After seven leading Muslim Brotherhood leaders announced on 12 September that they would depart their longtime ally, Qatar, diverse scenarios were raised as to the reasons behind the decision, including how it would affect the group, future whereabouts and whether the Egyptian authorities will hunt them down in their new locations.
The sudden announcement of the group members’ departure from the Gulf state was greeted by mixed statements and reactions. But neither the reasons behind the decision nor the next expected refuge were announced.
“I assume that Qatar finally responded to the international and regional pressures asking the country to stop supporting the Brotherhood,” said Ali Bakr, senior analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
In March, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The direct cause was Qatar’s failing to implement a security agreement the Gulf countries had signed. It is believed that Qatari support of the Brotherhood also played a role in the decision.
The seven leaders include extremist preacher Wagdy Ghoneim and senior member of the Brotherhood’s now dissolved political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Amr Darrag.
Darrag said in a statement on his Facebook page that members of the Brotherhood were asked to leave the country.
“We understand very well the circumstances faced by the region,” he said.
On the other hand, Ghoneim explained in a YouTube video that he plans to continue proselytising outside the Gulf country “so as not to cause my loved brothers in Qatar any embarrassment or problems”.
Yet he did not by any means mention that he or his colleagues were expelled from the country.
Another Brotherhood leader, Hamza Zobaa, said in a televised interview on Qatar-based Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr that it was their choice to leave the country.
“The battle of the revolution abroad is that of media and politics…Muslim countries are open [for us] as well as the European world,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues have been conducting “situation analysis” to decide the next move.
Most Brotherhood members who were not arrested fled Egypt following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
A couple of days following the announcement, General Sayid Shafiq, assistant to Egypt’s Minister of Interior, said that Egypt did not receive any official notification from Qatar as to the expulsion of Brotherhood members.
Neither did the Qatari monarchy nor the foreign ministry comment on the issue in their local press.
However, a few days later, Qatar’s foreign minister Khaled Al-Attiyah denied in an interview with the Financial Times that Qatar had asked the Brotherhood leaders to leave, saying Doha would remain a platform for differing opinions.
In December 2013, the interim Egyptian government declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation”, accusing it of carrying out several attacks. The Brotherhood denied carrying out the attacks and other groups claim responsibility. Later in August 2014, the Supreme Administrate Court dissolved the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Impact on Brotherhood
While some believe the loss of Qatari support has shocked the Brotherhood, others believe that the group will be unaffected.
“Losing the Qatari support is a strong strike against the Brotherhood… the country has been offering them financial aid and a media platform [Al-Jazeera],” Bakr said.
“This will have a negative impact on their functionality in the region in the coming phase,” Bakr added.
However, Maher Farghaly, writer and researcher specialising in Islamist movements, disagrees with Bakr.
“The Brotherhood will not lose anything as they will probably resort to Turkey, which is a very strong ally that fully supports them,” Farghaly said.
“A real strike wouldn’t be this way as the Brotherhood is an international organisation that has a presence around the world…even in some European countries,” he added.
Writer and researcher Ahmed Bann, specialising in Brotherhood studies, suggests these members in specific were asked to leave because they had ongoing presence in the media.
“We should differentiate between the media presence and the organisational performance of these members,” he said.
Possible safe havens
Bann believes the seven Brotherhood members will find no problem relocating.
“Departing Egypt more than once [in the past] gave the group experience with the variables of international politics,” he said.
“The Brotherhood has now a stronger coverage on the level of movement and financing….The current hypotheses shouldn’t necessarily be true,” Bann said.
There was the first wave of Brotherhood members leaving the country in the 1950s amid a crackdown on the group by late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, after the Brotherhood was blamed for an attempt to assassinate the president.
Dozens of members fled the country again in 1965 after many were accused of reviving the group’s banned activities. Many were imprisoned, while others were sentenced to death including the Brotherhood leading member and writer Sayyid Qutb.
There are branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in countries across the Middle East and North and East Africa, including Sudan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
They also have a presence in the US. Deputy spokesperson for the US State Department Marie Harf said in recent statements that the US doesn’t consider the Brotherhood a foreign terrorist group, describing the matter as being complicated.
US President Barak Obama eased restrictions on political asylums for Muslims after the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Several Brotherhood members have been granted political asylum in the US since Morsi was removed.
On the other hand, Turkish media recently quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying on his way back from an official visit to Qatar earlier last week that Turkey would welcome senior Muslim Brotherhood figures if they request to move to the country.
Even though Shafiq was cited by state-run Al-Ahram newspaper as saying that Egyptian security forces and Interpol acquired intelligence confirming that Qatari officials have allowed Brotherhood leaders to flee to London, recent measures taken by the UK would make this hypothesis inapplicable.
UK-based the Telegraph newspaper reported that Britain was “set to impose curbs on Muslim Brotherhood-linked organisations and block activists moving to London after a report by a senior diplomat raised concerns over the group’s links to extremists in the Middle East.”
The report added that British Prime Minister David Cameron asked Sir John Jenkins, the UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, “to compile a full report on the Muslim Brotherhood after Gulf allies put pressure on the government to curtail the movement’s London-based operations.”
On their part, the Brotherhood refuted the Telegraph report, which stirred arguments over the future of the group members currently living in Britain.
The official website of the Brotherhood quoted UK-based group member Azzam Tamimi as saying that any government action against the group in Britain requires new legislation and will be faced with “a tough legal battle.”
“The article does not contain any details about what in fact is in Sir Jenkins’ report or what it is likely to recommend,” Tamimi said.
“[It] refers to the review of Sir Jenkins… finalised over a month ago whose findings were submitted to the British government but no conclusions were announced yet,” Tamimi added.
Egypt has been negotiating an extradition agreement with the UK since 2012. No treaty has been signed, though.
With the UK excluded from the speculations, Bakr thinks that some of the group members whose presence is undesired in Qatar may resort to countries in South America that showed support with them following the removal of Morsi or to Malaysia where Ghoneim lived for a while before.
International laws dictate that asylum cannot be granted to someone wanted in his or her homeland over committing crimes based on the country’s criminal law. These crimes include terrorism-related offenses like being involved with an organisation or a group that uses force to terrorise citizens, conspiring against the regime, or affecting the national unity and social peace.
Bann rules out the current predictions about the new possible safe havens of the Brotherhood.
“The Brotherhood has now a stronger coverage on the level of movement and financing….The current hypotheses is not necessarily true,” Bann said.
“The group may favour small countries like Djibouti where the second branch of the Brotherhood was created back in 1937,” he added.
Bann said there are reports about a list of 200 other group members that Qatar intends to demand their departure.
Following last week’s announcement that they would depart Qatar, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat called on Interpol to arrest fleeing members of the outlawed Brotherhood wanted in Egypt for involvement in criminal activities.
Barakat further demanded the renewal of Interpol’s red notices against the group members residing in Qatar and Turkey, to stand trial in Egypt.
Egypt has signed extradition treaties with 31 Arab countries and 42 other countries in other parts of the world. However, the list does not include Qatar nor Turkey.
In 2004, Egypt signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Based on the agreement, Egypt can seek the arrest of any Egyptian in any country, even if they have not signed an extradition treaty with Egypt.
The countries that signed the agreement are obliged to assist one another in every aspect of their fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation and the prosecution of offenders.