's new book Rentier Islamism: The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gulf Monarchies
(Oxford University Press, 2018) contributes significantly to an understanding of one of the most controversial political groups in Middle East politics. Widely viewed as a player that cannot be excluded from the political process in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood is at the crux of political conflict, particularly in Egypt, where its president, Mohammed Morsi, was toppled in a military coup in 2013, and in the Gulf where it is at the crux of a dispute that has pitted Qatar against an alliance led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Courtney Freer’s study of the Brotherhood in the Gulf portrays the development of an opposition group in an autocratic environment. It also is a study of a group that operates in an environment in which one of its key appeals, the provision of social services like healthcare, is of little use because the oil-rich Gulf states introduced welfare states that offered their citizenry cradle-to-grave social security as part of the social contract. Similarly, the Brotherhood’s role as a provider of a religiously couched identity had to compete in societies with strong tribal allegiances and governments that co-opted Islam as part of their legitimization. Nonetheless, the Brotherhood played a key role in state building in the Gulf where highly educated members of the group fleeing persecution in countries like Egypt and Syria found employment, particularly in education and the judiciary. By tracing the different trajectories of the Brotherhood in the Gulf ranging from Kuwait, where an institutionalized parliamentary system allowed it to ease into mainstream politics, to the UAE, where it came go be seen as an existential threat alongside all expressions of political Islam, Freer fills a vital gap in the literature about a region that is in throes of volatile, often brutal transition.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.