“Efforts have been made in recent weeks by members of Al Islah in Yemen (a political unbrella for various tribes and Islamic outfits, such as the Muslim Brotherhood) to organize an alliance of convenience with the Houthis to weaken Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Arabian Peninsula,” sources in Sana’a posited in exclusive comments.
Speaking in condition of anonymity for obvious security reasons, our source, who will refer to as Ali, is adamant, Al Islah wants to architect a rapprochement between its forces and the Ansarallah movement and thus blindside Saudi Arabia and its partners in the region.
While Al Islah has more or less leaned in favour of UN-backed President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi against those factions of the General People’s Congress still loyal to late President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis, on account of their sympathy for Iran and more broadly the Shia Islamic world, recent developments in Yemen and to a greater extent the region altogether, have pushed the Muslim Brotherhood to think outside their political box and far out their ideological comfort zone.
It needs to be said that if as a political movement the Muslim Brotherhood, and by association Al Islah in Yemen have a pretty radical and intolerant worldview, its leadership is also more than willing and capable to bow to pragmatism – even if it means partnering up with the very parties or military outfits they say to want to destroy.
For Al Islah power and the quest for control far outweigh any sense of political consistency.
“An alliance between the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood is not that much of a stretch. Historically the Brotherhood has been pragmatic and its leadership has always favoured ties with whichever parties prove the strongest and the most tactically beneficial,” noted Ali.
Indeed, for decades Al Islah co-existed alongside the General People’s Congress under the leadership of now deceased President Saleh, understanding that a share of power was better than a long-drawn-out conflict. A convenient counter-power to President Saleh, Al Islah benefited from the financial largesse of several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whom, at the time saw the outfit as a justifiable mean to an end – keeping the Saleh and the ruling party on par with their respective vision for the region.
As the Brotherhood fell from political grace over its support for militant radical groups, Al Islah saw its star wane rather dramatically, forcing its leadership to rethink its alliances.
Although originally Al Islah sided with President Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, the party has also worked to carve pockets of influence within Yemen away from Hadi and its Saudi patrons – thus putting Al Islah in direct competition with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Since June 2017 when Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states cut diplomatic ties with Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist and terrorist groups, the UAE began to military push against Al Islah’s positions – a move which reportedly pushed Al Islah to vye for an alliance with the Houthis, in view of battling an enemy it views as an immediate existential threat.
Tensions between Hadi’s forces and the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen were laid bare in August 2018 in the southern seaport of Aden when armed militants attempted to kill one Al Islah’s senior representatives there: Arafat Hazam. While the UAE and Hadi’s loyalists both denied any involvement, Al Islah heard its former patrons’ message loud and clear – survival would entail brokering alliances outside the usual political spectrum.
“Al Islah and the Houthis need each other in the sense that together they would have control over large territories and most significant for Yemen hold sway over many tribal leaders – not discounting the fact they could force Saudi Arabia out of Yemen and the region by tapping into their respective regional networks, namely, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and of course Turkey,” stressed Ali.
Again, if many readers will need a minute or two to digest the news, the idea of grand alliance between the proponents of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s various proxies across the region has been a long time in the making – realpolitik is not an empty concept.
Back in November 2019 James Risen wrote a report for the Intercept in which he unveiled the very steps taken by both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran to pull their forces and gravitas together against the one thing they can agree on – the need to contain Saudi Arabia.
He wrote: “An Iranian intelligence cable about the 2014 meeting provides an intriguing glimpse at a secret effort by the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian officials to maintain contact — and determine whether they could still work together — after Morsi was removed from power.”
And ““Differences between Iran as a symbol and representative of the Shia world and the Muslim Brotherhood as a representative of the Sunni world are indisputable,” the Brotherhood members noted, according to the MOIS cable. But they emphasized that there “should be a focus on joint grounds for cooperation.” One of the most important things the groups shared, the Brotherhood representatives said, was a hatred for Saudi Arabia, “the common enemy” of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.”
At such a juncture in time when Iran finds itself somewhat ‘diminished’ both at home by way of brewing popular unrest and abroad with Iraq calling for an end to all forms of foreign military meddling, Tehran may very much wish to formulate an alliance of convenience – starting in Yemen, with the Muslim Brotherhood.
As for the Houthis, Al Islah represents too much of a tactical opportunity for any attempt at a truce to be dismissed on the basis of ideology.
Should the two decide to in fact collude Saudi Arabia and much of the GCC may soon wish they never challenged Yemen to a fight.
Catherine Shakdam is a research fellow at the Al Bayan Centre for Planning & Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements. She is the author of A Tale of Grand Resistance: Yemen, the Wahhabi and the House of Saud. She writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.