03/12/2015, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST - UNITED STATES
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With Riyadh, Ankara and Doha on board, Washington plans to "resurrect" the Muslim Brotherhood against the Islamic State

by Fady Noun
The arrival of King Salman on the throne of Saudi Arabia has changed the kingdom's politics. With intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan retired, the axis with the United States has been boosted. The goal is to rebuild the Brotherhood as an influential force in the Arab world. The US wants to annihilate the Islamic State and splinter the Middle East to protect Israel.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The arrival of King Salman at the helm of Saudi Arabia has led to a palace revolution, this according to a Paris-based French-Lebanese scholar on condition his name be withheld. The two events that signal this shift are the departure of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, 65, head of the al Faisal clan, and a former of Saudi Arabia's intelligence services and the decision to seek a rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The researcher explains that the White House strongly backs this decision, noting that the US State Department recently received a visit from a delegation of leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, and for the United States, "the Brotherhood is neither a terrorist group nor followers of violence". Recently, President Barack Obama met the Emir of Qatar, who is very close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Clearly, such a shift in Saudi and US diplomacy indicates a desire to co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, or Daesh in Arabic) and al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

Although this would bring dividends to the United States, it raises concerns for pro-democracy Arab, first of all the danger that it might destabilise Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who is openly at war with the "Ikhwan". For Washington, this would be a huge mistake, like in Iraq, even though President Sisi is certainly not blameless.

The failure of a strategy

Looking at King Abdullah's reign, the French-Lebanese expert notes that for years Bandar bin Sultan was a strong backer of extremist Wahhabi organisations to counter Iran and Russia, especially in Iraq and Syria, including al Qaeda and, above all, the Islamic State group with its Caliphate plan.

The scholar points out two surprising elements in the strategy of Saudi Arabia's chief spy's strategy: his distrust, if not open hatred, for the US democratic administration, and for the United States in general.

Bas du formulaire

Such an attitude may seem surprising, given the fact that Bandar bin Sultan - during his long stint as Saudi ambassador in Washington - forged strong links with US political elites, and the US star system glitterati, not to mention ties with the Bush clan and the magnates of the US defence industry.

Perhaps one day we will revisit the deep-seated, "intimate" reasons for Bandar's anti-Americanism, that of his wife and circle (the Al-Faisal clan). Nor now, it seems implausible that he and what he stood for were touched by the 2001 attacks against the United States or, more recently, by the beheadings of American citizens.

"Democratic revolutions"

Regarding the policy followed by Bandar bin Sultan in recent months, another element must be noted, namely his fear that US President Obama might raise the issue of "democratic revolutions" led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arabian Peninsula and the kingdom itself . . . a situation that could have led to the conquest of Yemen by pro-Iranian Shia Houthis, and thus cornered the members of Al-Islah, the powerful Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood!

In short, since 25 January, the new king of Saudi Arabia, Salman, and his Sudairi clan - which draws its origins from the favourite wife of the founder of the dynasty, Ibn Saud - have made a clear break with the past, in collaboration with the US president when he came to Riyadh for the enthronement ceremony, accompanied by dozens of senior officials, intelligence officials and experts.

The "new" joint US-Saudi strategy entails restoring the Muslim Brotherhood as an influential force throughout the Arab world, with the support of the Brotherhood's two historic protectors: Qatar and Turkey.

On the short and the long run

What are the reasons for this new turn of events? On the short run, if possible, President Obama wants to destroy IS, which has become America's number one enemy. To do this, he can already count on the Kurds of Syria and Iraq (which he keeps on arming) and Iraqi Shias (supported by Iran and Hezbollah).

In Iraq, Obama and his allies are preparing carefully the retaking of Mosul, the largest Sunni city on the Nineveh Plain. The participation of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iraqi Sunni tribes in this assault seems indispensable.

In Yemen, faced with Shia Houthis, al Qaeda, which is entrenched in the south and east, claims to embody "the Sunni resistance". For the Americans, it is time to resurrect Al-Islah (the Muslim Brotherhood and the tribes) to provide an alternative for the 55 per cent of Yemenis who are Sunni.

In Egypt, President Obama hopes to reconcile President Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop Wahhabi jihadists, who are multiplying attacks and bombings, especially in the Sinai and in the big cities.

Even in Libya, a rapprochement between the Brotherhood and the alliance led by General Haftar (CIA) might slow the growth of the Islamic State group and Ansar al Sharia, which are threatening the Sahel and the Maghreb.

Here too, for President Obama, only the Muslim Brotherhood can be the Sunni challenger against the Islamic State group at a time when millions of Sunnis are sensitive to the appeal of radical Wahhabism. The Brotherhood is in fact present in all Arab countries, and is well organised and supposedly "moderate", willing to cooperate with Washington. 

On the long run, some observers believe the United States wants to redraw the map of the Middle East, by encouraging the emergence of weak federal states (à la Bosnia), linking different ethnic and religious components with the aim of ensuring the security of Israel.

If they turn out to be "credible" allies, the Muslim Brotherhood will be called to represent, at least in part, Sunni Arabs in the various countries involved.

Where do the tactics and strategies of the United States lead? Will the Islamic State be defeated? Will the Brotherhood become an effective and accommodating ally of the West? We shall soon find out.

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