Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (left) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on August 30, 2012. (AFP)
Leaked Iranian intelligence documents revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran sought to work together. Like an iron fist in a velvet glove, the IRGC would be the muscle and the Brotherhood could give it cover in the 85 countries it works in, members of the organizations discussed. They convened in Turkey in 2014 to discuss how they might work together and who to fight against. First target: Saudi Arabia. Other common enemies: Israel and the United States.
The revelations come from some of the 700 documents that were leaked from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security to The Intercept and The New York Times, which have been running stories about the documents. The leak reveals that the Brotherhood – a Sunni Islamic religious organization rooted in Egypt with branches in other countries which has inspired numerous Islamist groups, including Hamas – wanted to work with Iran's leadership.
The Brotherhood's embrace of Iran defies the conventional wisdom that Sunni and Shi'ite Islamists don't mix.
The embrace by these two groups in 2014 appears to go against the narrative that Sunni and Shi'ite religious extremists don't get along. But the region is not so simple, and in fact, they saw areas of cooperation. First of all, the Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2012 but had been swept from power in 2013 by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. While its members were arrested, others reached out to Iran. This was in the spring of 2014. Could a meeting be arranged?
Iran's IRGC was so eager that it said it would send Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC Quds Force commander. The Brotherhood wanted to meet in Turkey where its allies among the AKP ruling party were in power. Hamas was being well received in Turkey as well, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been a key supporter of the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Turkey was angered by Sisi pushing Morsi from power. Saudi Arabia had supported Sisi.
Herein lies the reality of the region in that year. Turkey didn't mind the meeting taking place, but Soleimani was too high profile. Instead an IRGC member named "Abu Hussain" was sent. A Turkish hotel was selected. The Brotherhood, The Intercept claims, sent "Ibrahim Munir Mustafa, Mahmoud al-Abiary and Youssef Moustafa Nada." But Nada told The Intercept he never attended the meeting.
What's important is that while the world was being told that Sunnis and Shi'ites were fighting each other in places like Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, in fact representatives of these groups were willing to work together. How would that happen?
The Brotherhood and IRGC were plotting in Yemen before the Saudis intervened in 2015.
They could work against the "common enemy" of Saudi Arabia. The Brotherhood had once made major inroads in Saudi Arabia. But in recent years, it has been challenged. The United Arab Emirates began to crack down on it in 2011 and Saudi Arabia followed, designating it a "terrorist organization" in 2014. The US designated Hasm and Liwa al-Thawra, offshoots of the Brotherhood, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as terrorist organizations in 2018.
In 2014 the Brotherhood and IRGC said they might be able to cooperate in Yemen. This is a major revelation because Saudi Arabia didn't intervene in Yemen until 2015 to stop the Houthi rebels. The crackdown on the Brotherhood is largely seen as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's approach, as well as the war in Yemen. But this shows that actually the Brotherhood and IRGC were already plotting before MBS reacted.
Seth Frantzman, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting & Analysis.