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The Muslim Brotherhood's past and present
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 01 - 2016

Over the past four years, a great deal of both scholarly work, as well as media analysis, of the Muslim Brotherhood has been produced, focussing in particular on its year in power in Egypt.
What is striking is how partisan and politicised much of this literature is, particularly since the removal of the Brotherhood from power in 2013. Any mention of the Brotherhood frequently provokes polemical debates between writers and commentators, often falling across an East/West divide. As a result, much of what is published eschews balanced and objective analysis.
It is against this backdrop that I was pleasantly surprised — while undertaking my most recent research project on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and its year in power in Egypt — to come across two thorough and incisive reports published by the British Bedford Row International (BBRi).
The first report, titled“The History of the Muslim Brotherhood,” comprehensively documents the history and development of the Brotherhood since its establishment in 1928, as well as its organisational structure, ideology and method of expansion.
The second report, “The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power,” discusses in meticulous detail the reasons for the rise and fall of the Brotherhood between 2012 and 2013.
In this article, I will review and discuss some of the most important findings of 9BRi's two reports, which highlight many unknown truths about the Brotherhood. It is my firm belief that the Brotherhood never had any intention of establishing a democratic state in Egypt, and that they simply attempted to manipulate democracy to achieve their own ends.
The West tends to forget that the Brotherhood abused their year in government to hijack Egypt's 2011 Revolution and to consolidate their rule. Brotherhood figures have continued, to this day, to state that the organisation is not committed to Western democratic values, which they believe do not honour the rule of God.
In fact, the Brotherhood's sinister objectives can only be understood upon closer scrutiny of its history of violence and its ties to Islamic extremist and terrorist groups. The first report by 9BRi is key to properly understanding this context.
THE BROTHERHOOD'S HISTORY OF VIOLENCE AND TERRORISM TIES: Established in Egypt in 1928 to reinstate the Islamic Caliphate dissolved by Kemal Ataturk, ever since its earliest days the Muslim Brotherhood has embraced the rhetoric of violence.
Hassan Al-Banna, the Brotherhood's founder, “demanded controls over all media of communication,” as he regarded theatres, films, radio, popular music and the press as promoting vice and immorality. He called for strict surveillance of public spaces and heavier punishments for “crimes against morality.”
He tolerated and condoned acts of intolerance and violence against religious minorities as well as women who did not wear “correct Islamic attire” (“The History of the Muslim Brotherhood,” para 52-55).
Because Al-Banna sought to expand the Brotherhood's reach as far as possible, the movement accommodated and at times encouraged militant and extremist reactionary elements. In fact, he went so far as to express his readiness to declare war against “every leader, every party and every organisation” that did not implement the Brotherhood's programmes (Ibid, para 59, 63).
Throughout the 1940s, the Brotherhood's “Secret Apparatus”, a paramilitary unit established by Al-Banna, perpetrated serious acts of political violence. Among those they assassinated were a prominent judge, the Cairo chief of police and Egypt's prime minister. In 1954, they attempted to assassinate President Nasser (Ibid, para 101-113, 140-143).
Even after it was dissolved in December 1948, the Brotherhood turned to more violence, militarisation and clandestine action. It remained in the grip of the Secret Apparatus for decades, embracing the jihadist philosophy spearheaded by Al-Banna and promoted by his disciple, Sayed Qotb.
Brotherhood splinter groups such as Al-Takfir wal Hijra assassinated thinkers who publicly criticised the group's radical ideology. Tanzim Al-Jihad (established by Al-Qaeda's second man, Ayman Al-Zawahri, a Brotherhood member) assassinated President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981 after he had signed a peace treaty with Israel. These groups, as well as others linked to the Brotherhood, have also carried out terrorist attacks against tourists and religious minorities.
Equally, the Brotherhood has ties with terrorist organisations established outside Egypt by leading figures within its “international network.” According to 9BRi's report, Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Aballah Yusuf Azzam, the three founders of Al-Qaeda, were prominent members of the “international network” (Ibid, para 209, 270-313).
All three were strong advocates of Qutb's writings, which formed the basis of their justification for the use of violence both internally and externally (Ibid, para 211-213, 276, 279).
The Brotherhood's teachings have been adopted as a reference point for many terrorist organisations that target both Islamic and Western societies and people.
For instance, Article II of the Charter of Hamas states: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a universal organisation that constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterised by... its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts... the spreading of Islam... and conversion to Islam” (Ibid, para 15).
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as was Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers. As offshoots of Al-Qaeda, Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are also indirectly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these groups have cited Qutb as an inspiration for their actions.
Although the Brotherhood has tried to publicly distance itself from the actions of these groups, it played a central role in providing the ideological framework that forms the core of Al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, particularly takfirism (the elimination of any deviation from what they consider to be the Islamic Sharia), global jihad (to bring about the rule of God by force), culminating in the establishment of a global Islamic Caliphate.
US counter-terrorism experts have acknowledged that the Brotherhood continues to advocate the use of violence against innocent civilians. Brotherhood members have provided public support for violent acts of terrorism undertaken by militant Islamist groups.
These include Rajab Hilal Hemeida, a former Brotherhood Member of Parliament, who has publicly praised Bin Laden, Al-Zawahri and Al-Zarqawi, stating that he “supports their activities” and that “terrorism is not a curse when given its true meaning” (Ibid, para 319).
Other leading Brotherhood figures such as Wagdy Ghoneim, Youssef Al-Qaradawi and Mohamed Badie refer to Bin Laden as a “martyr”, reject the “crusader” alliance to defeat “brothers in [IS]” and advocate the use of both violent jihad against Western governments and peaceful jihad to “eliminate” and “destroy” Western civilisation from within (Ibid, para 263, 320).
They also advocate killing so-called “apostates” in Islam, which includes any Muslim person or government that does not subscribe to their radical ideology.
In addition, the Brotherhood was implicated in providing material and financial support to militant organisations, a fact confirmed by European and US investigative authorities and courts, as well as the UN Security Council (Ibid, paras 337-352). As a result, it was banned in Syria, Iraq, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Given this legacy and ethos of violence it is no wonder the Brotherhood and its leadership, up until the time of writing, have been involved in a series of acts of indoctrination, intimidation, subversion of the rule of law, clandestine activity and political violence, including during their year in power and during the mass protests against their rule (Ibid, para 259).
As discussed in more detail below, the Brotherhood's power grab in Egypt during 2012-2013 and the protests it sparked must be viewed within this much broader context.
THE BROTHERHOOD'S RISE TO POWER AND FALL: The second report by 9BRi highlights the distortion and political manipulation that led to Mohamed Morsi's rise to power. Within a few months of the January 2011 Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had established a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which it claimed was independent (although all party leadership positions were reserved for members of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau).
The party was able, through false promises, to win a majority in parliament (which was subsequently dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court — SCC). Reneging on their promise not to present a candidate in the country's first presidential election, the Brotherhood nominated Morsi after the disqualification of Khairat Al-Shater, its main financier, who had been previously convicted on charges of money laundering and financing terrorism (“The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power,” para 11-15, 27).
During these presidential elections, a number of challenges undermined the secular/liberal candidates, not least of which was the confusion besetting the electoral map following the revolution, the large number of candidates (which resulted in splitting the secular/liberal vote), the political organisation of the Brotherhood after years of operating clandestinely and subsequently its ability to mobilise its supporters as opposed to other, newly formed, political parties.
This is in addition to reports of irregularities, such as electoral bribing, constituted factors that culminated in Morsi receiving 24.77 per cent of the vote in the first round, thus qualifying for the presidential run-off.
It was during the run-off that voters truly found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They could either vote for Morsi (and hence the Brotherhood) or Ahmed Shafik, who was widely perceived to be tied to Mubarak's regime.
Large numbers of people boycotted the vote or voted for Morsi to avoid Shafiq. Morsi's victory was very narrow, securing only 51.73 per cent of the vote (Ibid, para 32-49).
Having secured control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the Brotherhood proceeded to monopolise the constitution-drafting process. In a clearly undemocratic process, they appointed 65 Islamists to the 100-member Constituent Assembly, leaving only 16 seats to secularists, five to Copts and six to women.
By the time the assembly's first session was convened, 25 members had already resigned in protest at the Brotherhood's dominance, with representatives from the Coptic Orthodox Church resigning shortly thereafter (Ibid, para 58).
Throughout this process, the Brotherhood's strategy was “to conceal its true objectives... distorting the true intentions of its political platform to appease the concerns of secular and Christian sects” (Ibid, para 59). This included making false overtures on women's equality and minority rights, while condoning violence against both women and Egypt's Copts and other Christians.
It also included openly threatening and intimidating political opponents, secretly releasing convicted Islamist extremists, and embarking on a process of “Islamification” (or, rather, “Ikhwanisation”) of state institutions.
In his less than one-year tenure, Morsi repeatedly exceeded his executive powers and defied the rule of law. Less than two weeks after assuming the presidency, he flouted Egypt's SCC by re-instating the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved by court order. He replaced Egypt's prosecutor-general, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, with his own appointee known for his Islamist leanings.
Morsi's power grab reached new heights when he issued a decree declaring that the judiciary was barred from reviewing his decisions, and in particular barring the SCC from dissolving either parliament or the Constituent Assembly, whose constitutionality was being challenged before the court (Ibid, para 97-112).
This was coupled with a rush to appoint Islamist sympathisers to replace those who resigned from the Constituent Assembly. This was intended to allow the assembly to finalise the constitution before the SCC had a chance to rule on the body's constitutionality.
In a mockery of a process, the draft constitution was approved within nine days. Brotherhood supporters besieged the SCC to prevent its judges from accessing the building.
Morsi's decree and his attempt to impose a hastily drafted, unrepresentative and clearly unacceptable constitution intensified the wave of mass protests against his rule. These protests had never ceased throughout his one-year as president.
In fact, a report issued by the presidency during Morsi's last days in office stated that “a total of 24 million people had taken part in 7,709 protests and 5,821 demonstrations” even before the final mass protests that removed him (Ibid, para 187).
From 1 May 2013, the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign started collecting signatures for a petition calling for Morsi's ouster and for early presidential elections. The petition is reported to have collected more than two million signatures in the first ten days and more than 22 million signatures by 29 June 2013. This far outnumbered the 13.2 million votes Morsi won in the presidential elections (Ibid, para 236).
Between 30 June and 3 July, millions of people took the streets throughout the country, demanding Morsi's immediate resignation. However, Morsi remained defiant, refusing to bow to the will of the protestors, and even turning a blind eye to increasing incitement to violence from Brotherhood members and supporters.
In fact, during the protests, Morsi contacted Ayman Al-Zawahri and his brother Mohamed, inciting them to rise up against the Egyptian army in Sinai and to compel all jihadi elements to come to the Brotherhood's aid. Al-Zawahiri promised to “set the Sinai aflame” (“The History of the Muslim Brotherhood,” para 328-29). Until this day, terrorist attacks in Sinai continue to claim innocent lives, destroying many livelihoods and all but crippling Egypt's tourism industry.
On 1 July, fearing violence and bloodshed between the protestors and the Brotherhood, the army gave Morsi an ultimatum to resign within 48 hours. Two days later, the army announced a political roadmap, naming the head of the SCC as interim president (“The History of the Muslim Brotherhood,” para 263-268).
CONCLUSION: Although the Brotherhood purports to present a “moderate” view of Islam, this could not be farther from the truth. The Brotherhood has never embraced democratic principles other than as a vehicle to reach power through their manipulative religious rhetoric.
It has openly rejected the civil nature of the state, seeking to impose its rigid and radical views. These were the views decidedly rejected by the majority of the Egyptian people in June 2013.
God only knows what kind of violence, bloodshed and civil strife could have ensued had the army not taken a stance in favour of the protestors and against the regime. One only needs to look to other countries in the region to sense the degree of carnage and chaos that could have ensued.
Egypt is now firmly a state that stands up to, rather than sponsors, finances or condones terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood that once ruled Egypt has intricate links with other terrorist organisations that have not only wreaked havoc in the Middle East, but have also extended their reach to the United States and Europe, claiming thousands of innocent lives.
No country is immune to Islamic extremist terrorism, which has at its core the exclusionary, radical and violent ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that also provides moral, material and financial support to these groups.
We should not fall into the trap of dealing with each of these groups in isolation, or to discriminate in terms of how we treat them. They all share common origins, a common ideology, and common methods of violence and intimidation.
It is only through realising this fact, and through comprehensively addressing the problem at its roots, that we may hope one day to eradicate the scourge of terrorism once and for all.
The writer is political thinker and visiting professor at a number of European universities.


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