Riyadh, Dammam, Cairo and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A number of high-profile Muslim Brotherhood members currently residing in Qatar are set to leave the small Gulf state, a development that may herald a breakthrough in attempts to heal the rift between Doha and its neighbors.
However, some aspects of this development remain murky, with different sources offering conflicting accounts of the reasons behind the Brotherhood members’ departure.
While some informed sources said that Qatar had asked the men to leave, a Qatari diplomatic source told Asharq Al-Awsat they had opted to leave of their own free will.
One informed source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said: “Qatar requested the [Brotherhood] members to leave in a bid to heal the rift between Doha and the Arab Gulf states,” and speculated that they were likely to seek to move to London or Ankara.
One of those reportedly on the list of members to leave the country is Egyptian Amr El-Darag, a former minister of planning and international cooperation in the cabinet of Hisham Qandil, and a member of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s defunct Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
A statement posted on Darag’s Facebook page late Friday evening seemed to say that he and other Brotherhood members residing in Qatar had been asked by the authorities to leave.
“So that we can relieve the embarrassment caused to Qatar, where we were respected and welcomed, a number of FJP and Muslim Brotherhood figures who were asked to leave [the country] by Qatar have acceded to the request,” he said in the statement.
But a Qatari diplomatic source denied Doha had asked the Brotherhood figures to leave, saying this was a “personal decision” on behalf of the members themselves, without any pressure from the Qatari government.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “maybe some of them [the Brotherhood members] . . . realized the kind of pressure that Qatar was under, and so decided to leave of their own accord so as not to place the country in an embarrassing situation.”
In March, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, claiming that its policies amounted to “interference” into the sovereign affairs of its fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its opposition to Egypt’s new government under President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has also angered some in the region, especially Egypt itself and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, both of which have banned the organization.
Egyptian official government sources, who also requested anonymity, said Cairo was closely monitoring the situation but said they had “received no official confirmation [from Qatar] on the matter.”
A number of Brotherhood sources in London, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that meetings had taken place between Qatari officials and members of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in recent days over the matter of expelling the group’s members from the country.
They said a total of 29 people had been asked to leave, including prominent members from other Islamist groups, such as Tareq Al-Zumar from Egypt’s Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, whom they say has been asked to leave before the end of the month.
Brotherhood sources told Asharq Al-Awsat some of the names on the list included Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood’s secretary-general, whom they said now effectively headed the organization since the Egyptian authorities arrested the group’s general guide, Mohammed Badie, and his deputies.
The list also reportedly included FJP figures Darag and Gamal Abdel Sattar, as well as hardline Egyptian TV preacher Wagdi Ghoneim, known for his strong opposition to Egypt’s government and military.
According to the sources, Qatar has also requested that senior Brotherhood members ban a number of media figures affiliated to the group from appearing in its state-owned media outlets due to their strong attacks on neighboring Gulf states and Egypt.
The sources said there was currently ongoing coordination between the Qatari government and those on the list, and that Doha was giving them a grace period before their departure and helping ease their passage into other countries, though they did not specify the time frame for the grace period.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone, former Brotherhood leader Kamal El-Halabawi also said there had been “lengthy” discussions between the members and the government.
On the issue of the Brotherhood members’ departure, he said: “Qatar has begun responding to Gulf pressure, and is starting to align [itself] with the global changes, especially with respect to [its position on] Egypt. There are also pressures from the [US] Congress, and day by day the number of US officials visiting Egypt is increasing.”
Commenting on the developments, Ibrahim Mounir, the secretary general of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, currently residing in Morocco, said the decision by Qatar “does not mean the end of relations between Doha and the Brotherhood,” adding that the Qatari government had been “under pressure” to make the decision.
For his part, Andrew Hammond, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, said he did not expect the decision to presage substantial changes in Qatari policies, that it more likely constituted measures to contain the fallout from the diplomatic spat between Doha and its neighbors.
Meanwhile, one of the names reportedly on the list, Brotherhood member Essam Talima, who is a close aide of the controversial cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi—who though not officially a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as sympathetic to the organization—told Asharq Al-Awsat Qaradawi would be leaving for Oslo on Thursday. Talima said the decision to leave was Qaradawi’s “first and foremost,” and that the Egyptian-born cleric was heading to the University of Oslo in order to complete research on Islamic groups.
Mohammed Al-Shafey contributed reporting from London, Ahmad Al-Ghamrawi contributed reporting from Cairo, and Fahd Baqmi contributed reporting from Riyadh.