I. General aspects

The outcome of the 2011 so-called “Arab Revolutions” that in most of the countries paved the way for the Islamist movements and groups to enter the political arena with real chances of getting the power brought to the analysts’ attention the spectacular rising of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun)[1], an Islamist movement that started in Egypt in the early 30s, to become, after less than a century, a transnational organization and an powerful player on the international political scene, while maintaining its fundamentalist Islamic ideology.

In the Muslim world, the first victories came in 2002, when Muslim Brotherhood Islamist political forces in Turkey, Morocco and Pakistan made substantial gains in polls. In 2005 candidates from the still-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, running as independents, won 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. That same year, the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood took the majority of seats won by Sunnis in the second post-Saddam Hussein parliamentary elections. Even a militant strand of the Brotherhood, Hamas, swept the polls in the Gaza Strip when it made its electoral debut in 2006. The Muslim Brotherhood has factored prominently into nearly every case of Arab unrest. The strength of the MB branches varies greatly from country to country, but even after decades of political repression, the MB and its affiliates have been able to maintain the largest and most organized civil society networks. When power vacuums are created in autocratic states, the MB networks are typically best positioned to convert public support for their social services into votes. This dynamic was most clearly illustrated in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing emerged as the single-largest party in the parliament. More liberal incarnations of the MB in Tunisia and Morocco also made significant political gains in 2011.

In Egypt, after the fall of the Mubarak regime and the subsequent elections in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as one of the main political forces, holding 47% of the 508-seat People’s Assembly and 59% of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. At the beginning of this year, it solidified its power by securing the position of speaker in both houses of the legislature, leading up to presidential elections in May 2012.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has several hundred thousand members and runs numerous institutions, including hospitals, schools, banks, businesses, foundations, day care centers, thrift shops, social clubs, and facilities for the disabled. Already the dominant player in Egypt’s political landscape, the Brotherhood may be emboldened to field a contender for the presidency despite its previous assurances not even to back a candidate. Though it announced that it would not contend in the presidential elections on May 23 2012, the Brotherhood made clear it wants a president with an “Islamic background”. Most local analysts and politicians point to the fact that the Brotherhood’s spiritual advisor Yusuf al-Qaradawi supports the apparently “independent” candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member. The Brotherhood could “unofficially” endorse Abul Fotouh or choose to back another frontrunner without a party, such as the nationalist Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and head of the Arab League. It appears that the Brotherhood’s support will dictate the election’s outcome.

In addition to Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is also the main political player in Tunisia, and Morocco and, should Bashar al-Assad’s regime fall, the Brotherhood will help itself to a major role in Syria, where it might prove effective amid the power void of Syria’s opposition. If Assad goes, another country will fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rising political star and its position as an important political player in the Arab and Muslim world triggered a new attitude of the US Administration, illustrated by the early 2011 considerations of the US National Intelligence Director James Clapper – that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “moderate” and “largely secular” organization (even if the declarations generated a negative reaction and were more or less retracted later).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said the US was willing to sit down with the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and she confirmed that contact with members of the Muslim Brotherhood is not new.

She said the policy consisted of “continuing the approach of limited contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood that has existed on and off for about five or six years”. In fact, routine contacts between the Muslim Brotherhood and the US embassy in Egypt began in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the embassy officials occasionally visited the movement’s headquarters in Cairo. The contacts stopped at the movement’s request following the September 11 attacks. In June 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised that the US would cut off its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood; however, the contacts resumed within about a year.

Another recent demonstration of Egyptian MB’s strong position was the attitude of the US after the Brotherhood’s warnings to tear up Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel if US aid is cut[2]. Former US President Jimmy Carter, the chief negotiator of the 1978 deal, said he “trusted the Islamists to do the right thing” no matter what. The former president said that he met with MB representatives and “they assured me personally and they have made public statements accordingly that they will honor the peace treaty that I helped negotiate in 1979. They know it’s very important to Egypt to maintain peace with Israel and I don’t have any doubt that they will carry out their promise to me”.

The new approach by the US Administration of the Brotherhood and the Islam is also visible in Europe, causing some worries of the European governments that face difficult economic and social problems that are also caused by the important Muslim population.

  • In Spain, at the beginning of 2012, the United States ambassador met with a group of Muslim immigrants in one of the most Islamized neighborhoods of Barcelona (a Muslim ghetto called Raval, a.k.a. Ravalistan because Muslim immigrants make up 45% of the barrio’s total population), where he said that the United States is not an “enemy of Islam” and that President Barack Obama wants to improve America’s image in the Middle East as quickly as possible
  • In Ireland, U.S. Embassy in Dublin sponsored a seminar ostensibly designed to help Muslim immigrants increase their influence within the Irish business and financial communities, where the opening speech was delivered by Imam Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood close to the Brotherhood ideological leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi. When Halawa told the attendance that the main purpose of the conference was to bring the Irish banking system into conformity with Islamic legal principles, US Ambassador Dan Rooney, said that the United States was a “solid partner” behind Halawa’s venture.
  • In Austria, the US Embassy in Vienna sponsored last February a film contest aimed at teaching Austrians that they should show respect for Muslim immigrants who refuse to integrate into their society.
  • In Belgium, US Ambassador Howard Gutman told lawyers attending a conference in Brussels in November 2011 that Israel is to blame for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe. Following a barrage of criticism for rationalizing the growing problem of anti-Semitism in Europe, the US Embassy in Belgium removed the evidence by uploading an amended transcript of Gutman’s remarks on its website.
  • In France, the US Embassy in Paris co-sponsored a seminar to teach Muslims in France how they can politically organize themselves. Operatives from the Democratic Party coached 70 Muslim “diversity leaders” from disaffected Muslim-majority suburban slums on how to develop a communications strategy, raise funds and build a political base. The French government expressed dismay at what it called “meddling”, and local analysts warned that France may yet end up with politically organized jihadists turning the banlieues into Islamic emirates.
  • In Norway, the US Embassy in Oslo organized a “dialogue meeting” designed to “empower” Muslim immigrant women in the country. At the event, Obama’s special envoy to the Muslim world, Farah Pandith, criticized the Norwegian government’s integration policies as being insufficiently fair to Muslim immigrants.
  • In Britain, US embassy employees in London frequently conduct outreach to help “empower” the Muslims across the country. According to a leaked US diplomatic cable, Ambassador Louis Susman “engages with U.K. Muslim communities regularly…he has spoken to Muslim groups in Wales and Scotland, visited the London Central Mosque, and hosted an interfaith breakfast at his residence, among other activities”.

The activities mentioned are part of the Obama administration’s so-called Muslim Outreach, by which the U.S. State Department – working through American embassies and consulates in Europe – has been stepping-up its efforts to establish direct contacts with largely unassimilated Muslim immigrant communities in towns and cities across Europe. Critics of the approach warned that Obama ideologues are crisscrossing Europe on US taxpayer funded trips to “export” failed American approaches to multiculturalism, affirmative action, cultural diversity and special rights for minorities and that American diplomats are in fact apologizing to Muslims in Europe for a multitude of real or imagined slights against Islam, and even spending millions of dollars each year to actively promoting Islam, including Islamic Sharia law, on the continent.

Most analysts of the recent developments in the Arab and Muslim areas highlight the political success of the Brotherhood as well as the spreading of its organizations in Europe and the United States, pointing to the worrying aspects of the movement’s ideology that remains faithful to the fundamentalist Islamic doctrine (especially the idea that Western civilization was the main danger to Islam’s survival in the modern age), as well as to its intentions to impose Islam and the Islamic World Caliphate fighting from within the non-Muslim societies.

A recent declaration of a Brotherhood Egyptian parliament member stated clearly that “the organization was founded in 1928 to reestablish the Caliphate destroyed by Ataturk….With Allah’s help [the Muslim Brotherhood] will institute the law of Allah.”

The re-establishment of the Caliphate, in fact the World Muslim state is embraced by most of the fundamentalist groups, a very recent example being Hizb ut-Tahrir’s announcement (on the world-used “YouTube” Internet facility) of a “Caliphate Conference”, to be held in Austria in March 2012, having as main theme: “The Caliphate: The State Model of the Future” and stressing that “the Islamic Caliphate is the only social and political system that has the right solutions to the political, social and economic problems of humanity”.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned from holding a similar conference in Belgium that had been scheduled for March 4, 2012, but before that, the group organized “Caliphate Conferences” in Amsterdam in July, 2011, and in Chicago in June, 2010.

II. History and Ideology

1. Early years in Egypt

The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood was Sheikh Hasan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna known as Hasan al-Banna (October 14, 1906 – February 12, 1949), an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam. At the age of twelve, he became a member of the Hasafiyya Brothers’ Sufi order (fully initiated member in 1922). At the age of thirteen, he participated in demonstrations during the revolution of 1919 against British rule.

Hasan al-Banna enjoyed the benefits of a modern education, but had been raised in a traditional Islamic environment. His father, a watch repairman who also served as prayer leader and Koranic teacher in the local mosque, had been educated at al-Azhar. Author of a few works on Islamic jurisprudence, he instilled strong religious values into al-Banna. Also, Al-Banna’s early participation in dhikr circles and avid reading of Sufi literature made him consider the moral reform of the individual as a precondition to the Islamization of society.

In 1923, at the age of 16, al-Banna moved to Cairo to study at Dar al-`Ulum College. The four years that al-Banna spent in Cairo exposed him to the political life of the Egyptian capital in the early 1920s, and enhanced his awareness of the extent to which secular and Western ways had penetrated the society. He became particularly preoccupied with what he saw as the young generation’s drift away from Islam. While studying in Cairo, he was attracted by the writings of the founders of Islamic reformism (the Salafiyya movement), including the Egyptian Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905), under whom his father had studied while at al-Azhar. But it was `Abduh’s disciple, the Syrian Rashid Rida (1865-1935), who most influenced al-Banna. He shared Rida’s central concern with the decline of Islamic civilization relative to the West. He too believed that this trend could be reversed only by returning to an unadulterated form of Islam. Like Rida at the end of his life  – but unlike `Abduh and other Islamic modernists – al-Banna felt that the main danger to Islam’s survival in the modern age stemmed less from the conservatism of al-Azhar and the ulama (which he nevertheless criticized) than from the ascendancy of Western secular ideas. Al-Banna urged the rejection of all Western notions, emphasizing instead the need to return to the foundations and original purity of Islam. Through the organizational skills he would soon demonstrate, al-Banna did more than any other thinker during that time to contribute to the eclipse of Islamic reformism and modernism by Islamic fundamentalism.

It was to spread this message that Al-Banna launched the society of the “Muslim Brothers” (Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) in March 1928. At first, the society was only one of the numerous small Islamic associations that existed at the time that aimed to promote personal piety and engaged in charitable activities. By the late 1930s, it had established branches in every Egyptian province. The society’s growth was particularly pronounced after Al-Banna relocated its headquarters to Cairo in 1932. An underground paramilitary wing of the Brotherhood was established in the 1940s, primarily to fight British occupation forces.

A decade after its founding, the Brotherhood had over 500000 active members and as many sympathizers in Egypt alone, while its appeal was now felt in several other countries as well. By the early 1950s, branches had been established in Syria, Sudan and Jordan. Soon, the movement’s influence would be felt in places as far away as the Gulf and non-Arab countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Muslim Brotherhood became the first mass-based, overtly political movement to oppose the ascendancy of secular and Western ideas in the Middle East.

The single most important factor that made this dramatic expansion possible was the organizational and ideological leadership provided by Al-Banna, who used to preach not only in the mosque, but even in coffee houses, which were then a novelty and were generally viewed as morally suspect. He adopted the policy of avoiding religious controversies, and tried to bring about the changes he hoped for through institution-building, relentless activism at the grassroots level, and a reliance on mass communication. He proceeded to build a complex mass movement that featured sophisticated governance structures; sections in charge of furthering the society’s values among peasants, workers, and professionals; units entrusted with key functions, including propagation of the message, liaison with the Islamic world, and press and translation; and specialized committees for finances and legal affairs.

Rooted in Islam, Al-Banna’s message tackled issues including colonialism, public health, educational policy, natural resources management, Marxism, social inequalities, Arab nationalism, the weakness of the Islamic world on the international scene, and the growing conflict in Palestine. By emphasizing concerns that appealed to a variety of constituencies, Al-Banna was able to recruit from among a cross-section of Egyptian society — though modern-educated civil servants, office employees, and professionals remained dominant among the organization’s activists and decision makers.

In anchoring the organization into Egyptian society, Al-Banna relied on pre-existing social networks, in particular those built around mosques, Islamic welfare associations, and neighborhood groups. Directly attached to the brotherhood, and feeding its expansion, were numerous businesses, clinics, and schools. In addition, members were affiliated to the movement through a series of cells, revealingly called usar (families, the main cell of today’s Brotherhood organizations).

As the Muslim Brotherhood expanded during the 1930s, it quickly changed from a movement for spiritual and moral reform into an organization directly active onto the Egyptian political scene. Concurrent with that transformation, radical tendencies asserted themselves within the organization. A “secret apparatus” (al-jihaz al-sirri) was formed that engineered a series of assassinations of enemies of the brotherhood. Between 1948 and 1949, shortly after the society sent volunteers to fight in the war in Palestine, the conflict between the monarchy and the society reached its climax. Concerned with the increasing assertiveness and popularity of the brotherhood, as well as with rumors that it was plotting a coup, Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha disbanded it in December 1948. The organization’s assets were impounded and scores of its members sent to jail. Less than three weeks later, the prime minister was assassinated by a member of the brotherhood. That in turn prompted the murder of al-Banna, presumably by a government agent, in February 1949, when al-Banna was still only 43 and at the height of his career.

2. Ideology

The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology is expressed in its motto: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope”. The Muslim Brotherhood’s official slogan was always “Islam is the Solution”. Religious law (Shariah – “The Way”) is to be restored to its central place as an organizing principle for every sphere of life.

In developing the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, Hassan al-Banna combined the Koranic definitions of “fighting” (qital) and the inner “spiritual struggle against evil” (jihad) into a single call to engage in holy war. Such a “jihad” would be directed not only against infidels, but also against the so-called “People of the Book” (Christians and Jews).

In his tract, “On Jihad” (quoted from: Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna, trans. by Charles Wendell, Berkeley, 1978), al-Banna writes: “In this Tradition, there is a clear indication of the obligation to fight the People of the Book, and of the fact that God doubles the reward of those who fight them. Jihad is not against polytheists alone, but against all who do not embrace Islam…Today the Muslims, as you know, are compelled to humble themselves before non-Muslims, and are ruled by unbelievers. Their lands have been trampled over, and their honor besmirched. Their adversaries are in charge of their affairs, and the rites of their religion have fallen into abeyance within their own domains… Hence it has become an individual obligation, which there is no evading, on every Muslim to prepare his equipment, to make up his mind to engage in jihad, and to get ready for it until the opportunity is ripe and God decrees a matter which is sure to be accomplished…Know then that death is inevitable, and that it can only happen once. If you suffer it in the way of God, it will be your profit in this world, and your reward in the next”.

The Brotherhood’s original mission was to Islamize society through promotion of Islamic law, values, and morals. An Islamic revivalist movement from its early days, it has combined religion, political activism, and social welfare in its work.

In its ideology, the Brotherhood is looking at a mythical past as a solution for its current problems. Yet its modus operandi was and is very modern, using the methods of modern political movements to spread its ideas and mobilize support. The Brotherhood sought bottom-up Islamization of society for the creation an Islamic state, through proselytizing, spreading the ideas of the group, and convincing people to buy into this interpretation of Islamism

Over the course of history, four different schools of thought came to coexist within the Muslim Brotherhood. First is the founder’s school; a relatively modernist school of thought that existed on the margins of Al-Azhar in the early 20th century and was championed by Muhammad Abduh. It rejects the authority of turath (accumulated heritage of Islamic sciences), and calls for the return to Koran and Sunnah and practicing ijtihad (innovation in Islamic jurisprudence) whilst being only guided by ideas in turath.

Second is the traditionalist school, championed by Al-Azhar’s long history of scholarship. It is characterized by heavy reliance on turath and acceptance of the full authenticity of the four main Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali). The school also promotes the notion of “balanced identity”, arguing that each individual belongs to different circles of affiliation, including mazhab (school of jurisprudence), tariqa (Sufi order), theological school, hometown, profession, guild, family and others. Sophisticated and interlinked affiliations created societal harmony and diversity, and led Islamists to seek gradual customizable reform that responds to societal diversity and does not provide a blueprint, one-size-fits-all manifesto for (re)Islamization.

The third school, named after Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), Qutbism, is characterized by its highly politicized and revolutionary interpretation of Koran that divides peoples into those who belong to/support Islam/Islamism, and those who oppose it. It relies on historical incidents from the prophet’s biography (mainly conflicts between Muslims and pagans) to construct a framework for managing the relation between Islamists and their societal counterparts, and between the Muslim world and other civilizations. The school emphasizes the necessity of developing a detached vanguard that focuses on recruitment and empowering the organization while postponing all intellectual questions.

In his books (some written during his prison term), Qutb supplemented Al-Banna’s ideas with the idea of “modern jahiliyya”, according to which modern Islamic society is ignorant and has strayed from the code of conduct required by divine precepts. In this context, Qutb discussed the phenomenon of Westernization, as well as the existence of regimes based on earthly, man-made legal systems. In Qutb’s view the Arab regimes were lacking religious and divine legitimacy (which he considered a supreme value), and thus he publicly called to resist these regimes. Thus, Sayyid Qutb laid down the ideological ground for the use of jihad, or armed struggle, against the regime in Egypt and beyond. Qutb’s writings, in particular his 1964 work Milestones, provided the intellectual and theological underpinnings for the founders of numerous radical and militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. Extremist leaders often resort to Qutb’s writings to argue that governments not ruled by sharia are apostate and, therefore, legitimate targets of jihad.

The Salafi/Wahabi school made its way to the Muslim Brotherhood (and to the broader Egyptian society) in the 1970s. It is an ideology that has minimal respect for turath, and is characterized by a conservative, rigid, and rather materialist understanding of Shariah law, low levels of tolerance and the focus on superficial/external components of religion. Salafi and Qutbi acceptance of notions like democracy and diversity are minimal, and they believe in a strong, broad central state that plays a major role in public morality.

Alongside the radical ideology of Qutb and his successors, another faction developed starting from the mid-1980s, also originating in the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the Wassatiyya (“middle way”, to be detailed later on) faction, mostly associated with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is currently the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood (though not the official leader/guide, position that he refused). This faction supports the idea of adjusting Islam to modern reality and religious tolerance, opposes the idea of global jihad, and attempts to give religious-legal validity to changes resulting from the adoption of modern technology, social modernization and the need to contend with the influence of other cultures (as part of life in immigrant communities, among other things).

With a wide ideological formula, only four principles keep the Muslim Brotherhood united as an organization; namely, a belief that Islam is an all-encompassing system; rejecting violence as a means for political change; accepting democracy; and accepting political pluralism. It is noteworthy that while accepted in principle, these notions mean different things for different members.

3. Political principles

The Brotherhood’s political thinking can be summarized as follows:

  • Political Freedoms: Unlike Western democracies, which guarantee the political participation of every citizen regardless of ideology, opinion, or religion, the Muslim Brothers make the political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of Islamic Sharia.
  • Freedom of Belief: The Muslim Brothers guarantee freedom of belief only for the followers of the three revealed (Abrahamic) religions, otherwise known as “the people of the Book”.
  • Personal Freedoms: While Western democracies guarantee the absolute freedom of the individual as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, the Muslim Brothers set freedom of thought within the strict parameters of a moral code derived from the Sharia. They call for the restoration of hisbah, which allows a private citizen to prosecute any individual who commits an act he considers a breach of the Sharia even if the plaintiff himself has not been personally injured by such an act.
  • Women’s Rights: as far as the Muslim Brothers are concerned, women’s political participation would be limited to municipal elections; there is no question, for example, of a woman ever becoming head of state.
  • The Economy: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of an economic system based on the respect of private property. At the same time, however, they insist that it be based on the principles of Sharia, which criminalizes bank interest. They also call for state ownership of public utilities.
  • System of Government: Contrary to the system of government applied in a democracy, which is based on the peaceful rotation of power through elections, the Muslim Brothers call for a system of government based on the principles of Sharia and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.
  • Civil Society: The freedom enjoyed by civil society organizations in a democracy would, in an Islamist system, be conditional on their adherence to the Sharia.
  • Government: The Muslim Brothers oppose the notion of a state based on democratic institutions, calling instead for an Islamic government based on the shura (consultative assembly) system, veneration of the leader, and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. In this they are close to Iran’s system.
  • Political Freedoms: While the legislative branch of government monitors the actions of the state to ensure that they conform to the rules of democracy, the actions of the state are monitored by the Muslim Brothers to ensure that they conform to the rules of Islamic Sharia.
  • The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Muslim Brothers were the first to send volunteers to fight Israel when it was founded in 1948. They have opposed all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in particular the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel initiated by the late President Sadat. It’s very unlikely that the Brotherhood will ever recognize the existence of Israel.
  • Religious Minorities: their position on the question of religious minorities include the barring of any non-Muslim from becoming president and the subjection of non-Muslims to the principles of Sharia on which the entire legal system is based.
  • The Legal System: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of a constitutional and legal system based on the principles of Sharia, including the application of corporal punishments in the penal code (stoning, lashing, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc.)

From the Muslim Brotherhood’s point of view, whatever ails the world can be traced to the West’s pernicious influence. The West stole scientific secrets, deprived Muslims of their religious faith and converted them into docile subjects. While resentment is the main current of Islamism, it has united with modern mass media to spread the faith. Similarly, while the West is deplored, the technical achievements of the West are often welcomed, and even aspects of democracy – such as the civil code – which can be exploited to advance Islam, are admired. The Brotherhood openly calls for free elections, but only as a way to gain and legitimate its authority. This duality is what confuses the detractors of Islamism. Hoping for the best, some critics rely on their assertions of what they would like to believe, that the Muslim Brotherhood is indeed “moderate” and “largely secular”.

In the recent Egyptian elections, journalists distinguished between the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood and the extreme Salafists, without noting that al Banna considered himself a Salafist, as apparently do most of the members of the Brotherhood. The Islamist synthesis of modernity and tradition is attractive to those torn between these two ideological perspectives. But in reality, the Muslim Brotherhood accepts modernity only to the extent it confirms an uncompromising commitment to religious dogma and imperial political designs.

According to the Islamist world view, Allah has vouchsafed to mankind a full and perfect doctrine of human behavior. And to the extent the political order is predicated on divine decree, there isn’t room for rejection, whether it be in the name of democracy or individual rights. Laws cannot be passed that explicitly challenge the commands of Allah. If people can be permitted to do what Allah has forbidden, Shariah law can never be compatible with liberal democracy. When Islamists say they want representative government, what they mean is legislation compatible with the Koran. Who is the ultimate arbiter of state-based legislation? The imams, who reflect the wisdom and compassion of Allah.

4. Organizational structure

The Muslim Brotherhood is organized on the following hierarchical structure:

  • The General Organizational Conference is the highest body of the Brotherhood, stemming from the bases. Every Usra (family) elects one or two deputies according to its number.
  • The Shura Council has the duties of planning, charting general policies and programs that achieve the goal of the Group. Its resolutions are binding to the Group and only the General Organizational Conference can modify or cancel them and the Shura Office has also the right to modify or cancel resolutions of the Executive Office. It follows the implementation of the Group policies and programs. It directs the Executive Office and it forms dedicated branch committees to assist in that.
  • Executive Office (Guidance Office) with its leader the General Masul (General Guide) and its members, both appointed by the Shura Office, has to follow up and guide the activities of the General Organization. It submits a periodical report to the Shura Council about its work and of the activity of the domestic bodies and the general organizations. It distributes its duties to its members according to the internal bylaws.

III. Muslim Brotherhood in the world

Since its beginnings, the Muslim Brotherhood aimed to build a transnational organization, founding groups in Lebanon (in 1936), Syria (1937), and Transjordan (1946). It also recruited among the foreign students in Cairo where its headquarters became a meeting place for representatives from the whole Muslim world.

In each country there is a Branch committee with a Masul (leader, guide) appointed by the General Executive leadership with essentially the same Branch divisions as the Executive office has. To the duties of every branch belong fundraising, infiltrating in and overtaking other Muslim organizations for the sake of uniting the Muslims to dedicate them to the general goals of the MB.

The Brotherhood has spawned branches all across the globe. These organizations bear the Brotherhood name, but their connections to the founding group vary. The group continues to have some links to Hamas, that was created originally as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestinian territories[3]. In addition, some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

According to most of the estimations, groups in more than 80 countries trace their origins to the Muslim Brotherhood and have adopted different forms and tactics according to the environment in which they operate. In a country like Jordan, they can participate in elections as a political party. In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed for many decades and survives underground. In the Palestinian territories, it took a peculiar turn and became Hamas. Entities belonging to this global movement succeeded based on an informal but very sophisticated network – with personal, financial, organizational, and most importantly ideological ties. There is a global Muslim Brotherhood in which organizations work according to a common vision but with operational independence.

The global Muslim Brotherhood movement, established in 1982, is meant to be a centralized body with central leadership institutions where the movement’s national branches are represented. These institutions were designed to be the highest authority on all political and other significant decisions made by the national branches.

Every branch, in every country, is free to choose its tactics and goals independently. There are consultations and constant communication but there is independence. It is not a monolithic organization. The global movement has a presence in the West, including the United States. The formation of these networks in the United States, as in most Western countries, follows a similar pattern. The small number of Brotherhood refugees who escaped persecution in Egypt and Syria, and other countries came to the West and started interacting with more students from upper-middle class of their home countries.

The small groups formed in the 1960s and ‘70s became the first Muslim organizations in Europe and North America. In the United States, the Muslim Student Association was created in 1963 at the University of Illinois. The West’s freedoms allowed the Brotherhood to do what was prohibited back home. Their activism soon attracted other Muslim students and small numbers of Muslim immigrants who had had no contact with Brotherhood ideology in their home countries. It is important to note that the first Brothers coming to America or to Europe were not part of a concerted plot to Islamize the West. Yet, the small organizations that spontaneously formed in the 1960s and ‘70s soon developed beyond the most optimistic expectations of their founders.

Thanks to ideological flexibility, unrelenting activism, and access to large funding, the networks originally established by the Brotherhood have grown exponentially. Although their membership has remained small, the “Western Brothers” have shown an enormous ability to monopolize the Islamic discourse, making their interpretation of Islam and political events the most readily available. Moreover, in many countries, the Western Brothers have positioned themselves at the forefront of the competition to be the main interlocutors of local establishments.

1. Europe

Since the early 1960s, Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathizers have moved to Europe and slowly but steadily established a wide and well-organized network of mosques, charities, and Islamic organizations. The student refugees who migrated from the Middle East and their descendants are leading members of many organizations that represent the local Muslim communities in their engagement with Europe’s political elite. Funded by generous contributors from the Persian Gulf, they preside over a centralized network that spans nearly every European country.

These organizations represent themselves as mainstream, even as they continue to embrace the Brotherhood’s radical views. With moderate rhetoric and well-spoken German, Dutch, and French, they have gained acceptance among European governments and media alike. Politicians across the political spectrum rush to engage them whenever an issue involving Muslims arises or, more parochially, when they seek the vote of the burgeoning Muslim community.

a) Germany

Germany, the country that was host to the first major wave of Muslim Brotherhood immigrants, has now the best-organized Brotherhood presence, significant power and political acceptance.

During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of Muslim students left the Middle East to study at German universities, drawn not only by the German institutions’ technical reputations but also by a desire to escape repressive regimes. Beginning in 1954, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood fled Egypt to escape arrest or assassination. West Germany provided a welcome refuge. Bonn’s motivations were not simply altruistic. The West German government had decided to cut diplomatic relations with countries that recognized East Germany. When Egypt and Syria established diplomatic relations with the communist government, Bonn decided to welcome Syrian and Egyptian political refugees. Often, these dissidents were Islamists. Many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were already familiar with Germany. Several had cooperated with the Nazis before and during World War II. Some had even, reportedly, fought in the Bosnian “Handschar” division of the Schutzstaffel (SS).

One of the Muslim Brotherhood’s first leaders in Germany was Said Ramadan, the personal secretary of Hassan al-Banna, who also led the Muslim Brotherhood’s irregulars in Palestine in 1948. In Germany, he founded the Islamische Gemeinschaft Deutschland (Islamic Society of Germany, IGD), over which he presided from 1958 to 1968. Ramadan also cofounded the Muslim World League, a well-funded organization that the Saudi establishment used to spread its radical interpretation of Islam throughout the world and that was monitored by the US government under the suspicion of financing terrorism. This privileged relationship with the oil-rich kingdom granted Ramadan an influx of money, which he used to fund the powerful Islamic Center of Geneva and to bankroll several financial and religious activities.

One of Ramadan’s successors was Ghaleb Himmat, a Syrian with Italian citizenship, who also shuttled between Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the United States and was monitored by several intelligence agencies for terrorist connections. He is one of the founders of the Bank al-Taqwa, a powerful conglomerate dubbed by Italian intelligence, “Bank of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Himmat resigned from the IGD’s presidency after the US Treasury designated him as terrorism financier.

The Muslim Brotherhood sponsored the construction of the imposing Islamic Center of Munich in 1960, considered to be one of the European headquarters for the Brotherhood since its foundation. The center publishes a magazine, Al-Islam, that in its February 2002 issue stated that “in the long run, Muslims cannot be satisfied with the acceptance of German family, estate, and trial law. … Muslims should aim at an agreement between the Muslims and the German state with the goal of a separate jurisdiction for Muslims”.

The IGD, of which the Islamic Center of Munich is one of the most important members, represents the main offshoot of the Egyptian Brotherhood in Germany. It has grown significantly over the years, and it now incorporates dozens of Islamic organizations throughout the country. Islamic centers from more than thirty German cities have joined its umbrella. The IGD’s real strength lies in its cooperation with and sponsorship of many Islamic youth and student organizations across Germany, that are also connected to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi nongovernmental organization that seeks to spread Wahhabism throughout the world with its literature and schools. WAMY, which falls under the umbrella of the Muslim World League, has the stated goal of “arming the Muslim youth with full confidence in the supremacy of the Islamic system over other systems”.

The Syrian branch of the Brotherhood is headquartered in Aachen, near the Dutch border. The former Carolingian capital, with its famous university, is now home to a large Muslim population, including the prominent Syrian Al-Attar family, descendants of Issam al-Attar who was in the 1950s the leader of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In time, Islamists from other countries adopted Attar’s Bilal mosque in Aachen as their base of operations and it was monitored for hosting exiled Algerian terrorists and for operating a charity designated by the US Department of Treasury as a financial front for Hamas.

The German Muslim Brotherhood is also closely linked to Milli Görüş (National Vision, in Turkish)[4], that claims to defend the rights of Germany’s immigrant Turkish population, giving them a voice in the democratic political arena while “preserving their Islamic identity”. Milli Görüş pushes an agenda similar to that of the IGD and both collaborate on many initiatives and control networks of organizations that aim at the radicalization, respectively, of the Turkish and Arab communities in Germany. IGD and Milli Görüş are active in their efforts to increase political influence and become the official representatives of the entire German Muslim community. With well-endowed budgets, their mosques provide social services, organize conferences, and distribute literature nationwide. The organizations are also communicating with German local and national political groups, particularly eager to obtain the votes of the large Muslim community.

The process of unification and consolidation of the Islamist organizations in Germany (ultimately controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood) continued with the creation of the Saudi-financed Islamische Konzil Deutschland (Islamic Council of Germany), led by officials from Milli Görüş and the Islamic Center of Munich, and later on, in 1994, of the Zentralrat der Muslime, with nineteen organizations, including the IGD, the Islamic Center of Munich, and the Islamic Center of Aachen as members. According to a senior German intelligence official, at least nine out of these nineteen organizations belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Zentralrat, which portrays itself as the umbrella organization for German Muslim organizations, has become, together with the IGD and Milli Görüş, the de facto representative of three million German Muslims. Through the Zentralrat and its two most important constituent parts, the IGD and Milli Görüş, and with ample Saudi financing, the Muslim Brotherhood managed to become the voice of the Muslims in Germany.

b) France

While Said Ramadan was active in developing organizations in Germany, another founding member of the Islamic Center of Geneva, Mohammed Hamidullah, created the first revivalist organization in France. An Indian-born intellectual, Hamidullah headed the Paris-based Association of Islamic Students in France (AEIF) that soon became home base for a small group of radical foreign Muslim students who were attending Parisian universities. In 1979, a small group of AEIF members who embraced the long-term vision of the Egyptian branch of the European Brotherhood, and who wanted to extend the influence of the movement to the Muslim population of France, created a new organization—the Islamic Group in France, which in 1983 became the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF).

Among the coordinators of the UOIF were Faysal Mawlawi, who returned native Lebanon to run the al Jamaa al Islamiya radical political party, and Rashid Ghannouchi, head of an-Nahda, the Islamist movement that battled the Tunisian regime. In 1990 Ghannouchi, gave a landmark speech at the UOIF’s annual meeting in which he referred to France as dar al Islam (land of Islam), a place where the presence of Muslims is permanent. A definitive new Brotherhood position on the juridical connotation of Europe was formalized two years later, at another seminar organized by the UOIF. There, scholars of the importance of Qaradawi, Mawlawi, and Djaballah agreed that the traditional distinction between dar al Islam and dar al Harb (land of war) did not currently reflect reality. While Europe could not be considered dar al Islam because sharia was not enforced there, it could not be considered dar al Harb because Muslims were allowed to practice Islam freely and were not persecuted.

Over the last twenty years the UOIF has developed into France’s largest and most active Muslim organization, controlling a large number of mosques and attracting tens of thousands of attendees to its annual gathering in Le Bourget. Today the UOIF even boasts its own institution of Islamic knowledge, the European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH). The institute regularly hosts the most prominent figures of the international Ikhwan network. Its scientific council is headed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

c) United Kingdom

The Muslim Brotherhood has formally been active in the UK since 1996 and now holds a significant presence within the UK’s Muslim population.

In 1997, the Arab component of the Muslim Brotherhood founded its own organization in Great Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). MAB’s leadership includes individuals such as Azzam Tamimi, a former activist in the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Brotherhood’s political party); Mohammed Sawalha, a self-declared former Hamas member; and Osama al Tikriti, the son of the leader of the Iraqi branch of the Brotherhood. MAB’s founding president, Kamal al Helbawy, was formerly the official spokesman for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.

In September 1999, the Brotherhood opened a “global information centre” in London. A press notice published in Muslim News stated that it would “specialize in promoting the perspectives and stances of the Muslim Brotherhood, and [communicate] between Islamic movements and the global mass media”.

The Brotherhood’s Islamic revivalist doctrine is also embraced by an older organization representing Muslims from South Asia, the majority of the Muslims in Britain. The UK Islamic Mission, founded in 1962 by a small group of Muslim activists from East London has the stated goal of “bringing about a new spiritual awakening” and building a society “based on the ideals, values and principles of Islam”, as well as “molding the entire human life in accordance with Allah’s will”. The Mission also openly declares its desire to introduce shariah in Great Britain, at least in the areas of private and family law. The UK Islamic Mission advocates a “continuous campaign for the establishment of Muslim family laws” and an “Islamic social order in the United Kingdom in order to seek the pleasure of Allah”. The UK Islamic Mission is a nationwide organization with thirty-nine branches, over thirty-five mosques and Islamic schools in which about five thousand British Muslim children receive Islamic education. It has a youth branch, Young Muslims UK, and in 1973, it established a college and research center, the Islamic Foundation, that has grown to be one of Europe’s largest institutions of Islamic studies. The Foundation also emphasizes the importance of carrying out its da’wa mission among the non-Muslim British population.

d) Towards “European integration”

Given their large Muslim populations, Germany, Great Britain and France are naturally the three main centers of activity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. But virtually every European country has witnessed some degree of activity by the Brothers. Through generous foreign funding and meticulous organization, Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations have also gained prominent positions throughout Europe. In France, UIOF has become the predominant organization in the government’s Islamic Council, and in Italy, the Unione delle Comunita’ ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia (Union of the Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy) is the government’s prime partner in dialogue regarding Italian Islamic issues.

In parallel to European Union integration efforts, the Muslim Brotherhood is also seeking to integrate its various European proxies. Over the past fifteen years, the Muslim Brotherhood has created a series of pan-European organizations such as the “Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe” (FIOE),  created in 1989, in which representatives from national organizations can meet and plan initiatives. FIOE has the stated goal of “serving Muslims in European societies”.  FIOE, that gained prominence in Europe as a moderate Muslim organization, is an umbrella organization for most of the Brotherhood groups in Europe. Its founders and main members are the French UOIF, the German IGD and the British MAB, and its headquarters are in Britain, located in spaces leased from the Islamic Foundation.

In 1996 FIOE created the European Trust, a financial institution devoted to raising funds for its various activities, such as the sprawling European Institute of Human Sciences, the Association of Muslim Schools in Europe, and its glossy magazine Al Europiya. Also in 1996, in cooperation with the Saudi WAMY, FIOE established a youth branch—the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO). Strategically headquartered in Brussels, FEMYSO has managed to become, in its own words, “the de facto voice of the Muslim youth of Europe.” According to its official publications, FEMYSO is “a network of 42 national and international organizations bringing together youth from over 26 different countries”. It enjoys regular relations with the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations.

In March 1997 FIOE sponsored the first meeting of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. Held in London, the meeting was attended by more than fifteen well known Islamic scholars who endorsed the Council’s draft constitution. The Council is described as “an Islamic, specialized and independent entity” created to issue “collective fatwas which meet the needs of Muslims in Europe, solve their problems and regulate their interaction with the European communities, all within the regulations and objectives of Sharia.” In practical terms the Council is a jurisprudential body that provides Muslims living in Europe with non-binding legal advice focusing on matters they face in their everyday lives as members of a minority community in non-Muslim countries.

The Council’s headquarters are in Dublin, where it operates in conjunction with the local Islamic Cultural Centre. In reality the Council is a body created and dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s global network. Its jurisprudence is aimed at guiding Muslims through a “program of perfect life for the individual, the family, society and the state”.  Among its members are key figures of the European Ikhwan. Most tellingly, the president of the Council is Qaradawi, whose position of prominence is widely accepted by the other members. Qaradawi is not only the Council’s best-known scholar, but also the real driving force behind it.

With the creation of the supranational jurisprudential body that is, in reality, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the Brotherhood is taking its first steps toward the introduction of Sharia law within the Muslim communities of Europe.

2. The United States

In the USA, the Brotherhood started to organize with the Muslim Student Association in the 1960s, with chapters in most of, if not all of, the universities throughout the United States. Many of their entities operate under the guise of “civil rights” organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR, that has been associated with the financing of Hamas), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), that began its activities in the USA as an American arm of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Muslim Brotherhood of Pakistan. Further, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) owns the properties of hundreds of Brotherhood-oriented mosques and Islamic centers.

Some of their members are known for their extremist positions, such as Siraj Wahhaj, a government-named “unindicted co-conspirator” for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Jamal Badawi, whose work, Gender Equity in Islam, justifies wife beating, and Yusuf Islahi, who was the Chief Patron of ICNA’s Islamic (da’wa) faction, named: “Why Islam” (WI). Islahi has also been directly involved with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) as a member of its Central Advisory Council of the JI the Indian branch, thus being involved in both the Muslim Brotherhood overseas and in the US.

The dimensions and influence of the Brotherhood in the USA were highlighted in 2011 in the so-called “Team B II letter” addressed to congressional leaders, by which the authors of a report entitled Shariah: The Threat to America called on the legislative branch to do a rigorous investigation of the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood’s stealthy “civilization jihad” has gained access to and influence over the United States government, with grave implications for the national security.

“Team B II” group included experienced defense, intelligence and law enforcement practitioners, as former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey; Lieutentant Generals Harry E. Soyster, former Defense Intelligence Agency Director and William G. Boykin, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; former Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet Admiral James A. Lyons; and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy.

The letter’s authors refer mention that “Brotherhood influence operations have been highly successful in penetrating and interfering with law enforcement, homeland defense, military and intelligence communities’ performance of their vital missions”.  Particularly worrying is the allegation that a federal criminal prosecution of Muslim Brotherhood-associated individuals and organizations was “scuttled last year at the direction of top-level political appointees within the Department of Justice – and possibly even the White House”.

Referring to the so-called “2008 Holy Land Foundation trial”, the largest terrorism funding trial in US history, the letter mentioned Muslim Brotherhood documents that established the Brotherhood was explicitly engaged in a “civilization jihad” in the United States, a conspiracy to “destroy the Western civilization from within”. One of those documents was written by a senior member of the Brotherhood in the United States, and in one of its points stated, “The process of settlement in America of the Muslim Brotherhood is a civilization Jihadist process, with all the word means. The Brothers must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands”.

The documents also identified 29 prominent Muslim-American groups as “our organizations and organizations of our friends”. The authors of the letter accused “high-ranking officials at Department of Justice headquarters” of influencing the decision not to seek indictments of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its co-founder Omar Ahmad, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). They asked Congress to find out why the Justice Department dropped the terror finance prosecutions to take up investigations of the nature and extent of the Brotherhood’s “civilization jihad” against USA’s government, civil society and Constitution.

The authors also stressed that “by failing to act against such co-conspirators not only enables them to persist in such activities. It is perceived as “submission”, which – according to their Shariah doctrine – obliges the Brotherhood’s operatives and associates to redouble their efforts to “make (their enemies) feel subdued”, including through the use of violence”.

IV. Risk Factors

When assessing the Muslim Brotherhood and its perspectives, most analysts of the movement highlight the growing acceptance of the organization and its ideology in the West, where its ideological fundamentalist character is mostly neglected, since the Brotherhood organizations have rarely been directly linked to specific cases of terrorism. What is usually forgotten is that their contribution to the education and radicalization of violent extremists has already been significant. The Brotherhood’s renunciation of violence seems more opportunistic than genuine. While they are quick to condemn violence in the West to avoid becoming political pariahs, they do not refrain from approving of it elsewhere, notably in the Middle East.

1. “Peaceful conquest” or “stealth jihad”

The most recent manifesto of the Islamist revivalist movement, called Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase ,was launched in 1990 by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood and it mentions, in its introduction, that the “Islamic Movement” is meant to be the “organized, collective work, undertaken by the people, to restore Islam to the leadership of society” and to reinstate “the Islamic caliphate system to the leadership anew as required by Sharia”.

Qaradawi’s treatise introduces a new agenda and modus operandi for the movement, signaling a clear break with many salafi groups and even with some past ideological elements of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the book does not rule out the use of violence to defend Muslim lands, it generally advocates the use of da’wa, dialogue, and the peaceful means to achieve the movement’s goals. This doctrine is referred to as “wassatiyya,” a sort of “middle way” between violent extremism and secularism, and Qaradawi is one of its key proponents.

Having affirmed the necessity of the Islamist movement in the West, Qaradawi openly calls for the creation of a separate society for Muslims within the West. While he highlights the importance of keeping open a dialogue with non-Muslims, he advocates the establishment of Muslim communities with “their own religious, educational and recreational establishments.” He urges his fellow revivalists to try “to have your small society within the larger society” and “your own ‘Muslim ghetto.’”

Regardless of their official affiliation, many individuals and organizations that identify themselves with the message of the Brotherhood operate in Europe toward the goals outlined by Qaradawi. Driven by their firm belief in the superiority of Islam to any other religion or system of life, the European Brothers fight daily to achieve their goal, using all possible tools, including painful but necessary compromises with European authorities. “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice”, Qaradawi says. But he adds, “I maintain that the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology”. The European Ikhwan network, under the cover of various civil rights groups and Islamic organizations, is the vanguard of this peaceful conquest.

In Europe, through their organizations, the Muslim Brothers managed to become part of the establishment, finding a small niche in the corridors of European power. The Brothers view this triumph as a mere starting point, however. Having gained the trust of large segments of both Europe’s elites and its Muslim communities, the Brothers want to use their newly acquired power to create the “Muslim ghetto” envisioned by Qaradawi. An extensive network of mosques and educational facilities already exists; the next step toward the creation of so-called “non-territorial Islamic states in Europe” is the implementation of Islamic law for Europe’s Muslim population.

It is not surprising that analysts called the Qadarawi strategy a “stealth jihad” and warned that  it is just as dangerous as the violent one, if not more so, because it is mostly legal and operates “below the radar”. This “peaceful” kind of Jihad seeks to conquer the West by proselytizing, conversion, immigration, and ultimately the ballot box. The threat from both violent and stealth jihad is real and shows no signs of abatement, since it was also mentioned in the Muslim Brotherhood memo from nearly twenty years ago – quoted by the “Team B II” analysis mentioned above – that outlines plans for “destroying the Western civilization from within”.

2. Dissimulation and double discourse

Another important element to be understood about the Brotherhood’s strategy is the principle of “taqiyya” (dissimulation), a silent and therefore even more dangerous tactic advocated in Islam to achieve the strategic goal of soothing the infidels into submitting without their even realizing what they have submitted to until it is too late for them – also called “Stealth Sharia”. According to some clerics such as Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya, the “taqiyya” principle allows Muslims to lie if so doing assists them in ultimately defeating the infidels.

According to the analysts, the “taqiyya” might be illustrated by the Brotherhood’s tactic to enter the political arena under non-religious appearances. In Egypt, the Brotherhood entered the electoral process under the banner “Freedom and Justice”, just as previously, Hamas (also founded by the MB) contested the vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 under the banner of “Change and Reform”. In Tunisia, the Islamists chose to run under the banner of “Renaissance” (An-Nahda), while in Morocco they hid behind the name “Justice and Development”. Analysts note that such political slogans are meant to induce the thought that Muslim extremists do not pose a threat to non-Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will do everything to hide their true intention that is to seize power.

It was also noted that the European Ikhwan have even repeatedly compromised their strict observance of Sharia in order to advance their cause. Every tactic that might help the movement is justified, even if it entails breaking some Koranic principle, because the higher goal of spreading Islam excuses all deviations. At the moment the Brothers have embraced compromise as the best means of increasing their influence, which will allow them in turn to lobby more effectively for their goals—goals that include the establishment of sharia in Europe. But if the balance of power were to change over the next few decades, nothing guarantees that the Ikhwan would not change its approach and discard dialogue.

The same characteristic may be found in the differences between the “European” or “Western-like” discourse of the Brotherhood and that used for its own audience. Even in the case of Yusuf al-Qadarawi, it was noted that his views are far from moderate. He has repeatedly defended suicide attacks against Israel and American forces in Iraq. He has repeatedly pledged his support to such organizations as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, labeled the Middle East peace process as “a conspiracy to stop the Palestinian Resistance,” and decreed that “jihad is incumbent upon the entire Muslim nation in order to liberate Palestine, Jerusalem, and the Al Aqsa Mosque”.

The Brotherhood’s adherence to the fundamental principles of the Sharia, without implementing a comprehensive reform in the Muslim worldview, reflects a desire to “conquer Rome” (i.e., victory over the West) and reiterates anti-Semitic views. The Brotherhood advocates the da’wah principle for the struggle without the use of violence against Middle Eastern and Western regimes, but supports terrorism (including suicide bombings and murder of civilians) “only” against Israel and the occupation in Iraq.

One expression of the Brotherhood’s ultimate goal, as well as of its double discourse was found in Risalat al-Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood organ in Britain, whose cover page featured a world map and a quote by Hassan al-Banna: “Our goal: world domination”. The phrase “world domination” was apparently removed sometime in 2003, possibly due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s concerns over drawing the attention of UK law enforcement authorities after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

3. Non-integration as a risk of radicalization of the Muslim communities

According to most of the assessments, the Muslim Brotherhood might be considered a potential threat to Europe and the Western countries where it operates, for several reasons:

  • the radical Islam it propagates contributes to the segregation of the local Muslim communities, making it more difficult for Muslims to integrate into local societies and absorb the liberal and democratic values of the West;
  • the blatant propaganda it spreads against the West and its values stirs feelings of alienation and non-belonging among local Muslim populations;
  • in addition, young people from all over Europe exposed to the radical Islamic ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood are a potential for recruitment to global jihad organizations.

Indeed, in recent years there have been terrorists with Western citizenship who at some point in their lives were educated in institutions affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s da’wah, or underwent radical Islamization through the internet (a process of “jihadization”) and eventually turned to the path of terrorism.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist organizations are in fact “pushing” towards segregation also by insisting that Westerners should not be allowed to criticize their efforts to Islamize the society from within. One of the most active groups in this field is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of 57 Muslim countries, based in Saudi Arabia that purports to be the collective voice of the Muslim world. The group seeks to make extensive use in the international forums of the so-called “Istanbul Process”, an effort by Muslim countries to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical scrutiny of Islam and Sharia. It also seeks to turn to its advantage and persuade Western democracies to implement United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 16/18, which calls on all countries to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief”[5].

A leading scholar on Islam in the West, Bat Ye’or writes[6] that the OIC is essentially a “would-be universal caliphate” which exercises significant power through the international organizations. Bat Ye’or describes an OIC strategy manual, “Strategy of Islamic Cultural Action in the West”, in which the OIC asserts that “Muslim immigrant communities in Europe are part of the Islamic nation” and recommends “a series of steps to prevent the integration and assimilation of Muslims into European culture”.

IV. Short and middle-term trends

1. The political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its strategy of “conquest” constitute, in fact, a significant ideological change, since most of the recent Brotherhood activities were and are in fact aiming to achieve political goals (country and regional power) and less directed towards ethical and moral goals, as taught by Islam. By focusing on the political power goals, it is slowly but visibly distancing itself from, maybe even subverting the 5 pillars of Islam, that are seen as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith, they are: (1) the creed – shahada, (2) the daily prayers – salat, (3) the almsgiving – zakat, (4) the fasting – sawm, and (5) the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime – hajj.

Moreover, to obtain more power, the Brotherhood is seeking to have more religious authority in Europe but also in the Arab world, whether it’s through the new European Council for Fatwa and Research or the 10th century old Al-Azhar.

In Europe, members of the Ikhwan network are stressing that the role of the European Council for Fatwa and Research is comparable to that of the Vatican’s and, according to the Council’s bylaws, it is “designed to become an approved religious authority before local governments and private establishments, which will undoubtedly strengthen and reinforce local Islamic communities”.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood is struggling with considerable chances of success to control the position of the Grand Shaykh at the famous Al-Azhar University and Mosk. The struggle for the soul of al-Azhar carries a special resonance across the Islamic world. The eventual success of the Brotherhood in controlling al-Azhar is considered to be critical to advancing the group’s political agenda.

The Brotherhood’s newfound influence in al-Azhar was illustrated recently when Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister in Hamas-run Gaza, spoke at al-Azhar after Friday prayers. Al-Azhar gave Haniyeh a rapturous welcome. As he proclaimed from the pulpit that Hamas would “liberate” Jerusalem, home to the revered al-Aqsa mosque, the Brotherhood-dominated crowd of worshippers chanted back, “From al-Azhar to al-Aqsa we will march, millions of martyrs”.

2. In terms of regional developments, analysts note that the political gains of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt may have as a consequence a quiet but growing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Turkey over the increasing regional clout of the Muslim Brotherhood, given the Saudi royal family’s long-standing aversion to the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement. Riyadh is increasingly worried about the political movement’s growing popularity throughout the region, and the consequences that the rise of a republican form of Islamism may bring for the Saudi royal family’s absolute monarchy and for its influence in the Arab region.

In connection with Syria, Saudi Arabia cannot ignore the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as a powerful force in the opposition movement. Saudi Arabia is thus caught between a geopolitical imperative to contain Iran and a domestic strategic imperative to contain Islamism as a political force. This dilemma has put Saudi Arabia directly at odds with Turkey, the rising regional counterweight to Iran. Turkey’s own liberal Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood’s conservative model of Arab Islamism share a basic ideological principle in using Islam as a path toward governance. Whereas Turkey is actively trying to mold the Brotherhood in Syria according to its own moderate Islamist vision, Saudi Arabia would like nothing more than to see the MB marginalized in the Syrian opposition.

3. In the case of the Palestinian region, Hamas is trying to exploit the political rise of its Islamist parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood , but analysts note that Hamas lacks a clear vision on how to proceed, and it is likely to undergo serious internal strains that could raise the potential for a splintering of the heretofore most tightly run organization of the Palestinian territories.

The fall of Mubarak and the rise of the Egyptian MB created an opening for Hamas to publicly reassert itself as a legitimate political player operating in the same league as its parent organization. Hamas knows the opportunity the MB’s political elevation presents, but several complications apparently are preventing Hamas from making any clear, hard decisions. At the beginning of 2011, it was reported that Hamas political bureau chief, Khalid Mashaal, tried to impose the forming of a new party, named the MB-Palestine Branch, to act as a reflection of the MB’s Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party. However, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his supporters in Gaza would like to strengthen Hamas role and identity in the Gaza Strip. The Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, tried to mediate between Mashaal and Haniyeh, apparently with no result.

4. In assessing the rising political force of the Muslim Brotherhood, one may also note that, in economic and social terms, having emerged from Mubarak’s repression with a real chance of ruling, the Brotherhood is increasingly looking toward the Turkish model.

In years past, the Brotherhood distanced itself from the Turkish Islamists under Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, whom they saw as unfaithful to the Islamist program, morphing into little more than European-style conservative democrats. But what the Brotherhood has absorbed from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is that strong economic growth makes everything else easier. If you raise people’s living standards, they are more likely to listen to you on noneconomic matters. Perhaps more important, the Brotherhood believes Egyptians will associate any such economic success with the “Islamic project” a sort of Arab Calvinist dream. This trend – if it came to take a specific consistence in Egypt, in the case of a Muslim Brotherhood controlled government – would give more substance to what some analysts have already named “an Islamic neo-liberalism”.

5. Most of the analysts agree that the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood in unstoppable, and the only geopolitical force that might offer a counterweight, that is the USA (together with Europe), cannot do anything to stop the Islamists from hijacking the so-called “Arab Spring” and come to power in the region. But with the US Administration endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood and the European countries increasingly accepting it as a representative of the bigger and bigger communities of Islamic religion, they are in fact facilitating the organization’s ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate.

If one reviews the Muslim Brotherhood’s history over the last eight decades, one sees that this organization has been continually undertaking political manoeuvres, always issuing two different statements on any given issue or subject: one statement is for internal consumption by the Muslim Brotherhood itself, whilst another for the public. However, at each historical crossroad, the Muslim Brotherhood returned to its extremist and radical principles; whether this is regarding its political options or exploiting religion in order to gain popularity in uneducated societies.

In the Islamic areas, it can be estimated that if and when expressions of protest mature into deep socio-political changes, the Muslim Brotherhood will abandon its current cautious conduct, striving to become a legitimate, prominent political player striving to enforce its Islamic agenda and become a dominant factor among the regimes and societies.

In the Western hemisphere, the Brotherhood has stated its goal of establishing Islamic law for local Muslim populations. The Brothers believe that, once Muslims reach a majority in certain areas of various European countries, European governments will feel compelled to allow Islamic law to regulate the personal/civil relations among them.

These worrying trends may in the end give substance to the “clash of civilizations” theory. As Samuel Huntington[7] noted almost 20 years ago “the fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the US Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. These are the basic ingredients that fuel conflict between Islam and the West”.

[1] In this paper, the movement will also be mentioned as “the Brotherhood”, “the Brothers” “MB” and “Ikwan

[2] Two leaders from the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood suggested ending the treaty if the US stops making its annual payment to Egypt of about $1.3 billion in military supplies and $250 million in other subsidies.

[3] Hamas formally was created in 1987, largely as the result of an effort by the MB to respond to the first intifada in a way that allowed it to remain politically insulated. The creation of a separate Gaza group that could engage in armed resistance answered the MB’s dilemma. However, Hamas’ original leadership still viewed militancy as a means to a political end. Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the MB and of the Islamic Center in Gaza, argued that Hamas was basically a political movement.

[4] The connections of Milli Görüş with the AKP, the Turkish ruling political force are well known and have been described in another paper.

[5] Resolution 16/18, which was adopted at HRC headquarters in Geneva in March 2011, is widely viewed as a significant step forward in OIC efforts to advance the international legal concept of defaming Islam.

[6] In her book Europe, Globalization and the Coming Universal Caliphate, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison, Teaneck, 2011

[7] The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 1996, P. 217


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35.  Team B II Calls upon Congressional Leaders to Investigate Muslim Brotherhood Influence in and Penetration of the US Government, 26.04.2011, see

36.  The Anti-Islamist Muslim Voice, 05.03.2012, see






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