Saudi Arabia and Muslim Brotherhood move to end rift

Saudi Arabia and Muslim Brotherhood move to end rift
Several Muslim Brotherhood figures, most recently Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, were welcomed in Riyadh in a sign of foreign policy shift in the wake of Iran's nuclear agreement.
3 min read
20 July, 2015
Qatar is reported to have played a role in ending rift. (Getty)

The head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, met Saudi King Salman during a pilgrimage to Mecca, in a rare encounter since a two-year rift, state news agency SPA reported Saturday.

It said Meshaal headed a delegation of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, on a two-day visit for the mini-pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in the west of the kingdom. More significantly, the Palestinian delegation "praised the positive stance of the kingdom's leadership towards the Palestinian cause".

Ties between Hamas and Riyadh deteriorated after the kingdom threw its support behind the Egyptian army's coup against President Mohamed Morsi and its crackdown on his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas has close ties with.

The meeting is said to be brokered by Qatar, where Meshaal resides since he abandoned his base in Damascus in 2012 after the group sided with Syrian rebels against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Hamas-Saudi rapprochement is not an isolated political initiative. It comes at a time when Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies prepare for a fierce "cold war" scenario with Iran catalysed by the nuclear deal.

Anti-Iran alliance

Apart from Qatar and Turkey, a Gulf-sponsored regional crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has been underway since the rise of the conservative Islamic party as a major player in the Arab Spring; and in some cases, even earlier. The division over Egypt and the Brotherhood undermined the united anti-Iran front.

Disagreements between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar – mainly on Egypt – persist. But common regional interests are becoming increasingly prevalent. This conviction pushes regional powers into an imminent alliance to deter Iran from further domination of Arab territories.

To that end, Saudi Arabia has recently welcomed three prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders: Tunisia's Ennahda leader Rachid al-Ghannouchi, Yemen's Islah party leader Abdul Majid al-Zindani, and Palestine's Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

All three leaders are, in various forms and to differing degrees, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood which was seen, only a few months earlier, as an existential threat to the Saudi Kingdom.

     Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies prepare for a fierce "cold war" scenario with Iran catalysed by the nuclear deal.

Riyadh seems to be exploring all possibilities to resist the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon, including the advancement of a peace agreement with Israel.

Middle East Eye reported that an Israeli-owned security firm (Falcon Eye) has been employed to protect oil installations and install a civil surveillance system in Abu Dhabi.

While reports of such overt Gulf-Israeli cooperation are suspicious, they go in line with several statements of Gulf officials and analysts in recent months on the need to cooperate with Israel in the face of a perceived common threat posed by Iran.

It is unclear how far Iran will use the resources released after the lifting of sanctions to reinforce its regional proxy battles and allies.

What is certain, however, is that the nuclear deal gives unmatched legitimacy for the Islamic Republic in its geopolitical and geo-economic position. And the trade agreements between Iran and the West that will follow the deal will enhance mutual economic interests, giving Tehran more confidence in its regional adventures.