Via Foreign Policy:
In a recent video entitled “Days with the Imam” in which he recalls Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri declares that the founder of al Qaeda had been a “member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arabian Peninsula” before he was evicted in the 1980s. He was expelled because of his insistence on fighting alongside the mujahidin in Afghanistan while the Brotherhood allowed him to bring aid to Peshawar but didn’t want him to go any further. Zawahiri’s claims seem to have caused some embarrassment among the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), judging from how quick MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan was to refute them.
One reason for the embarrassment may be that, with a Muslim Brotherhood president recently elected in Egypt, the organization is eager to reassure the West of its moderate Islamist orientation and is therefore afraid of anything associating it with al Qaeda or jihadism. Yet Zawahiri’s declarations shouldn’t be seen as too problematic in this respect, since they portray the MB as an organization unwilling to let its members take part in physical jihad, even against the Russians in Afghanistan at a time when the issue was far less controversial than it would later become. A more likely reason for the Brotherhood’s distress, however, is that Zawahiri reveals what among Saudi Islamist insiders is an open secret but remains little known outside those circles: that there exists a Saudi Arabian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Where Ghozlan has a point, however, is that the Saudi Muslim Brotherhood is not exactly a MB branch like all others. From the days of Hassan al-Banna, the Saudi monarchy made it clear that it wouldn’t allow the Brotherhood to establish a section in the kingdom. Yet from the late 1960s onward, different groups of Saudis influenced by Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhood exiles started creating local semi-clandestine organizations claiming an affiliation to the MB. A sign that this was the result of a bottom-up dynamic, not a top-down creation, is that four such distinct organizations saw the light at about the same time: one in the western province, called the Brotherhood of the Hejaz (ikhwan al-Hijaz); and three in the central region — two named after their alleged founder, the Brotherhood of al-Sulayfih (ikhwan al-Sulayfih) and the Brotherhood of al-Funaysan (ikhwan al-Funaysan), and one called the Brotherhood of Zubayr (ikhwan al-Zubayr) because it was established by Saudis whose families had lived in Zubayr, in Southern Iraq. Although the four groups attempted to coordinate their activities and saw themselves as part of one broader entity, they never managed to formally merge.