Alwaght- Tajikistan authorities recently has announced the detention of several people in the suspension of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon told reporters on January 28 that the police forces detained 113 Muslim Brotherhood members, adding that the suspects included 20 teachers and employees of various universities, two foreigners, and one official from the northern city of Isfara.
Having in mind that Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political movement spreading across the Arab world and having reformatory agenda, has no well-organized presence and activity in the former Soviet republic, the recent crackdown by Tajikistan comes with multiple objectives.
Tajikistan’s Islamic parties
The two parties of PIVT and Islamic Renaissance Party are the leading Islamic parties in the country. Following the civil war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two parties raced for a position in the post-Soviet Tajikistan. But they were driven out of the politics at once when they were banned. Beside the Islamic identity, Tajikistan had two other identities when it became independent from the Soviet rule: nationalism and communism, both heavily affecting the nation’s fate.
When Moscow supported Rahmon Nabiyev, the secretary-general of the Soviet-time Communist Party of Tajikistan, in the 1993 election, popular fury broke out across the country. Aliyev tried to placate the nationalists and Islamists by appointing a number of his new cabinet from them. This proved contrary to the interests of the communists who went angry at the decision. The unrest in the country lingered to the period of President Emomali Rahmon.
Addressing the deadlock, Ramon presented a negative image of the Islamists calling them the main source of unrest in the country. Despite the escalated tensions, Iran mediated between Rahmon and Abdullah Nouri of the Islamic Renaissance Party brokering a deal between them. The Iranian-brokered deal stood as a basis for a later agreement signed between the two sides in Moscow. The expansion of the activities of Islamic parties pushed some prominent figures up to key political posts. For example, Akbar Toureh Janzadeh, an Islamic opposition leader who also was engaged in the civil war, became deputy prime minister after the 1997 agreement.
Rahmon, however, took a gradual political path to drive out of the politics the Islamic parties. In 2006, the supreme court banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, though the movement had no major activity inside Tajikistan. The prosecutor-general claimed the movement sought to topple the government through force and install an Islamic government in the country. The ban provided a ground to eliminate from the national politics the two Islamic parties who were accused of links and meetings with Muslim Brotherhood figures.
In 2014, Abdulhalim Nazarzoda, the deputy defense minister, and 13 members of the Islamic Renaissance Party were arrested for military coup attempt charges. The party was banned in the same year. The supreme court in 2015 charged the Islamic Renaissance Party of terrorist actions and having hands in the unrest of Kharough, the center of Badakhshan province, and dissolved it. Dushanbe argued that the party was a cover for the Muslim Brotherhood in the country. The government propaganda is backed by the Saudi-run media which accuses such regional countries as Iran and Turkey of promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in the Central Asian nation.
Tajikistan’s double-standard policy
With only a $7 billion gross domestic product (GDP), Tajikistan is the poorest former Soviet republic. The marriage of poverty and identity disunity paved the way for the Salafi-takfiri groups and militias to recruit from the Tajik youths.
The country’s major faith is Hanafi Islam but Salafism growth in the country upgraded the already worsening problems in Tajikistan. In early November 2019, 20 ISIS terrorist fighters attacked a Tajikistan border outpost. Although the attack seemed staged, due to the closeness of Tajikistan to Afghanistan, there are potentials for terrorist groups to penetrate the country.
Over the past years, Tajikistan adopted double standards towards the Islamic groups in the country. According to documents leaked by WikiLeaks, between 2011 and 2012, Saudi diplomats activated Wahhabi teachers in Tajikistan in opposition to influence of other countries. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates exploit Tajikistan’s poverty and the willingness for economic transformation and improvement to pierce the county ideologically.
From 2007 to 2017, the Saudis invested $160.2 million in Tajikistan’s economy. In 2019, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan arranged a joint economic forum in Sughd province. Furthermore, in December, Abu Dhabi hosted a similar forum between the UAE and Tajikistan. The outcome was a joint investment fund to push forward cooperation in such areas as hydro-electric power, industry, mining, transportation, and agriculture. The UAE also signed an agreement to import its necessary labor force from Tajikistan.
Damages of Dushanbe’s approach
On the strength of Saudi and Emirati financial aids, Tajikistan is altering the politico-religious groups in the country. A background of competition between Rahmon and the Islamic groups in Tajikistan makes him believe that imported Salafism is less dangerous than the indigenous Islamic groups as Salafi groups at least do not seek political positions.
But this approach is highly dangerous as it can bring a fate similar to that of Afghanistan to the country. As experience shows, Islamist groups work towards Islamic emirate or caliphate. On the other side, Russia established its biggest military base in Tajikistan with one of its key mission blocking terrorism from piercing the Russian borders. This approach will damage the relations with Moscow. That is while countries like Russia and Iran played a major role in helping Tajikistan end its civil war.
In addition to teachers, there were university professors and religious scholars among the detainees, as well as figures close to religious icons like Nazir Toureh Janzadeh. The Tajik government accused them of contacts and cooperation with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement. In 2017, the government detained and sent to 6-year jails 5 preachers for alleged cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The recent detention will also seriously hit the relations with Turkey. Over the past years, their ties grew larger and larger. They were overshadowed by broadening Saudi and Emirati negative influence in the Central Asian state, however.
The Dushanbe’s unbalanced shift to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may bring it passing economic interests but it will damage its strategic interests. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are running a campaign against Turkey and Iran to change the makeup of religious groups active in Tajikistan. The recent crackdown beside Saudi-funded Salafism growth can work as a bridge for takfiri groups penetrating Tajikistan borders from neighboring Afghanistan.