DUBAI: Leading Gulf monarchies are staunchly backing Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s presidential frontrunner, in the hope that their generous financial help will bolster his campaign to crush the Muslim Brotherhood and indirectly secure their own regimes.
“An absence of stability in Egypt means instability in the Gulf,” said Emirati political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.
Sisi “represents Egypt’s only national institution that is capable of restoring stability” in his country, situated across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, he explained.
Since the Sisi-led military ousted elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July, the new authorities banned his Muslim Brotherhood, arrested its leaders and cracked down on its followers in a campaign that has killed more than 1,400 people.
On May 5, Sisi said the Brotherhood, also banned in many Gulf countries and designated as a “terrorist organization” by Saudi Arabia, was “finished” in Egypt and would not return if he is elected.
Those were encouraging words for the absolute monarchs in the Gulf, who relations with Egypt deteriorated dramatically during the rule of Morsi, elected following an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that long-time Saudi ally Hosni Mubarak.
As the Brotherhood gained prominence in several Arab Spring countries, Saudi Arabia watched cautiously, while the United Arab Emirates launched an unprecedented crackdown down on Islamist activists on its soil.
In January, it jailed a group of 30 Emiratis and Egyptians for terms of three months to five years for forming a Muslim Brotherhood cell.
At the same time, disagreement over the Brotherhood has soured relations with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar, the only Gulf country to back Morsi.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in March. Saudi Arabia and the UAE accused gas-rich Qatar of offering refuge to Muslim Brotherhood figures, among them dissidents from their countries.
The Gulf’s monarchies share concerns about the Brotherhood’s brand of grassroots activism and political Islam, which could spread across the region and undermine their authority if the group were ever to rule the Arab world’s most populous country for any length of time.
London-based analyst Abdelwahab Badrkhan said an Islamist regime in Egypt “could have used religion to spread influence across the Arab region restoring Egypt’s leadership role with an Islamist shade.”