The Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) has evolved since it began in 1928 as a strictly Egyptian organization, becoming a global network with branches in 70 countries. Understanding its purpose and examining its methods is extremely important. The latest information comes from former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak. It must be seen in the context of a global debate that has raged since 9/11 over the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood was a dangerous Islamist terror organization or a real alternative to the jihadist militancy witnessed with al-Qaeda. At times it seemed that the Middle East and the West were operating at cross purposes on this question.
Take, for example, the regular periodical of the Muslim Brotherhood, Risalat al-Ikhwan; it was banned in Egypt, but it was legal in the UK. At the top of the masthead of this publication was printed: “Our Mission; World Domination (Siyadat al-Dunya).” It also carried the famous Muslim Brotherhood motto which included: “jihad is our path; martyrdom is our aspiration.” There was no ambiguity about the purpose of the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, used to write that the flag of Islam must be raised again in territories it once ruled, like Andalusia (Spain), Sicily, the Balkans, the coast of Italy, as well as the islands of the Mediterranean.
In the 1980s, one of its leaders who was based in Germany, Mustafa Mashour, gave a speech in which he praised the Afghans for their victory over the Soviet Union and then said that jihad must continue so that other occupied Muslim lands may be liberated; he then ticked off Palestine, India, and Chechnya. He went on to say, “as the Soviet Union has fallen, so will America and the West succumb, with the help of God.”1
Mashour was not a peripheral figure. He went on to become the Murshid, or Supreme Guide, of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2004, another Murshid, Muhammad Akef, declared “his complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America because Islam has logic and a mission.”2
In 2002, Sheikh Yousef Qaradawi, a Qatar-based spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, posted a fatwa, an Islamic legal opinion, on Islamonline.net, which read, “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice.” He then added a caveat: “I maintain that the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology.”3 An analysis written by the domestic intelligence agency of The Netherlands concluded, nonetheless, that the “ultimate aim” of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe was to “create, then implant and expand, an ultra-orthodox Muslim bloc inside Western Europe.”
In 2007, newly revealed federal court documents, accepted into evidence during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, helped disclose the inner thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood. There was a 16-page document in Arabic about its “general strategic goal.” That document stated, “the Ikhwan 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 and the hands of the believers, so that it is eliminated and Islam is made victorious over all other religions.”4
In the U.S. there were those who tried to present a forgiving image of the Muslim Brotherhood: in February 2011, James Clapper, who was serving as President Obama’s senior intelligence advisor, testified to the House Intelligence Committee: “The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’…is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida [sic] as a perversion of Islam.”5 In June 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about U.S. policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood being one of “limited contacts,” noting that these groups had to be “peaceful and committed to non-violence.”6
The view from the Middle East was very different. In 2005, a former Kuwaiti Minister of Education wrote in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat that “the beginnings of religious terrorism that we are witnessing today were in the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.” He added that all those who worked with bin Laden and al-Qaida [sic] went out under the mantle of the Muslim Brotherhood.”7 In fact, bin Laden himself studied at King Abdulaziz University in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, under two key Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Abdullah Azzam and Muhammad Qutb (brother of Sayyed Qutb, the main ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s).
Hamas, which defines itself as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has engaged in mass terror for years; its parent organization in Cairo has not criticized its use of bus bombings against Israel or its unleashing of rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Organizationally, the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1940s had a “secret apparatus” for acquiring arms and plotting against its enemies; it assassinated Egypt’s Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha in December 1948. In short, it had all the attributes of a terrorist organization. In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed not only in Egypt, but also in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and in the United Arab Emirates.
Despite this history, the dispute over the Muslim Brotherhood persisted. There was a debate about the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, as well. A report issued in the British House of Commons during the summer of 2007 proposed: “As long as the Muslim Brotherhood expresses a commitment to the democratic process and non-violence, we recommend that the British Government should engage with it and seek to influence its members.”
Yet in April 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned an internal review on the Muslim Brotherhood for the British government.8 Its international aspects were investigated by Sir John Jenkins, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia. In his main findings he concluded that from the time of its origins, the Muslim Brotherhood “accepted the political utility of violence.” Under the influence of Sayyed Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood took up the doctrine of takfir-ism, labeling fellow Muslims as apostates or infidels, which meant they could be attacked as well.
It is well known that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a strong opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Nonetheless, his court testimony provided on December 26, 2018, cannot be ignored or dismissed, given the level of detail he reveals about the role of the organization in the events of 2011, sometimes known as the Arab Spring. He described how in 2011, 800 armed operatives infiltrated into Egyptian Sinai through the Hamas tunnels with the aid of the Muslim Brotherhood. They helped some 20,000 inmates escape Egyptian prisons. These included members of Hizbullah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The vivid description that Mubarak provided regarding close coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and established international terror organizations belied the notion that it had somehow evolved into a peaceful group renouncing violence.9 It confirmed the worst assumptions that Middle Easterners and observers had about the dangers that emanated from the Muslim Brotherhood since its birth.
* * *
1 Lorenso Vidino, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), p. 92.
3 “Leading Sunni Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi and Other Sheikhs Herald the Coming Conquest of Rome,” MEMRI Special Dispatch, No. 447, December 6, 2002, https://www.memri.org/reports/leading-sunni-sheikh-yousef-al-qaradhawi-and-other-sheikhs-herald-coming-conquest-rome
4 Lt.-Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Moderate Islamic Alternative to al-Qaeda or a Partner in Global Jihad?” Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 558, November 2007, https://jcpa.org/article/the-muslim-brotherhood-a-moderate-islamic-alternative-to-al-qaeda-or-a-partner-in-global-jihad/
5 Josh Gerstein, “DNI Clapper Retreats from ‘Secular’ Claim on Muslim Brotherhood,” Politico, February 10, 2011, https://www.politico.com/blogs/under-the-radar/2011/02/dni-clapper-retreats-from-secular-claim-on-muslim-brotherhood-03325
6 Matt Bradley and Adam Entous, “U.S. Reaches Out to Islamist Parties,” Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2011, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304450604576418041037883256
7 “Former Kuwaiti Education Minister: All of Al-Qaida’s Terrorism Started from the Ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood,” MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 941, July 26, 2005, www.mwmri.org/reports/former-kuwaiti-education-minister-all-al-qaidas-terrorism-started-ideology-muslim
8 “Muslim Brotherhood Review: Main Findings,” House of Commons, December 17, 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/ 486948/53163_Muslim_Brotherhood_Review_-_PRINT.pdf
9 “In an Egyptian Courtroom, Two Ex-Presidents Face Off,” AP- New York Times, December 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/world/middleeast/mubarak-morsi-egypt-court.html