The two Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played their hands in counter-revolution attempts in different Arab Spring countries including Egypt, where they backed a bloody coup by Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in 2013, overthrowing the first democratically elected president in Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, who was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Egypt—together with Saudi Arabia and the UAE—formed a new axis targeting political Islam everywhere.

Following the coup, Egypt—together with Saudi Arabia and the UAE—formed a new axis targeting political Islam everywhere.

In late 2013, the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group.” Several other countries including Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain have followed suit.

The best theater to spread Islamophobia by the three countries was Libya; where Khalifa Haftar, a military officer described as Libya’s most powerful warlord, presented himself as a staunch anti-Islamist strongman.

He launched “Operation Dignity” to uproot all Islamist militias in the eastern part of Libya, labeling them as terrorists. The three countries found in Haftar a golden opportunity to get rid of political Islam in Libya, so they provided him with military and financial assistance to expand his control from Benghazi to the outskirts of Tripoli.

Haftar declared that his military campaign to take over Tripoli was aimed at ridding Libya of the terrorists backing the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

Sisi Spearheads Islamophobia in the West

The Egyptian President became the promoter of anti-Islamists in his meetings with Western leaders and members of the U.S. Congress.

The axis of anti-Islamists found in that declaration a pretext not only to support Haftar, but also to spread Islamophobia in the West, where the Egyptian President became the promoter of anti-Islamists in his meetings with Western leaders and members of the U.S. Congress—exploiting a similar thinking in the U.S.

Before he became a U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo served in Congress during the Obama Administration. He was among eight members who sponsored the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act. Then in 2017, Republican Senator Ted Cruz introduced a bill to again designate the group as a terrorist organization. Cruz pushed for that again last fall.

A Receptive Ear at the White House

In April 2019, President Trump said he was considering the move to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group after meeting with Egyptian President Sisi.

While Sisi was meeting with Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner was under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to revisit the idea as well, the New York Times reported.

Then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president had consulted leaders in the Gulf who shared his concern about the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Trump Administration is still examining the possibility of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

The latest declaration of that U.S. intention came on January 13 at Stanford University, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the Trump Administration is still examining the possibility of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization—citing what he termed as “a real risk from the Brotherhood in many nations throughout the Middle East.” Pompeo added, “We ought to do our part, I hope alongside our European friends as well.”

Pompeo acknowledged that the White House is still trying to ensure there is a legal foundation for such designation.

William Lawrence, Professor of International Relations at the American University in Washington, signaled to Inside Arabia that such a designation would be difficult to justify.

“When this administration tried to consider that before, there was a lot of push-back from the Pentagon, State Department, and U.S. intelligence agencies, who argued that such designation would complicate U.S. relations with countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, and Jordan—where the Muslim Brotherhood has political parties and members in parliament and are part of the political landscape,” Lawrence said.

The Brotherhood formally renounced violence in the 1970s and vowed to act as a political party.

The Brotherhood formally renounced violence in the 1970s and vowed to act as a political party that has ties with politicians in several countries allied with the U.S.

A broad designation could eventually mean that U.S. diplomats would not be able to engage with government officials in those countries.

Baseless but Harmful Narrative

Speaking to Inside Arabia, Rhiannon Smith, managing editor of the London-based Libya Analysis said Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia tried to link the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam to terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda in order to push the U.S. to follow.

“The three countries have helped to drive Islamophobia in the U.S. by a narrative painting all forms of political Islam—whether violent or not—with the very violent terrorist groups; such a narrative was adopted by Islamophobia promoters in the U.S.”

“The three countries have helped to drive Islamophobia in the U.S. by a narrative painting all forms of political Islam—whether violent or not—with the very violent terrorist groups; such a narrative was adopted by Islamophobia promoters in the U.S.”

Smith further told Inside Arabia: “While depicting Haftar’s forces as the so-called Libyan National Army and basing their support on the premise that he is fighting terrorist militias backing the Government of National Accord, Haftar’s most brutal forces are ‘Madkhali Salafist militia,’ which follow an ultra-conservative Wahabi ideology.”

Jason Pack, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, agrees with this analysis.

“Haftar has an army comprising radical Islamist militias, so to claim that he is fighting Islamist militias backing the GNA is mere propaganda,” Pack told Inside Arabia. “It is very convenient to label his rivals as terrorist militias to back the narrative of Haftar’s backers; namely Egypt and the UAE.”

Lawrence argues that this narrative is hard to sell even in Libya because fighters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have been constantly battling terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

In Libya, fighters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have been constantly battling terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Nevertheless, such a baseless narrative is incredibly harmful.

“It is contributing to the spread of Islamophobia in the U.S. and around the world, because all those who attack political Islam often use the same vocabulary to attack Muslims in general, accusing them of secret affinity for violence and terrorism,” Lawrence added.

The recent Berlin Conference on Libya foiled the attempt by Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia to spread Islamophobia by painting the militias defending the GNA as terrorists.

The conference’s final communique avoided such labeling, with a call for “a comprehensive process of demobilization and disarmament of armed groups and militias in Libya and the subsequent integration of suitable personnel into civilian, security, and military state institutions, on an individual basis and based on a census of armed groups personnel and professional vetting.”

It remains to be seen how far the three Arab states’ attempts to garner support for their push against political Islam will go – while aligning it with terrorism and perpetuating U.S. Islamophobia.