes and the Ikhwan in the Gulf are using religion as their tool to approach people, when Ikhwan in other places were successful because of the lack of state-religion, because of oppression, devastated social services, and poverty. What can possibly empower Ikhwan in the Gulf? Nothing really! they are forced to be liberal in Saudi Arabia, tribal in Kuwait, and loyalist in Bahrain. Their godfather, Qatar, is also not interested in empowering them in their neighboring countries.
Unless minorities on the one hand, and people of different political views, on the other, push for political reforms in the Gulf, change will not happen. This is why, I believe, the families of thousands of detainees in Saudi Arabia are more capable of change than Ikhwan-liberals; the Bedoon of Kuwait have a just cause and are more capable of engendering change than the Kuwaiti Ikhwan who have no defined political ideology and survive purely on tribal power.
* Published in AlAkhbar