The Khaleeji Arabs

4 MINS READJul 10, 2013 | 05:39 GMT
Protestors shout from the windows of the headquarters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Protestors shout from the windows of the headquarters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as they set fire to debris and ransack the building in the suburb of Muqattam on July 1, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt.
(Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images)

The Muslim Brotherhood's opponents in Egypt aren't the only ones pleased to see the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. Two key Arab states, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also relieved that the Brotherhood government collapsed. These states, which along with others along the Persian gulf are known as Khaleeji Arabs, see the region's main Islamist trend as a threat to their interests, especially now that it operates unencumbered due to the Arab spring. Though Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have the wherewithal to weaken the Islamist movement, they cannot really do much to counter the evolving environment that allows Brotherhood-style Islamists the geopolitical space to operate.

The Saudis and the Emiratis on Tuesday announced that they would each be providing Egypt with financial assistance — $5 billion from Saudi Arabia, and $3 billion from the United Arab Emirates. The announcements came less than a week after the Egyptian military mounted a coup, removing the country's first democratically elected president from office.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.

It is not surprising that the Saudi kingdom and the UAE federation are trying to support the Egyptian military's post-Mohammed Morsi political roadmap. After all, Muslim Brotherhood-style Islamism represents a threat to the region's monarchical regimes, which have thus far been able to insulate themselves from the Arab spring phenomenon. But these dynastical states cannot hope to maintain order in a region where popular sentiment is challenging autocracy and where the most coherent political movements consist of Islamists with the goal of installing Islamic states via democratic means. In this context, the state of affairs in Egypt is critical from the point of view of the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council states.

Muslim Brotherhood-style Islamism represents a threat to the region's monarchical regimes, which have thus far been able to insulate themselves from the Arab spring phenomenon.

Egypt is the Arab world's largest state and its ideological center, so what happens there affects the entire region. This explains why the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies, particularly Saudi Arabia, deeply feared the rise of the left-wing Arab nationalism led by the founder of the modern Egyptian republic, Gamal Abdel Nasser. This is why Riyadh, during the 1950s and 1960s, supported the Muslim Brotherhood in its efforts to combat the Nasserite trend.

By the early 1970s, Nasserism had faded and Nasser's successor, Anwar El-Sadat, had aligned Cairo into the same camp as the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Egypt, under El-Sadat and later Hosni Mubarak, ceased to threaten the Arab monarchies. Additionally, the post-Nasser autocratic order in Cairo served the interests of the khaleejis because it provided a check on the Brotherhood.

The collapse of that order in the wake of the Arab spring, which allowed the Brotherhood to emerge as the single-most powerful political force in Egypt, presented the Saudis and Emiratis with a great dilemma. This is especially true given that Qatar, another Gulf Cooperation Council member, has been a significant Brotherhood ally. With Doha supporting the Brotherhood, the Saudis began supporting Salafist parties in an effort to weaken the Brotherhood from within the Egyptian Islamist landscape. The Brotherhood was able to win the presidential election due to its own organizational strength and widespread anti-Mubarak sentiment.

Morsi's election didn't prove to be a major issue for the Saudis and Emiratis. The Brotherhood's attempt at a power grab played a key role in creating a vibrant opposition to the Islamist movement government, which ultimately led to the collapse of the Morsi administration. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi want to seize this opportunity to ensure that this is more than just a temporary setback for the Brotherhood.

Hence their joint efforts to financially support Egypt's new political process. Given the decline of the Brotherhood's popularity over the past year, the Islamist movement will probably remain unable to revive itself for some time. However, the sums that the Saudis and Emiratis have pledged are insufficient to address Egypt's problems, considering their scale.

Ultimately, the Saudis and Emiratis can tactically try to manage Egypt and the wider region by containing Brotherhood-style Islamism. On a strategic level, though, they are unlikely to limit the fallout from the Arab Spring. Even if its effects don't spread to the monarchies, the dynastical regimes could soon find themselves operating in the middle of a more chaotic region.

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