Center for Strategic Communication

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued an unusually rapid and strong
of the Egyptian military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-ins, calling on all Arabs to unite behind a
crackdown on terrorism, incitement, and disorder. Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait
rapidly backed his stance. But many of the most popular and influential Saudi
and Kuwaiti Islamist personalities disagreed vehemently and publicly. Indeed, a
hashtag quickly appeared
on Twitter: "King Abdullah’s Speech Does Not
Represent Me." [[BREAK]]

There is a long history of Islamists challenging official
policy in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, of course. But even if the uproar could quickly fade away or be absorbed into
politics as usual, particularly if the violence dies down in Egypt, it’s worth
paying attention to the growing, intense public divide between these Islamist
personalities and official policy over Egypt. Even more than domestic politics, the impact might be felt most strongly
in Syria — where the same voices now criticizing the support for Egypt’s
crackdown have been at the forefront of mobilizing public support for the
Syrian opposition.

The most public backlash thus far came with Saudi Prince
Waleed bin Talal’s sudden
removal of the popular
Kuwaiti Islamist personality Tareq al-Suwaidan from al-Risala
TV over his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and criticism of the Egyptian
military coup. Waleed posted his letter
dismissing Suwaidan on Twitter
, with the terse declaration that "there is
no place for any member of the Muslim Brotherhood in our group" and explaining
that Suwaidan had "confessed to his membership in the terrorist Brotherhood

Suwaidan was vocal indeed in his criticism of the
crackdown, but he was hardly alone. The condemnation of Egypt’s crackdown and of the official Gulf support extends across
multiple Islamist networks and prominent personalities. The popular Kuwaiti
Islamist personality Nabil el-Awadhi
for instance, raged that "the blood of innocents in flowing in Egypt … the
murderers unleash their bullets without mercy and lay siege to mosques and burn
them … and they want you Muslims to watch in silence!" When the Saudi Abd al-Aziz Tarefe tweeted
that "what is happening in Egypt is a war against Islam," he received 1584
retweets in 24 minutes. 

When I started tweeting about these responses, a lot of Saudis quickly pointed me to Mohammed bin Nasir
al-Suhaybani. Suhaybani had delivered a
sermon at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina denouncing the crackdown
, and arguing that whoever supported the coup bore the responsibility for the bloodshed and
had God’s curse upon them. The video, posted to YouTube, has received hundreds of thousands of views. His rapid banishment quickly generated a popular hashtag
in his defense ("Shaykh Suhayban Represents Me") — which resonated uneasily
with the hashtag "King Abdullah’s Words Do Not Represent Me." 

Few have been more outspoken than the influential Saudi
Islamist Salman al-Awda, who tweeted in English on August 15:
"Whoever helps a murderer – whether by word, deed, financial
support, or even a gesture of approval – is an accomplice. Whoever remains
silent in the face of murder to safeguard his personal interests is an
accessory to the crime." Surrounded by dozens of Arabic tweets blaming the
Egyptian military for said crimes, the implications for the official Saudi
position were difficult to miss. "It is
clear who is driving Egypt to its destruction out of fear for their own
selves," he tweeted. "I am with those whose blood is being shed and against
those who are blindly going about killing people."

That seems to be in line with the most
popular responses among the politicized Islamists of the Gulf. Examples abound. Ibrahim
in a video posted two days ago, was particularly incensed by the
"monstrous crime" of Muslims killing Muslims. The Saudi professor Abd al-Aziz
al-Abd al-Latif on August 16
complained about the official framing: how could it be that "supporting the
coup and financing butchers and traitors is not fitna and not terrorism and not intervention in the affairs of
Egypt, but fitna is calling for the
rights of the downtrodden?" Another popular Islamist personality, Hajjaj
al-Ajmi, declared "there is no doubt that the Gulf regimes participating in
shedding the blood of Egyptians deserve the
curse of God
." Others were more careful in their criticism, or focused on
the need to avoid bloodshed, but their sympathies seemed clear. Mohamed
al-Arefe declared himself on August 15
to be "with Egypt in my heart and my position and my preaching," calling on
Egyptians to "avoid violence, preserve the calm, do not wash blood with blood." A’idh al-Qarni pleaded for all sides to show restraint.

This public, intense Islamist anger over official policy
toward Egypt could have domestic political ramifications, at least at the
margins. The co-optation
of the Sahwa Islamist networks

was a key part of the Saudi survival strategy in the early days of the Arab
uprisings. Key sahwa figures such as Salman al-Awda have been increasingly
, however, as with his scathing open letter on the need for
political reform released in March. The argument over Egypt may further push
them apart. As for Kuwait, criticism over Egypt plays
into its interminable political crisis, and will likely only intensify the
existing polarization. After opposition movements including the Islamic
Constitutional Movement organized
a protest
outside of Egypt’s Embassy, a leading pro-government
politician warned
against any sign of penetration by Egyptian Muslim Brothers. None of this is likely to lead to an uprising or the like, but it puts the monarchs in an unaccustomed defensive position.

The greater impact might be felt in Syria, however. These Islamist networks
and personalities
have been instrumental
in building support
and raising
for the various factions of the Syrian opposition. Now, they are prominently equating Egypt’s
General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Suwaidan,
for instance, proclaims that "the right is clearly with the revolutionaries in
Syria and with those who adhere to legitimacy and reject the coup in Egypt."
What will happen if the Islamist networks which have been working to support
the Syrian opposition begin to turn their fundraising and mobilizational
efforts to Egypt?