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© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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After it was revealed that seventeen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers hailed from the Gulf (fifteen were Saudi citizens, two were Emiratis), the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) doubled down on rhetoric about the need to combat radical and militant Islam. Washington also added pressure on the GCC states to reform their political and educational systems, as considerable blame was placed on the environments of these countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, for fostering the ideology of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Fatima al-Sayegh points out how the U.S. highlighted a lack of what it considered tolerance in these states, which has arguably spurred actions like the c reation of a Ministry of Tolerance in the UAE in 2016. 1 Reforms to educational systems, in particular, involved changes to religious curricula, which had long been influenced by Muslim Brotherhood figures who arrived in the Gulf in the 1950s to staff nascent educational systems. It was during this period that any form of political Islam came to be linked to jihadism and, by extension, al-Qaeda, spurring overzealous policing of some religious groups. For instance, in the UAE, some 250 people were arrested following 9/11 on terrorism charges, most of whom were released by 2004. 2 Also after 9/11, the Emirati government redoubled efforts to convince its local Muslim Brotherhood branch to disband. 3 9/11 has continued to color Emirati attitudes toward political Islam in the decades since the attacks. In a speech in 2017, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash famously dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood the   gateway   drug   to   jihadism, exhibiting the same attitude that prevailed post-9/11 about the need to oversee Islamist communities. In the same speech, Gargash explicitly linked the UAE’s anti-terrorism message to its experience with 9/11: Such a statement illustrates the extent to which Emirati thinking, not just about terrorism, but about political Islam more broadly, was influenced by 9/11. Since 9/11, attempts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation have periodically taken place not just in the GCC, but also in the United States and United Kingdom, and the organization is outlawed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Efforts to ban the Brotherhood have often aligned with endeavours to silence domestic opposition in the Middle East. In the West, on the other hand, these efforts have tended to arise out of different interpretations of the links between non-violent political Islam and jihadism across different political environments. Qatar, for its part, has not made negative statements against the Muslim Brotherhood, and has supported Islamist movements linked to it when they came to power after the Arab Spring, much to the consternation of its Emirati neighbours. Qatar has also long hosted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figure Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Because none of the 9/11 attackers was Qatari, Doha was under less pressure than some of its neighbours to implement reforms a point which the country’s ambassador to the US made in a 2018 opinion piece in The Washington Post. In it, he wrote that “nearly all the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia or the UAE, and the UAE was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money for the terrorists.” Qatar explained its support for the short-lived government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt by saying that it was duly elected, and not because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, its   foreign   minister   said at the time that “we do not, will not, and have not supported the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather we support any individual that assumes the presidency in Egypt in a clear and transparent manner.” In my personal conversations with members of the Qatari government, they have emphasized that the Qatari government cannot have a relationship with an independent movement like the Muslim Brotherhood because it is a non-state entity. Qatar’s experience with Islamists at home and abroad, then, appears to explain its willingness to work with elected Islamists, rather than eliminate them. A documentary   released in 2017 by Sky News Arabia entitled “Qatar…The Road to Manhattan” went so far as to argue that Qatar was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, since the planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad visited Qatar in 1996 and according to some reports was shielded by a Qatari minister from the CIA. Conversations about 9/11, then, very clearly still come into play when accusations about support for terrorism are made by the various GCC states, showing how central the attacks remain in their formulations of policies towards Islamists more broadly.
Two Emiratis were among the 9/11 hijackers. It was a lesson which we took seriously. We examined and overhauled our policy towards mosques, schools, and charities…and we started a long and sometimes lonely battle against the ideology of grievance and jihad, which distorts our great religion and fuels terrorism [….] With this background I hope you understand why we regard it as necessary and urgent to shut down state support for extremism, jihadism and terrorism across the Arab world.
September 8, 2021 9/11 and the Securitization of Political Islam in the Gulf
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After it was revealed that seventeen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers hailed from the Gulf (fifteen were Saudi citizens, two were Emiratis), the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) doubled down on rhetoric about the need to combat radical and militant Islam. Washington also added pressure on the GCC states to reform their political and educational systems, as considerable blame was placed on the environments of these countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, for fostering the ideology of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Fatima al-Sayegh points out how the U.S. highlighted a lack of what it considered tolerance in these states, which has arguably spurred actions like the c reation of a Ministry of Tolerance in the UAE in 2016. 1 Reforms to educational systems, in particular, involved changes to religious curricula, which had long been influenced by Muslim Brotherhood figures who arrived in the Gulf in the 1950s to staff nascent educational systems. It was during this period that any form of political Islam came to be linked to jihadism and, by extension, al-Qaeda, spurring overzealous policing of some religious groups. For instance, in the UAE, some 250 people were arrested following 9/11 on terrorism charges, most of whom were released by 2004. 2 Also after 9/11, the Emirati government redoubled efforts to convince its local Muslim Brotherhood branch to disband. 3 9/11 has continued to color Emirati attitudes toward political Islam in the decades since the attacks. In a speech in 2017, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash famously dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood the gateway drug to jihadism, exhibiting the same attitude that prevailed post-9/11 about the need to oversee Islamist communities. In the same speech, Gargash explicitly linked the UAE’s anti-terrorism message to its experience with 9/11: Such a statement illustrates the extent to which Emirati thinking, not just about terrorism, but about political Islam more broadly, was influenced by 9/11. Since 9/11, attempts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation have periodically taken place not just in the GCC, but also in the United States and United Kingdom, and the organization is outlawed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Efforts to ban the Brotherhood have often aligned with endeavours to silence domestic opposition in the Middle East. In the West, on the other hand, these efforts have tended to arise out of different interpretations of the links between non-violent political Islam and jihadism across different political environments. Qatar, for its part, has not made negative statements against the Muslim Brotherhood, and has supported Islamist movements linked to it when they came to power after the Arab Spring, much to the consternation of its Emirati neighbours. Qatar has also long hosted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figure Shaykh Yusuf al- Qaradawi, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Because none of the 9/11 attackers was Qatari, Doha was under less pressure than some of its neighbours to implement reforms a point which the country’s ambassador to the US made in a 2018 opinion piece in The Washington Post. In it, he wrote that “nearly all the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia or the UAE, and the UAE was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money for the terrorists.” Qatar explained its support for the short-lived government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt by saying that it was duly elected, and not because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, its foreign minister said at the time that “we do not, will not, and have not supported the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather we support any individual that assumes the presidency in Egypt in a clear and transparent manner.” In my personal conversations with members of the Qatari government, they have emphasized that the Qatari government cannot have a relationship with an independent movement like the Muslim Brotherhood because it is a non-state entity. Qatar’s experience with Islamists at home and abroad, then, appears to explain its willingness to work with elected Islamists, rather than eliminate them. A documentary released in 2017 by Sky News Arabia entitled “Qatar…The Road to Manhattan” went so far as to argue that Qatar was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, since the planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad visited Qatar in 1996 and according to some reports was shielded by a Qatari minister from the CIA. Conversations about 9/11, then, very clearly still come into play when accusations about support for terrorism are made by the various GCC states, showing how central the attacks remain in their formulations of policies towards Islamists more broadly.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
9/11 and the Securitization of Political Islam in the Gulf
Written by
Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory University and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
CONTACT