Hassan al-Banna & the Early Years
- The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the son of an imam who was raised with variety of Islamic and Western influences.
- Al-Banna became convinced that Egypt and Muslims had become corrupted by the British colonization and the Westernization that it brought.
- The Muslim Brotherhood grew rapidly to over 500,000 members in 1948 with branches all over Egypt and in several other Middle Eastern countries.
- The Muslim Brotherhood grafted itself onto Islamic and other social networks such as mosques, Islamic welfare associations, and neighborhood groups and addressed a wide range of contemporary issues.
- The Muslim Brotherhood was involved in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, on behalf of the Palestinians and took part in attacks on Jewish facilities.
- In November 1948 the government banned the Muslim Brotherhood and sent many of its members to jail. The prime minister was later assassinated by a by a Muslim Brother followed by the assassination of al-Banna himself.
- In 1952, the Free Officers Movement (FOM) led by Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian government. Nasser undertook a harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood following an assassination attempt on his life and the Brotherhood was banned and thousands of its members were imprisoned.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in March 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the son of an imam of the strict traditionalist and conservative Hanabali school of Islam who was an important spiritual influence during El-Banna’s early life. Al-Banna was also steeped in the thought of the early Islamic “reformers” such as Rashid Rida and was also heavily influenced by Sufism as a youth, becoming a member of the al-Hassafiyya Sufi order. Another formative influence, this time on the political side, was the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 when El-Banna was 13 years old. El-Banna has written that at that time he participated in demonstrations, published political pamphlets, and founded youth “reform” societies. El-Banna later moved to Cairo where against his father’s wishes he attended Dar al-‘Ulum, an Egyptian teacher training facility designed to educate prospective teachers in modern subjects. During his four years in Cairo, El-Banna became associated with several Islamic societies and published a series of articles on Islamic topics. El-Banna graduated from Dar al-‘Ulum, in the summer of 1927 and took a position teaching Arabic in the Suez Canal Zone city of Ismailia, a town with a high degree of foreign influence as a result of the Canal presence. During this time, El-Banna became convinced that Egypt and Muslims had become corrupted by the British colonization and the Western influences that it brought. He was also among the group of Egyptian nationalists who were unhappy with the ruling Wafd party because of its perceived moderation and secular stance.
According to al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood was established by him in 1928 after six workers for the Suez Canal companies came to him with complaints of “humiliation and restriction” suffered at the hands of foreigners. The motto of the Brotherhood was traditionally “Believers are but Brothers” but later became “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.”, a saying which reflected al-Banna’s belief that Islam was a “total solution” to all aspects of life including the governance of a society. The Muslim Brotherhood grew rapidly from an estimated 800 members in 1936 to over 500,000 in 1948 and in 1932 its headquarters was moved to Cairo. By the late 1930’s it had branches in every one of Egypt’s provinces as well as influence in other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Syria. The rapid expansion of the Brotherhood was no doubt a reflection of al-Banna himself who began preaching in mosques and and coffee houses, something that was highly unusual at the time. He also showed a great flair for institution building and worked to graft the Brotherhood onto preexisting Islamic and other social networks such as mosques, Islamic welfare associations, and neighborhood groups. The Muslim Brotherhood members were organized into a series of cells known as usar (“families” – singular: usrah). The organization addressed a wide range of contemporary issues such as colonialism, public health, educational policy, natural resources management, social inequalities, pan-Islamism, nationalism, the international weakness of the Islamic world , and the conflict in Palestine and it was this wide-ranging agenda that enabled the Brotherhood to recruit members from a broad range of Egyptian society. However, the organization’s elite were heavily drawn from the educated professional class and civil servants, an influence which continues to this day.
The first major international cause taken on by the Muslim Brotherhood was in 1936 during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The Brotherhood formed a special committee at that time to protest against Britain and a small group of Muslim Brothers took part in attacks against Jewish facilities. The Muslim Brotherhood also carried out grassroots fundraising, organized rallies, and disseminated pro
anda on behalf of the Palestinians including the infamous anti-semitc tracts Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. During this time, the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem was in contact with al-Banna and the efforts of the Brotherhood were largely responsible for turning the Palestinian issue in both an Islamic cause and a pan-Arab issue. In 1948, three battalions of Muslim Brothers went to Palestine to fight in the war against the newly established Israeli state including Said Ramadan, he son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna and a leader of one the groups of volunteers.
In November 1948, following a series of bombings and assassination attempts, Egyptian police seized an automobile containing the documents, plans, and membership said to have belonged to the “Special Apparatus” of the MB, a secret paramilitary group set up by al-Banna to resist British rule. The government arrested 32 leaders of the Special Apparatus and later the Egyptian Prime Minister banned the organization, impounding its assets and sending many of its members to jail. In the following months, the prime minister was assassinated by a by a young Brotherhood member, and later al-Banna himself was assassinated in what is thought to be an act of retaliation by the Brotherhood.
In 1952, a group of nationalist military officers known as the Free Officers Movement (FOM) overthrew the Egyptian monarchy. Originally formed as a cell within the Muslim Brotherhood during the 1948 war with Israel, its was expected that the Brotherhood would flourish under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the FOM. However, in 1954 a Muslim Brother named Mahmoud Abdel Latif fired eight shots, all misses, at Nasser during a speech in Alexandria’s Manshiya Square. The act resulted in both an enormous boost in Nasser’s popularity and to a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood itself. In Cairo, activists destroyed the Brotherhood’s headquarters and near the Suez Canal, regime supporters destroyed Brotherhood-affiliated businesses. Three days after the shooting, known as the “Manshiya incident”, Nasser denounced the Brotherhood Supreme Guide Hassan al-Hudaybi while the Egyptian press proclaimed that the Brotherhoods Secret Apparatus was trying to overthrow the government. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned and thousands of its members were imprisoned, with many being tortured and held for years in prisons and detainment facilities. This time is referred to by the Muslim Brotherhood as the ‘ordeal’ [mihna].
The Emergence of the Global Muslim Brotherhood
- Some fleeing Muslim Brothers fled to Saudi Arabia where they helped to found many important Saudi religious institutions including the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).
- Other Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) settled in Europe and the United States where they went on to found what have become some of the most prominent Islamic organizations in their new home countries, a global network that is referred to as the Global Muslim Brotherhood.
- The Global Muslim Brotherhood has been organized in the United States since 1963 when Muslim Brothers established the Muslim Student Association (MSA) who went on to form numerous other organizations comprising the US Muslim Brotherhood today.
- Since 1960, Brotherhood organizations have also been established in almost all of the EU countries and many of these organizations have banded together into an EU-level lobbying group known as the Federation of Islamic Organizations of Europe (FIOE).
- Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, currently residing in Qatar, holds a position of such esteem and influence within the Global Muslim Brotherhood that he is referred to here as the leader of the network.
Some of the Muslim Brothers who avoided the crackdown in Egypt fled to Saudi Arabia where they helped to found many important Saudi religious institutions. These include the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), both of which were created to propagate Saudi ‘Wahhabi’ Islam, a conservative version of Islam that teaches that the only true form of the religion is that which it is believed was practiced centuries ago. Other Muslim Brothers(Ikhwan) settled in Europe and the United States where they went on to found what have become some of the most prominent Islamic organizations in their new home countries. Once established, these organizations began seeking legitimacy and began working to influence and control the development of Islamic discourse and political activity in their respective countries. Less publicly, they are almost always associated with fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, and support for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even Hezbollah. While claiming to disavow Al-Qaeda linked terrorism, the Ikhwan are at best lukewarm in their condemnation of Islamist violence and commonly issue statements justifying and supporting such violence. When compared to the Egyptian organization, there has been relatively little scrutiny of this global network that is referred to here as the Global Muslim Brotherhood. This network has become far more important to the Islamist movement worldwide than the Egyptian organization, which until recently had been largely confined to activities inside Egypt– where its members were under constant government surveillance and control until the fall of the Mubarak government in 2011.
The Global Muslim Brotherhood has been organized in the United States since 1963, when the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was established by Brotherhood members fleeing their home countries. Key figures in the MSA, as well as others linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, went on to form numerous other organizations, many of which have been recently identified by the US government in court documents as part of the U.S Brotherhood. The Global Muslim Brotherhood has also been present in Europe since 1960 when Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, founded a mosque in Munich. Since that time, Brotherhood organizations have been established in almost all of the EU countries as well as many non-EU countries such as Russia and Turkey. Many of these organizations have banded together into an EU-level lobbying group known as the Federation of Islamic Organizations of Europe (FIOE), based in Brussels and which includes some 26 European Muslim Brotherhood organizations as well as being the parent body for other pan-European Brotherhood bodies such as the European Council For Fatwa and Research (ECFR). backgrounds, funding, and institutional links. They hold numerous conferences year after year, attended by the same core group of individuals.
While much remains to be learned about how the Global Muslim Brotherhood is coordinated and led, US court documents released during the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial indicate a degree of structure previously unknown. In addition, one individual holds a position of such esteem and influence within the Global Muslim Brotherhood that he is referred to here as the leader of the network. In the 1970s after the death of Nasser and under the new President Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian Brotherhood was invited back to Egypt and began a new phase of participation in Egyptian politics. Imprisoned Brothers were released and the organization was tolerated to varying degrees with periodic arrests and crackdowns until the 2011 Revolution. One of those who began to flourish during this time was Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, a highly influential theologian now living in Qatar who also heads the European Council for Fatwa and Research and appears on a weekly Al Jazeera television program. Sheikh Qaradawi first rose to prominence through his participation on the editorial board of Al-Dawa magazine, an Egyptian publication that was allowed to circulate during the regime of Anwar Sadat and which was largely financed by money coming from Saudi Arabia. The Al-Dawa editorial board was composed largely of Muslim Brothers who had fallen out with the Brotherhood Supreme Guide over their willingness to cooperate with the Egyptian regime.
The Global Muslim Brotherhood Today
- Since the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has become a global topic although the Global Muslim Brotherhood is rarely discussed.
- Following President Morsi’s deposition and the crackdown on the Brotherhood by the new Egyptian government, Muslim Brothers have again been fleeing the country with Turkey and Qatar emerging as new centers of Global Muslim Brotherhood activity.
- Another destination for Muslim Brotherhood refugees has been the UK which for years has served as a “home base” and command and control center for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
- During the “Arab Spring”, a number of individuals tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood showed up in various advisory positions to Muslim Brotherhood governments in the Middle East.
- There is still resistance to the notion of a Global Muslim Brotherhood although in the past several of the leaders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood gave acknowledged its existence.
- Since no organizations in the US or Europe identify themselves as such, it is left to the researcher/investigator to identify Global Muslim Brotherhood organizations and leaders in any given circumstance.
Until the advent of the Arab Spring the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and to even a far less degree the Global Muslim Brotherhood, was rarely discussed in media, policy, or other circles. However, the takeover of Egypt by Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood rocketed the Egyptian Brotherhood to international prominence although the discussion of the global Brotherhood is still much less common. Since Morsi’s deposition by the Egyptian military authorities and the ensuing crackdown on the organization, Muslim Brothers who avoided imprisonment once again began to flee the country. Turkey and Qatar have emerged in recent years as centers of Global Muslim Brotherhood activity and support and fleeing Brothers have been reported to have settled in both countries. Another destination for Muslim Brotherhood refugees has been the UK which for years as served as a “home base” and command and control center for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Yet despite this renewed and highly public dispersal of Muslim Brothers from Egypt, there remains resistance in many quarters to the notion of a Global Muslim Brotherhood. However, several of the leaders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood itself have in the past acknowledged the existence of a Global Muslim
Brotherhood. In July 2007, the then Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood explained:
This blessed movement founded by our martyr Imam- Allah have mercy on him- ensued a huge movement which is present in more than seventy countries all over the world, and is still spreading and bearing fruits.
Also in July 2007, Kamal al Helbawi, the MB’s former official spokesman in the West, said in a newspaper interview:
Generally speaking, no country is devoid of the MB, whether large or small, Arab or international. In the West, there is an Islamic movement that follows al Banna, but there are also others that have different references.”
In June 2008, the first Deputy chairman of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was asked about the “international Muslim Brotherhood and replied
There are entities that exist in many countries all over the world. These entities have the same ideology, principle and objectives but they work in different circumstances and different contexts. So, it is reasonable to have decentralization in action so that every entity works according to its circumstances and according to the problems it is facing and in their framework.
Following the “Arab Spring”, a number of individuals tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood, most of who had earlier denied any Brotherhood ties, showed up in various advisory positions to Muslim Brotherhood governments. For example, Dr. Ayman Ali (aka Ayman Aly) was appointed In June 2012 as one of 100 members of the new constituent assembly that was charged with drafting the country’s new constitution and described Identified as the “expatriates’ representative” and vice-president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), the umbrella group representing the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe discussed above. Also in June 2012, Dr. Ali was appointed as the Presidential spokesperson to Egyptian President Morsi. In August 2012, Dr. Ali was selected as one of Morsi’s four Presidential advisers and described as a Muslim Brotherhood member and a physician.
In spite of this and other evidence for the existence of the global Muslim Brotherhood, there does not appear to be a single organization outside of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan using Muslim Brotherhood in the name of their group. In a private conversation with intelligence officers from a European country, they denied the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood in their country, saying that “there are no organizations registered by that name in our country”. Therefore, it is left to the researcher/investigator taking up the question to identify Global Muslim Brotherhood organizations and leaders in any given circumstance. Useful criteria include the origins and founding of the organization and its leaders, contact and links to other organizations, ideology, and conferences sponsored and/or attended. It should alway be noted that the Global Muslim Brotherhood is conceptualized as a network which, by definition, is not controlled by a single entity or individual.
Why We In The West Should Be Concerned
- The Muslim Brotherhood is the original source for “Islamism”, a political ideology based on a selective and arbitrary politicization of religion.
- Despite their threat to democracy, Muslim Brotherhood groups are often accorded mainstream status even though polling data suggests it is unwarranted.
- Western Muslim Brotherhood groups are well placed to carry various forms of social sabotage.
- Such social sabotage falls into four broad areas- hindering integration, fostering hatred, inciting conflict, and incubating terrorism. These areas are not mutually exclusive.
Concern about the Muslim Brotherhood in the West is sometimes expressed in terms of what is said to be the group’s desire to impose “Shariah Law’ in Western countries or as a fear over Brotherhood “infiltration” into Western governmental or other key positions in our societies. Although such fears and concerns would seem farfetched and may often serve as a mask for various forms of prejudice against Muslims, we should not ignore the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is the original source for what is sometimes called “Islamism”, described by of Syrian-born Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi who distinguishes “between Islam as a religious belief” and Islamic fundamentalism as a political ideology” based on a “selective and arbitrary politicization of religion.” As such, the Brotherhood represents a fundamentally anti- democratic movement that mixes religion and politics in the public sphere.
Despite the threat to democracy posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Brotherhood groups are often accorded mainstream status and treated as the representatives of Muslims living in the societies in which they find themselves. This is despite demonstrable evidence that they do not represent the majority of Western Muslims in any country where polling has taken place. It is this mainstream status that positions Western Muslim Brotherhood groups to carry out what might be described as various forms of social sabotage. Such sabotage can be look at as falling into four broad areas:
In Europe, where a number of countries have large Muslim populations that are not well integrated into the larger society, Muslim Brotherhood groups play a role in hindering such integration by encouraging Muslims to see themselves chiefly through the eyes of their religion rather than as citizens of the countries in which they live.
Hatred fostered by the Muslim Brotherhood in the West is primarily directed against Jews, though often but not always couched as “anti-Zionism.” Incidences of Nazi-style anti-Semitism permeate the Global Muslim Brotherhood and such hatred percolates everywhere that the Brotherhood is present. To a lesser but no less virulent extent, the Brotherhood is also spreading hatred against local-Shiite communities.
The Muslim Brotherhood has played a significant role in inciting conflict between local communities, again chiefly between Jews and Muslims. The most glaring example of such incitement has taken place during the various Gaza conflicts, with the Brotherhood sponsoring massive local demonstrations where the Israelis are portrayed as “butchers” and “Nazis” and where Gaza is portrayed as a massive “concentration camp” or the victim of a “modern holocaust.”
The Muslim Brotherhood in the West plays a multi- faceted role in helping to foster terrorism. The Brotherhood is one of the primary forces pushing the notion of a Western “War on Islam” which no doubts contributes to the sense of isolation from and anger towards their host societies on the part of Western Muslims. The Brotherhood also provides various forms of “cover” for terrorism either by justifying and rationalizing it existence or arguing against almost any form of counter-terrorism initiatives by governments. Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood and its associated Hamas support networks have long been central players in the financing of Palestinian terrorism, chiefly on the part of Hamas.
It should be noted that these four forms of social sabotage are not mutually exclusive and in fact are highly interrelated. For example, hindering integration of Muslims no doubt contributes to the alienation that helps to inspire terrorism while terrorism, in turn, hinders integration by fostering the suspicion felt by non-Muslims toward their Muslim neighbors.