By Zehra Nur Duz
ANKARA (AA) – With Saudi Arabia’s religious body recently designating Muslim Brotherhood -- a political, and social movement -- as a terrorist group, experts believe the move was a political decision taken at the behest of Crown Prince, Muhammed bin Salman.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency Ismail Numan Telci, an associate professor at Sakarya University, and also the vice president at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), said Prince Salman has largely taken control of the Council of Senior Scholars (CSS), which is one of the most important pillars of the Saudi state.
"CSS’s recent decision shows that Salman can now use this religious institution fully in line with his political goals," he said.
Under normal circumstances, it would not have been possible for the council -- the highest religious body in the country -- to take such a decision against the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a large base in the Muslim world.
According to Telci the CSS is no more a legitimate institution, as many of its members have been imprisoned and replaced by those working directly under Salman's orders.
The scholar said a factor behind the CSS decision could be the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election.
The Saudi administration apprehended that once President-elect Joe Biden assumes office, the US administration may change its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood. The US may not be as harsh as it was during the Donald Trump era, said Telci.
He said that despite all attempts, Riyadh had not been able to persuade the US to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization so far.
In a final move, Saudi Arabia is exploring to put pressure on Trump to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization before he leaves office, added Telci.
The move also explains Saudi Arabia’s regional priorities.
The expert pointed out that the decision implies that the Saudi government will continue its support to Israeli policies against Brotherhood in the region. The decision is also aimed to urge countries like Turkey and Qatar, to reconsider their moderate attitude towards the Brotherhood.
On Nov.10, the CSS issued a statement designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, accusing it of being a destabilizing factor in the region.
Five days later Israel welcomed the decision.
"We are happy in Israel to see such approach that stands against exploitation of religion for incitement and sedition," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.
"We are in bad need of a discourse that calls for tolerance and cooperation in the region," the statement added.
- Saudi-Israeli cooperation
Israel's support for Saudi Arabia's decision against Muslim Brotherhood shows that it has become one of the important dimensions of the implicit cooperation between the two countries, said Telci.
Israel sees the Saudi statement as backing its crackdown against Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which is seen closer to the Muslim Brotherhood in thoughts.
Israel launched three major military offensives against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014 and still imposes a tightened blockade on the Palestinian territory, ruled by Hamas.
The CSS statement has evoked sharp reactions in the Arab and Muslim world.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it has always been a victim of violence and dictatorial regimes.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Talat Fehmi, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said it is not a terrorist but a reformist organization.
Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood was blacklisted by Egyptian authorities in 2013 following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in a military coup led by then military general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In May this year, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry had officially designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.