Most Western reporting on the UAE trial has focused on the local Brotherhood chapter known as Al-Islah, formally established in Dubai in 1974 and legal in
the country for decades before it ran afoul of the establishment. But a new group known as the Ummah Party ("Hizb al-Ummah"), created after the Egyptian revolution by an Al-Islah
cofounder, more obviously demonstrates why the government has been so aggressive in prosecuting the movement as a whole. Banned in the UAE, it is publicly
affiliated with two other parties of the same name -- one in Saudi Arabia, where it's also illegal; the other, its flagship, in Kuwait, where it functions
openly. The group's ideological writings reconcile Salafism's borderless struggle for global
Islamization with the Brotherhood's more tailored approach of transforming countries one at a time. This is in essence the founding vision of Al-Qaeda as
articulated by the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri and manifested by Arab fighters in Afghanistan who went on to attack their home countries and the West. Now a
new battlefield appears to be fostering a similar convergence.
On March 5, the northern Syrian city of Raqqa became the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control in the ongoing conflict. It fell largely into
the hands of the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate now designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and UN. Among the most celebrated "martyrs" on the
rebel side of the battle, shot dead on March 3 by a Syrian government sniper, was a former colonel in the UAE military and Ummah Party cofounder, Muhammad al-Abduli. He had previously been jailed back home on suspicion
of recruiting soldiers to join the Brotherhood. Myriad Islamist publications report that Abduli had arrived in Turkey with other UAE nationals, a few months
before his death, and established a training camp. As word of his "martyrdom" spread, numerous co-nationals boasted of their connection to him -- notably, the current head of the
UAE's Ummah Party, Hassan al-Duqqi, now a fugitive from the UAE, reportedly living in Turkey.
Party leadership has signaled that its agenda for violent action goes far beyond Syria. On March 31, after announcing his own meeting with an Al-Nusra
commander in Syria, Saudi Ummah Party chief Muhammad bin Sa'd al-Mufarrih tweeted,
"Be happy, o Arabian peninsula, for more than 12,000 of your jihadist sons are in Syria, all of them sworn by Almighty God to your liberation. ('And even
12,000 cannot be defeated.')" The "Arabian peninsula" is understood in context to mean Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The quote at the end of the Tweet
is part of an oral tradition of the prophet Muhammad in which the latter foresees an army of 12,000 arising from Arabia to lead the Muslim world in
reestablishing the caliphate.
Estimates of foreign fighters in Syria indicate that the number 12,000 is an exaggeration. But if only as a statement of aspiration, Mufarrih's words carry
weight in light of the party's operational achievements: To date, two Islamist brigades in Syria -- bringing together fighters from the Gulf, Libya, Egypt,
Palestine, and elsewhere -- have been cofounded and co-funded by the party's leadership: the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham ("Free Men of the Levant") and Liwaa
al-Ummah ("Banner of the Nation") were established with grants from the party's Kuwaiti founder, Hakim al-Mutayri. The UAE colonel Abduli is credited with having trained members of Ahrar al-Sham. The relationship between
the Liwaa al-Ummah brigade and the Ummah party also manifests on social media: Online, the brigadelargely retweets statements by party leaders, and its Facebook page sings their praises.