Expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership from Qatar, as reflected in social media

Michael Barak examines how the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership from Qatar was discussed on social media within the region.

Qatar’s declaration on September 12, 2014 that it would expel leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood from its territory, after links were discovered not only between the Brotherhood and Hamas but also, apparently, to Islamist forces in Syria and Iraq as well, was met with mixed feelings on social networking sites (SNS). The decision was made following intense pressure from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt, each of whom considers the Muslim Brotherhood a threat to their respective national security, and expresses the desire of Qatar to placate its neighbors. Pressure from opposition elements within the Amir’s family, who do not approve of his defiant political line, also contributed to this decision. However, it should be noted that the leadership of Hamas in Qatar was not deported.

The ties between Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood were established in the 1950s thanks to Qatar’s readiness, as in other Gulf states, to provide the movement shelter from the terror of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime. In the early 1980s, another wave of activists settled in Qatar after they were persecuted by the Syrian regime, and a third wave arrived in 2001, after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. The arrival of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1970s, as well as his proximity to Qatar’s ruling circles, strengthened the country’s relationships with the movement’s activists. The Qatari regime’s romance with the Brotherhood peaked with the outbreak of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, and in light of its rise to power in Tunisia and Egypt. Another major contribution was made by the activist foreign policy of Qatar’s young ruler, Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, who seeks to leverage the influence of his tiny country and make it a leading force in the region. Al-Jazeera, the well-known Qatari satellite channel, serves as a megaphone for the Muslim Brotherhood (including Sheikh al-Qaradawi, who makes regular appearances), and is but one example of the good relationship that existed between the Brotherhood and Qatar.

Many liberal activists from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt expressed support for the expulsion of the Brotherhood’s leadership from Qatar on SNS, and consider it an important step towards the eradication of terrorism in the region. For example, a Saudi user tweeted in response to the Brotherhood’s expulsion, “The Kaaba of terrorists has crashed.” Another user from the UAE expressed hope that Turkey and Sudan would follow suit and expel Brotherhood activists from their nations. Many welcomed the rapprochement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, claiming that Qatar is a vital link in strengthening the unity and strength of the Gulf. However, SNS also reveal doubts about Qatar’s move, adding viewpoints to the discourse that were not heard on official channels. Users from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE raised the possibility that Qatar is playing “double game.” Although it expelled of the Brotherhood from its territory to please its neighbors, in practice it continues to provide them financial and rhetorical support in other Muslim countries.

Other Saudi users claimed that Qatar’s actions are inadequate as long as it avoids expelling Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Saudi columnist Khaled Al-Zaatar, for example, said that severing the link between Qatar and Islamic political groups should be reflected primarily by the expulsion of al-Qaradawi, not just the Brotherhood’s leadership. “As long as Doֹha sponsors al-Qaradawi, distancing the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood from Qatar is not an expulsion, but rather a transaction designed to calm the crisis in the Gulf states.On the other hand, some users disagreed with this demand on the grounds thatSheikh al-Qaradawi cannot be expelled because he is a Qatari citizen. Many users from the Gulf and Egypt expressed anger at Turkey’s willingness to host the expelled leaders of the Brotherhood, and explained it as Turkish agitation against Arab regimes. A Kuwaiti user argued that this move represents Erdoğan‎’s agreement to have Turkey become the Brotherhood’s base of operations against the Egyptian regime, similar to its operations against the Syrian regime.

A Kuwaiti publicist added, “Turkey is considered to be the largest supporter of Sunni Arabs and Gulf states. However, it is unfortunate that all of the Gulf countries, except Kuwait and Qatar, abhor the warming of their relations with Turkey because [it adopted] the ideology of the Brotherhood." Other users took advantage of American pop singer Lady Gaga’s visit to Turkey to mock the alliance between the Erdoğan‎’s regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. One noted derisively that the singer went to Turkey "to participate in the joyous festivities honoring the arrival of the Brotherhood in the capital of Erdoğan‎’s caliphate after being expelled from Qatar.” Another Saudi publicist noted the Brotherhood’s silence about the singer’s arrival in Turkey and described it as hypocritical, since they recently lashed out at the UAE when she visited there.

In contrast to these voices, the Brotherhood’s supporters on social media networks protested the decision to expel them and pointed an accusatory finger at Saudi Arabia. Dr. Kasib Al-’Utaybi stressed that, indeed, Qatar had made a wrong decision, but explained that it had done so under tremendous pressure. Other users noted that the "history of the Gulf will never forget the major role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood from the Gulf,” and Qatar will never be forgiven for it. Yasser al-Za’atra, a publicist who supports the Brotherhood noted, “Saudi Arabia accepted the Muslim Brotherhood after it was expelled by Nasser’s regime, but it is now acting to expel them even from other countries, because its top priority is fighting revolutions and Sunni political Islam.”

Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi himself expressed his disapproval of Qatar on his Twitter account: “Disappointed that a man turns against his friend and befriends the enemy!”  Discourse on social media indicates a complex attitude towards Qatar. On the one hand, it is evident that neighboring countries want to embrace it and return the “Rebellious Sister” to the bloc of Gulf states in order, inter alia, to strengthen it in the face of immediate security concerns, particularly the Iranian threat. On the other hand, suspicions and doubts about the sincerity of Qatar’s intentions are also easily discernable: does Qatar intend to coordinate its policy with its neighbors and make peace with them, or does Qatar want to maintain its defiant, isolationist foreign policy that is detrimental to the security and interests of its neighbors. The discourse reveals a most profound aversion to the Erdoğan’s regime‎ in Turkey due to its willingness to back the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey is seen as a partner in the Brotherhood’s aspirations, first and foremost, to overthrow the current regime in Egypt.