An Arab Aboutface?

by ALEX ALEXIEV November 22, 2014

Several days ago the United Arab Emirates government published a comprehensive list of what they consider the main terrorist organizations in the world. Not surprisingly, nobody in the West took any notice. They should have, for not only is the list the first of its kind published in the Arab world, but it also breaks new ground in a number of surprising ways. The biggest surprise by far is the listing of a number of European and American Islamist organizations that have pretended for years that they are moderate and representative of all Muslims. More often than not these claims have been accepted at face value by their respective governments, which makes the new list highly significant.

Among the 80 organizations listed are a number of Islamic organizations from Italy, Belgium, Finland , Sweden, Denmark, Serbia, the UK Cordoba Foundation, the German Islamische Geselschaft Deutschlands, and the American-based Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American society (MAS). Also listed are umbrella organizations like the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF), Islamic Relief and the biggest umbrella organization of them all - the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE). What they all have in common is their Islamist ideology and close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the list provides no information of what terrorist activities or affiliations these organizations are involved in, experts studying radical Islamism will easily find familiar patterns and commonalities among them. For instance, CAIR was founded in 1994 for the purpose of serving as a publicity arm and fund raising front in the United States for the designated terrorist organization, Hamas, and the affiliated with it, Islamic Association of Palestine, whose chairman and top Hamas leader, Musa Muhammed Abu Marzook, is a designated terrorist. MAS was incorporated in Chicago in 1993 and its three founders, Omar Soubani, Jamal Badawi and Ahmad Elkadi, were all prominent leaders of the International Muslim Brotherhood. Prior to founding MAS, the Brotherhood had functioned in America as a clandestine organization under the leadership of Elkadi. According to U.S. court documents from a terrorist trial, "MAS was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America."

While exposing the radical Islamist tendencies of these groups is in itself a service in the fight against Islamism, there are other far-reaching implications of this UAE initiative. The fact is that for many years most of the funding of radical Islam and terrorism originated in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. With Saudi Arabia turning decisively against the Brotherhood in the Egyptian imbroglio and the Emirates now seemingly embarking on the same path, many of these radical groups may find it very difficult to find replacement donors. CAIR, for instance, on a regular basis received more than 90% of its funding from Gulf donors and less than 10% from membership dues.

Time will tell if these former supporters of the radicals have truly changed their spots. But the mere appearance of such a list in an Arab country is a step forward for which they should be congratulated.

Alex Alexiev is IASC's Senior Fellow for Eurasia Affairs.  He has more than 35 years of analytical experience in U.S. national security as a senior analyst and project director with the Rand Corp's National Security Division, and several think tanks in Washington D.C.  He has directed numerous research projects for the Department of Defense, Office of Net Assessment, U.S. Army Intelligence, USAF intelligence, DIA, CIA, and other U.S. Government agencies, and has testified before Congress numerous times. He is the author of several books and myriad monographs and articles on national security issues.

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