Saudi Arabia today designated several groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist organisations. In a continuation of Egypt’s policy of lumping a political organisation in with terrorist groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Saudi pointedly included Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in its list alongside the Brotherhood. The inference is clear: We view the Brotherhood as the same as or worse than the guys who cut out hearts and chop off heads in Syria.
The timing of the decision is also overtly political, coming a matter of days after a GCC spat involving Saudi whipping the Gulf states it controls to admonish Qatar over the latter’s foreign policy. (Qatar remains an avid supporter of the Brotherhood).
It is an act of untrammelled chutzpah for Saudi Arabia to designate anyone a terrorist organisation. The Kingdom funnels arms to “bad” rebel groups in Syria, and has a long history of plausible deniability when it comes to allegations of providing terrorist networks with arms and cash in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, among potentially many others.
And, in lumping in the Brotherhood – an organisation that officially renounced violence in the early 1970s – in with JAN and ISIS, Saudi continues Egypt’s odd but telling lack of differentiation between Islamist groups. Cairo continues, for example, to blame the Brotherhood for attacks publicly claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a group that once accused Mohammed Morsi of apostasy. It’s worth pointing out that the junta running Egypt also considers peaceful protesters and journalists terrorists these days, too.
I have no doubt that having peaceful political groups democratically elected is a much anathema to Riyadh as it has proven to be to the military and liberal establishment in Egypt. This might explain why both seem unwilling or unable to separate a popular political movement from hardened jihadist takfiris. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that the non-elected governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt fear democratic civilian legitimacy as much as they do actual terrorism.