The Islamic radical moderates in the Middle East
All Islamic movements, parties, or groups fighting for the creation of the Islamic states governed by the Muslim authorities can be divided into two categories: 1) Those who are seeking their goals using peaceful means; and 2) Those devoted to the use of different kinds of violence including and terrorism. In the first group can be counted the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah (Arab. Hizbullah), or Turkish Justice and Development Party (currently in power). However, they are joined by a variety of Islamic parties and/or movements that are reshaping the electoral map of the Muslim states. In the second group of the Islamic political arena are the jihadists.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah followed by similar emerging Islamic political parties can be called Islamic radical moderates. They are radical as they are dedicated to the creation of Islamic religious authorities in the Muslim world but they are at the same time moderate as they are in principle preferring to achieve their political goals by peaceful means including above all parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, they are as well as moderate concerning their vision of the Islamic state to be created by them in power which has to be enlightened which is blending religious morality with the best of modern technology.
The presence of such Islamic radical-moderate groups is the most vibrant political force in the Muslim world. As a matter of fact, by all accounts and parameters, including election results and the results of opinion surveys, they are drawing their political support from a broad spectrum of a Muslim community. It is true that in many Muslim states, even less devout Muslims are finding their vision of an enlightened Islamic state especially now at the time of turbo-globalization as a political reaction to the brutal Westernization of the globe. The creators of the Western neo-imperialism at the time of turbo-globalization after 1989 found that the Islamic radical moderates constitute a far greater barrier to especially U.S. (and Israeli) control of the Middle East than the Islamic jihadists. The nature of the jihadist message of violence and terrorism repels Muslims and flies in the face of Islamic law. However, the message of the Islamic radical moderates is mainly seductive, as is their commitment to honesty, equality, and welfare. In addition, unlike the jihadists who are a very small segment of the Muslim world, the radical moderates are already its mainstream. The Islamic radical moderates are as well as blending their propaganda message of Islam and Muslim social values without pain with the potential for both terror and guerrilla warfare. It was the letter that drove Israeli occupation forces from Lebanon in 2000 and U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2021.
Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, and some other less violent groups of the Islamic radical moderates claim that they are not inherently anti-American and that they are sharing Western anti-jihadist sentiments and attitudes. Moreover, they have long supported pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East like in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Those groups are opposing the military presence of the U.S. in the Middle East but unlike the jihadists, they are not attacking the U.S. military posts. However, this is not true of Israel – a state that occupied Muslim land and committed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are the leaders of the Muslim struggle to force Israeli occupation troops and civic administration from the Arab territories occupied (and de facto annexed) during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Muslim Brotherhood is by now not far behind Hamas and Hezbollah but not using violent methods as they do.
According to the Islamic radical moderates, the focal problem during the last two decades in their relations with the U.S. is that the Washington administration proclaimed the war on Islam after 9/11 within the excuse of a formal declaration of “The War on Terror” in 2001. Additionally, the U.S. administration is opposing the establishment of Islamic governments in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The crucial viewpoint by the Islamist radical moderates is that if Washington would stop its war on Islam and force Israel to evacuate occupied Arab lands in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, anti-Americanism in the Middle East will recede and the Islamic jihadists would lose the ground to exist. In reality, however, the Islamic movement cannot be defeated but rather it can be led either by the jihadists or radical moderates. The more Americans attempt to suppress Islam, the more radical and violent the Islamic resistance will become.
Nevertheless, the Western political analysts argue that there are no firm guarantees that accommodating less extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah will reduce on the ground either anti-American policy or terrorism – nor is there any guarantee that the Islamic radical moderates will accept the existence of (a Greater) Israel and its borders. While in the mid-2000s some European states established certain contacts with some diverse radical-moderate groups, both Israel and Egypt warned that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah are merely fronts for terror.
The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood
Today, the most well-known and influential Islamic radical modernist group is the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikh-wan al Muslimun, established in March 1928 by Hassan al-Banna) which has its branches in more than 70 states. The Brotherhood was officially established as a “religious organization dedicated to doing good and stamping out evil”. Nevertheless, the heartland of this group is Egypt followed by neighboring Arab nations with predominantly Muslim Sunni believers. However, its real total membership is very difficult to know for the reason the Brotherhood is very much operating, in fact, under different names followed by the fact that it is in some countries legally outlawed like in Syria, Libya, or Saudi Arabia. It is known that only 20 years after the establishment, the organization-movement had almost 2 million followers spreading its activities across the Muslim world. Al-Banna, an excellent speaker, knew how to exacerbate his countrymen’s resentment of the British colonial presence and in his speeches laid all the Muslim community’s problems at the doorstep of Western domination. Today, the membership is surely in millions, with a far larger body of dedicated sympathizers but in any case, the Muslim Brotherhood is a dominant political organization in the Islamic world either among Arabs or not.
The Muslim Brotherhood was organized along the lines of a religious fraternity (like in Christian cases) and required that its members unquestionably obey the Guide (murshid). It was advised by a consultative assembly, quickly becoming a genuine, structured political movement. That gave it considerable power, as it controlled a number of social organizations like mosques, charitable groups, health centers, or students associations.
The Brotherhood themselves reinvigorated the position of moderate reform but without abandoning the salafiyya approach (the principles and practices of early Islam) which, however, at their founding was condemned. Originally, the Muslim Brothers have been fighting against Western imperialistic colonialism in the Middle East and Western secularism (in the sense of the separation of state and religion). The organization adopted at the beginning the way of Arab nationalism against the Western occupation of Muslim lands. They are looking deeper into the roots of Islam for the sake to purify and renew it by focusing on the principles and practices of the earliest generations of Islam – the salaf.
The final aim of the group is to reestablish Islamic rule in all predominantly Muslim countries across the world but mostly focus on the Middle East. However, the members of the Brotherhood are quite convinced that this will not happen in the immediate future but rather the reestablishment of Islamic rule is going to be a long-term process in which secular governments will gradually give way to their Islamic counterparts. Different Islamic governments will gradually come together until a unified Islamic state of some variety will be recreated. According to the conception, such an Islamic state doesn’t need to be administered by the Muslim Brotherhood as it is only important that the country’s authorities will apply Islamic law and govern it in the spirit of Islam.
The goal of the Brotherhood’s activities in Christian states of North America and Europe with Muslim minorities is to enable Muslims to deepen their faith by providing them with a network of mosques, religious schools, and Muslim associations. All of these measures will finally assist Muslims to become more influential in non-Muslim societies. It can be said that this process is well underway in West Europe but at the same time is lagging in the U.S.A. The best position of the Muslim minority in West Europe today seems to be in France where they have even an official religious council that works with the French government for the sake to shape the government’s policy towards the large Muslim minority in France. Similar councils have Jews, Catholics, and Protestants.
Other states and regions are not so much convinced like the French government by the peaceful intent of the Muslim Brotherhood. For instance, in October 2002, Russian security forces uncovered the cells of the Muslim Brotherhood in several places across Russia. The members of the Brotherhood have been accused of the preparation of the rebellion and, in several cases, of supporting al-Qaeda. A similar picture appeared as well in several ex-USSR countries after 9/11.
One of the focal questions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood became: Is the Brotherhood a reformist organization dedicated to the peaceful evolution of an Islamic state, or is its commitment to nonviolence only of strategic nature? The answer can be found in the 5 principles of the Brotherhood: 1) Allah is our objective; 2) The Prophet is our leader; 3) Quran is our law; 4) Jihad is our way; 5) Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. However, this is not the way the Brotherhood is behaving in reality. For more than four decades, the organization is using persuasion rather than violence and terror for the sake to reform Islam from within. On the ground, the policy of moderation is not giving the results of the liberation of occupied Islamic lands by Israel among them the most important West Bank, Golan Height, and Gaza Strip in the Middle East or Indian-occupied Kashmir, etc. According to the Brotherhood, the only way to liberate these lands is jihad. Therefore, it can be concluded that the apparent contradiction between the Brotherhood’s moderate official face and its testimony glorifying jihad is making strong concern that the Brotherhood’s present posture is only strategic adjustment designed to cover its true intention.
Nonetheless, there is one big difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic jihadists. For the Brotherhood, it is impossible to kill either innocent civilians or any Muslims. Consequently, all of those corrupted Arab leaders and other Muslim leaders of the Muslim states who are cooperating with the U.S.A. and Israel and being sinners cannot be physically eliminated as they are simply, nevertheless, Muslims but they will be judged harshly by Allah. The Brotherhood must lead them back to the true path and encourage them to apply Islamic law. However, the Islamic jihadists believe that the leaders of the Arab Islamic countries have repudiated Islam through their actions and their cooperation with the U.S.A., Israel, and other enemies of Islam and, therefore, they are already unbelievers (kafirs) and must be exterminated. In addition, the Islamic jihadists do not make any difference between military and civilian targets as all unbelievers (not Muslims) are potential soldiers against Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s three strategies
The Muslim Brothers are using three strategies for the realization of their political and other goals founded basically on the reformation of the secular regimes of the Islamic world: 1) Teaching and preaching; 2) Providing welfare to the needy; and 3) Political activism. Among all Muslim states in which the Brotherhood is operating, these strategies are mostly developed in Egypt but are finding expression in all of the 70 states in which the organization exists.
Strategy No. 1: Teaching and Preaching
Egypt was and is the center of the activity of the Muslim Brothers. The organization itself was founded in Egypt as a youth organization designed to strengthen the religious and moral foundation of Egyptian (Muslim) society. The strategy of teaching and preaching remained focal to the program of the Muslim Brotherhood which believes that its final goal of the creation of the Islamic state cannot be realized without a strong foundation of dedicated believers. This process, according to the Brotherhood, starts by building the Muslim individual: brother or sister with a strong body, high manners, cultured thought, earning ability, strong faith, correct worship, conscious of time, of benefit to others, organized, and self-struggling character. Strong Muslim individuals are making strong Muslim families, and finally, strong Muslim families are building a strong Muslim society. This process of making a strong Muslim society is a significant step toward the recreation of the Islamic state and the eventual re-establishment of the Islamic nation or Umma.
The Brotherhood’s propaganda-indoctrination program is carried out in a vast network of mosques, schools, and religious associations. Both sermons and lectures are stressing the general need for a moral society and urge vigilance against the enemies of Islam. The leaders of Muslim states are seldom attacked directly. The government of Egypt is constantly denying that it censors the sermons of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is watching their content very closely. The Egyptian censors pay close attention to the Brotherhood’s vast media network which is heavy of religious character but all the time there is a space for criticizing both the U.S.A. and Israeli policy in the Middle East.
Political or ideological indoctrination, however, is far more than sermons in mosques or churches. It is as well as the discussions with the faithful that take place either before or after the sermons or some study groups, meetings, camps, trips, courses, workshops, and conferences. The Muslim Brotherhood like many Christian fundamentalists is involved in the business of saving souls, and Muslim Brothers can spend endless time convincing potential converts of the righteousness of their propaganda and cause. One of the Brotherhood’s policies is the integration of all dimensions of the life of the individual within the concept of the Brotherhood family. Prayer and service are combined for the purpose to create the sense of kinship that is very important in life in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, there are in the Middle East and the Islamic world many youngsters who are bewildered, and the Muslim Brotherhood is providing them with the sense of belonging and purpose that they so desperately need.
Nevertheless, the indoctrination-propaganda program of the Muslim Brotherhood is providing beyond the moral basis for a future Islamic state the foundation for its political and social activities. Sympathizers from the majority of the Muslim states vote and contribute money, but the truly zealous are from the cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is they who get out the vote, volunteer for service in Islamic struggles like Kashmir or Palestine, and staff the Brotherhood’s vast network of schools, welfare centers, and media outlets. It has to be noticed that religious organizations are allowed in most Islamic states but political organizations are not and, therefore, the preaching role of the Muslim Brotherhood has other dimensions and benefits as well. In other words, both preaching and teaching are simply providing a cover for a broad range of political activities that would otherwise be banned.
Strategy No. 2: Charity and Welfare
The Muslim Brotherhood has long organized and kept the tradition of networks of schools and hospitals for the poor and elderly people. The system of financial donations from the faithful supporters is providing food and clothes, medical doctors are serving without charge for the salary in Brotherhood clinics and hospitals, and Islamic schools are combining religious education with some other topics of more political nature. Brotherhood tutors are participating in the assistance to the higher level students to prepare themselves for the examination. This practice is vital for those poor students as they cannot afford to be tutored by their teachers or by the scripts (notes) of their professors. In essence, in addition to fulfilling a religious education, the system of welfare services offered by the Muslim Brotherhood is providing an efficient opportunity for the recruiting new members for the organization and creating a very positive image of the Muslim Brotherhood as a caring organization that is capable to meet the needs of the Muslim ordinary people. In fact, the Brotherhood system of welfare programs ensures that poor youth will have some chance of finding jobs in the civil service and military making them in this way a potential resource should the occasion arise.
Strategy No. 3: Political activism
From a very political perspective, the Muslim Brotherhood is a very large and powerful pressure group that is involved in the battle to force the Muslim secular governments across the world to administer their states and Muslim societies according to Islamic law and Quran. Among all Muslim countries, the political agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood is the best and most fully developed in Egypt – a country in which the Brothers are allowed to operate as a religious organization. The Egyptian constitution prohibits religious organizations to participate in political life but in practice, the Muslim Brotherhood is using one of Egypt’s meaningless opposition parties to serve as a front for its political activities. In addition, many Brotherhood’s candidates are running for parliament as independents and, despite the government’s opposition, scored dazzling victories in the first or primary round of Egypt’s 2000 parliamentary elections.
It was so dazzling Brotherhood’s victory in the first round that the police openly prevented supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood from casting their ballots in the second round of the elections. The success was repeated in the 2005 elections with the Brotherhood having captured 88 seats in parliament (People’s Assembly) before massive police brutality and vote-rigging stemmed the Brotherhood tide. The message became, nevertheless, quite clear: if free voting is allowed, the Muslim Brotherhood will win what happened in 2011/2012. In other words, after the Egyptian Arab Spring protests in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood covered by civic political the Freedom and Justice Party won almost half of the seats in parliament while its leader Mohamed Morsi won the 2012 presidential elections. Only the US-Israeli-backed military coup in Egypt could prevent further rising in the political power of the Brotherhood.
At H. Mubarak’s time, the political aim of the Brotherhood was to push a corrupt and inept H. Mubarak’s regime ever closer to disaster. In Egypt, the only real opposition party was the Muslim Brotherhood which representatives used parliament as a platform for airing their views to a national audience, publicizing the obvious flaws of Mubarak’s corrupted regime, and opposing the legislation as anti-Islamic. The Muslim Brotherhood lacked the power to pass new legislation, but it had the power to weaken from within the regime of H. Mubarak. The Brotherhood knew how to use its political influence in order to win unparalleled economic, medical, and personal benefits for its members, victories that have extended its popularity and demonstrated at the same time its real capacity to get things done.
For the former Mubarak regime, it was extremely threatening the direct and indirect control of the student associations in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization. It is known that students in the Islamic states are protesting in the streets for the slightest provocation, making them the most volatile actors in the politics of the Middle East. If student protests show signs of promise, other groups will join them. Remember that in 2011, it was the students who got things started. The regime of Hosni Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party did everything to control university life in Egypt but with minimal success. Nevertheless, the Brothers are particularly against the American University in Cairo (the AUC) for the reason that it is a bastion of secularism in the high school system in Egypt.
The so-called “control of the street” the Muslim Brotherhood obtains by control over professional associations, student unions, community organizations, and mosque complexes in Egypt. It is a very fact that at a moment’s notice, a signal from the Brotherhood can send demonstrators to the street not only in Cairo but in other major cities in Egypt too. As the events of Arab Spring in 2011 proved, Cairo is the nerve center of Egypt, and to disrupt Cairo means, in fact, to disrupt the whole of Egypt. In practice, the activists of the Muslim Brotherhood do it so frequently, usually to oppose Israeli oppression of the Palestinians or U.S. policies in Iraq. However, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only group in Egypt that is involved in the anti-U.S/Israeli protests on the streets as many of which begin as spontaneous explosions of frustrations and anger. The Brothers, nevertheless, are active participants in the protests since their establishment in 1828 with the ability to inflame the street.
The Brotherhood’s efforts to infiltrate its members (of religious activists) to both military and security services are a less visible and noticeable phenomenon. Why it is important? It is important for the very reason that Egypt was and is, basically, a military regime being dependent on military support for its survival. The regime knows well that both jihadists and the Brothers are enjoying broad support and sympathies in the military, a fact that is making them very reluctant to use the regular army against the Brotherhood. Rather, most anti-Brotherhood and anti-jihadist activities are carried out by special security forces in which the regime has greater confidence. Even so, the Brotherhood’s support within the military provides a measure of security from government repression.
The Muslim Brotherhood, violence, and the question of stability
The Muslim Brotherhood advocated an all-time comprehensive social reform program aimed at bringing about social justice by peaceful means rather than using violence and revolutionary instruments. According to the program, social justice can be achieved not by individual acts of charity but by legal government handouts, thereby ensuring the equitable redistribution of funds. The organization was opposed to any form of particular nationalist ideology as it was considered a Western concept and it was calling for the revitalization of the umma by peaceful struggle.
The Brotherhood considers violence in principle to be counterproductive with the focal argument that it serves only to kill innocent people and to punish Muslim populations by destroying the economy. For example, the series of jihadist terror acts for two decades simply devastated the tourist industry of Egypt, living tens of thousands without work. The Brotherhood as well condemns jihadist violence for giving the Islamic movement a bad image and name and for giving enemies of Islam a good pretext to launch a new crusade against Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that governments are more powerful than the Islamic groups. Therefore, it would be little of benefit to fight a war that will cripple the Islamic movement and, in fact, ruin its good opportunity to achieve an Islamic state by peaceful means. In sum, it looks that there is a little doubt that the Brotherhood’s capacity and will for using violence remains. However, although the Muslim Brotherhood denies that it possessed armed paramilitary troops (militia), during the December 2006 military demonstrations by the Brotherhood’s students at Al-Azhar University revealed that the organization possesses an increasingly active military wing.
Historically, an armed wing – the “secret organization” – has been created within the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1930s, whose military leadership was entrusted to a close friend of Hassan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood), Salah Ashmawi. The military wing was, actually, operating under the umbrella of a Muslim scouting association not to attract the attention of the British occupation authorities but it grew rapidly into a full-fledged armed entity. For instance, its members have been fighting alongside supporters of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the 1936 Palestinian uprising or alongside Arab forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In fact, it was this conflict in 1948 in which the Brotherhood acquired combat experience and, therefore, as a result, the Egyptian government, concerned at the Islamic militias’ revolutionary capacity, ordered their disarmament. Hassan al-Banna was forced to accept that move probably as he was not at that time prepared enough to go to the open confrontation with the government. In order to minimize the level of suppression of his movement, he claimed that it was a break-away group, marginalized by the failure in the 1948 war against the Zionist Israel, which against his orders was engaged in guerilla warfare against the British forces near the Suez Canal. Nevertheless, despite his denials, evidence was mounting as to al-Banna’s responsibility for political violence against the government of King Farouk. He and his Brothers have been accused of a series of terror acts including murders in 1948 of an Egyptian judge, two British officers, and the Egyptian PM. Finally, al-Banna was assassinated on February 12th, 1949, and almost 4000 of his organization’s members were arrested. His followers maintained that the Egyptian government plotted to kill him and, in fact, was responsible for his death.
Concerning the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood offered it a simple deal to allow the organization to promote its religious agenda peacefully, and in return, the Brotherhood will allow Mubarak to rule. Egyptian government politicians will enjoy all the benefits of office and the wealth that became accumulated to the ruling class; the Muslim Brotherhood will help Egypt to become a more Islamic state. From Hosni Mubarak’s viewpoint, giving the Muslim Brotherhood broader scope for its activities would isolate the Islamic jihadists and other radical extremists by providing more moderate Muslim groups with a legitimate outlet for their concerns. However, H. Mubarak at the same time feared a broad-based Islamic party more than he feared the jihadists. Before the 2006 parliamentary elections in Egypt, the U.S. administration remained silent as Egyptian police unleashed the clubs and rifle butts of the Brotherhood’s supporters followed by the arrests of thousands of the Brotherhood leaders and members.
The political deal that the Muslim Brotherhood offered to Hosni Mubarak in the 1980s was already accepted in the 1950s by the King Hussein of Jordan when at that time the young king, then a teenager, used the Brotherhood to counter the leftists and Palestinian radicals intent on overthrowing his shaky monarchy. In fact, and the king and the Brotherhood prospered. However, in 2000‒2005, the U.S. administration was putting increasing pressure on Jordan’s new king, Abdullah II, to curtail the Brotherhood’s support for the Second Intifada (uprising) in Palestine. Nevertheless, that was a tall order as some 70% of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin, and support for the Palestinian uprising was the key element in the program of the Muslim Brotherhood. It has to be noticed as well that the line between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in Jordan is also blurred as the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, was, in fact, founded as the military wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood has been instrumental in brokering tensions between Hamas and the Jordanian king.
There were strong relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government of Yemen in the 1990s, mostly thanks to the political role of the Brotherhood in easing tensions between Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Much to the irritation to the Saudi puppet government of the U.S., Yemen had supported Saddam Hussein, maybe in the belief that the next to fall is going to be the Saudi anti-democratic monarchy. As it did not happen, the Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia. A few years later, Saudi Arabia supported the rebellion in South Yemen. The intersections of the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded to ease both crises, and the Brotherhood became a legal political organization as the Yemeni Society for Reform. In fact, rather than opposing the government, the Muslim Brotherhood became its supporter. Up to the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen was an ally of the U.S. in its struggle against jihadists but the open question remained up today: Whether it can convince the U.S. that the Muslim Brotherhood is a peaceful organization or at least not anti-American?
Syria, by contrast to Yemen or Egypt, is treating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. As a matter of fact, the Brotherhood launched a series of military actions in Syria in the early 1980s provoking a civil war. Consequently, the Syrian government launched military attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood, killing between 10.000 and 30.000 of its members. Nevertheless, the massacre was terrible. Membership to the Muslim Brotherhood became a crime that was punishable by death. The leadership of the Brotherhood in Syria, therefore, was forced to flee to Jordan, West Germany, and Iraq, as it was done by most of its active members.
The answer by the Brotherhood was quick and bloody: launching terrorist strikes into Syria in the mid-1980s, but the German-Jordan wing of the Syrian Brotherhood has since fallen in line with the nonviolent position of the Cairo leadership. Indeed, the Brotherhood HQ in Egypt applied to the Syrian government for permission to return to Syria as a cooperating partner of the ruling Ba’ath party but Damascus was rejecting the offer as the Brotherhood rejected to take responsibility for the terrorism campaign in Syria in the early 1980s. According to the Syrian leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, that was exactly Damascus that had created the political crisis by attempting to liquidate the Brotherhood. Nevertheless, for the Brotherhood in Syria, it was of the focal importance to place its members in positions of power either by working with the government or by attempting to overthrow it. The U.S., for its part, appears to be supporting the Brotherhood’s efforts to overthrow an Assad’s government accusing it of sponsoring terrorism.
Like in Syria, something similar was going on in post-Saddam’s Iraq. In other words, it was the same practice of making odious alliances for the sake of gaining political influence. Although hostile to the U.S. occupation, the Iraqi Islamic Party (an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) participated in the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s authority together by the U.S. military. However, its position looks to be logical. The Iraqi Islamic Party is sharing the fundamentalist goals of the ruling Shi’a elite and can represent the interests of Iraqi’s Sunni minority better than either the former Ba’athist supporters of Saddam Hussein or the jihadists. In this case, both sides the Muslim Brotherhood and the U.S. government found themselves on the same side. Much the same is true throughout the region of the Middle East including Yemen or Libya.
However, the Zionist government of Israel is uneasy about American’s backdoor flirtations with the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, the Palestinian (Gaza) wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, today is representing the core of the Arab-Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Reflecting its Brotherhood heritage, Hamas has refused to accept Israeli’s right to maintain a Jewish state on Islamic land. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that two parties cannot coexist together.
How is organized the Muslim Brotherhood
Different activities of the Muslim Brotherhood are guided by an organizational apparatus that is hierarchically composed by: 1) Supreme Guide; 2) A Deputy Supreme Guide; 3) A Guidance Bureau (13‒15 members) responsible for the policy formulation; 4) a larger Consultive Council; 5) and 25 specialized Committees. One of them, for instance, the Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) Committee is composed of trusted Muslim scholars and ensures that the policies of the Brotherhood are all the time in strict line with the Quran and Sunna. Other committees are guiding the area of teaching, preaching, welfare, and political activities of the organization. In addition, there is a huge legal staff that is defending the Brotherhood at the courts for different reasons.
Supreme Guides have been traditionally elected for life up to some 20 years ago when the situation changed. Incoming Supreme Guides will be limited to two six-year terms in office. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is controlled by a narrow circle of very old men. The Supreme Guide is, nonetheless, very charismatic (formally divinely guided) and, brooks no contradiction. Rather, he is serving as a source of imitation and emulation. Supreme Guide has the power to appoint “Commissioners” (for instance, Commissioner for International Political Affairs) and initiate policy according to his self-decision. The Commissioner for International Political Affairs was negotiating with the Mubarak government in Egypt, mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia following the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1978‒1979, or mediating between Iraq and Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait (former Iraqi territory). Without any doubt, the Muslim Brotherhood is carrying out considerable clout within the Islamic world.
It is evident that the authoritarian leadership style of the Muslim Brotherhood was/is typical of secret societies, organizations, or movements. However, such leadership style has and its negative feature as in this particular case, the authoritarian rule of the aged Brothers has led to accusations that the leadership of the organization simply lost connections with the basis and touch with the demands of the present. Some think that the Supreme Guide is too old to carry efficiently out his duties. In practice, the election of a new Supreme Guide often brings tensions with the younger, mid-level leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The younger midlevel leaders are those university activists who played a crucial role in reviving the Muslim Brotherhood in the post-Nasser era. Now, during the last two decades, they are claiming responsibility for the Brotherhood’s electoral successes in Egypt. In addition, they also feel that they are more in touch with the realities of the contemporary world than the old guard and that their time for power has come.
Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is, in fact, a secret organization, and, therefore, most of its activities are technically and legally illegal. However, there are many rich members of the Brotherhood, especially those from the Persian Gulf. It is known that the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization has its own businesses and its members have great influence in the Middle East’s large, benevolent associations that do collect huge amounts of money for religious (officially) and other (unofficially) purposes.
The Internationalization of the Muslim Brotherhood
There is only one Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he is residing in Cairo, Egypt. Cairo is, basically, the undeclared “capital” of the whole organization, while Egypt is its “motherland” where the Brotherhood was originally established in 1928. However, there are branches of the Brotherhood in many Muslim countries under different names headed by General-Secretary (a kind of the Minister of Foreign Affairs) and a local Consultive Council. The Muslim Brotherhood developed an international network in the 1970s whose regional representatives meet frequently for the reason to ensure that they are pursuing a common policy and to discuss common issues among all the most pressing and problematic is the accusation by the US administrations that the Muslim Brotherhood is, in essence, a terrorist organization but not a religious society. In the cases of a particular need, the country and regional representatives are organizing a common meeting on a broader continental basis. Nevertheless, according to the internal structure, the Supreme Guide and the Guidance Bureau are shaping the focal elements of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood from their offices in Cairo. Consequently, the central Brotherhood’s authorities are leaving it to the branches to work out the details following their particular needs and circumstances.
The security services of both Zionist Israel and the USA, successively are accusing the Muslim Brotherhood to be a successful ideological and financial sponsor of a broad network of pan-Islamic organizations in West Europe like the Islamic Society of Germany, the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, or the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy. These and their counterparts in other West European countries serve, in fact, as umbrella organizations in those countries for a variety of local Islamic centers. In turn, country networks are connected by different pan-European organizations like the Federation of Islamic Organizations, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, or Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations.
On the one hand, it is not formally known that such organizations are wholly owned subsidies of the Muslim Brotherhood, but from another hand, it is clearly known that both the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabian government are deeply involved in supporting them. The government of Saudi Arabia is founding its legitimacy on its role as the guardian of Islam and finances Islamic organizations across the globe, most of which have clear Wahhabi features. Compared to the Saudi case of the Wahhabis, however, the Brotherhood is moderate.
There are clear US and Israeli complaints in which they attribute the spread of Islamic organizations in West Europe to the naivety of the West European leaders and their governments. However, the West European leaders scoff at the accusation that they are naïve or soft on Muslim extremism. They claim that they are well understanding that the Muslim community in Europe is huge and important and, therefore, it has to be better and deeper integration into the European political life and society if violence and extremism are going to be avoided or minimized. As the current situation is, the growing European Muslim organizations forced West European leaders to take a far more moderate standpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical-moderate groups than the USA or Israel. In conclusion, the growing number of different organizations of West European Muslim societies are not adequate to break the cycle of poverty and fear that besets much of the Muslims but indeed the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of West Europe are growing farther apart.
The strengths of the Muslim Brotherhood
The moderate rather than radical approach of the Muslim Brotherhood surely enabled it to appeal to a broad range of Islamic believers who, while supporting a strong role for religion in political life, fear the violence and extremism of the jihadists and other radical fundamentalists. Additionally, the moderate face of the Muslim Brotherhood is making it less threatening to protest voters intent on registering their profound displeasure with the corruption and oppression of secular governments around the Muslim world. It has to be noticed that protest votes are for sure part of the reason for the dazzling success of Muslim parties during the last decades.
The numbers are as well as an important factor in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as Muslim governments are thinking hard and long before they challenge the Brotherhood or do something against the organization as they know the popular reaction is going to be politically unpredictable. Serious efforts to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan, or Sudan can result in an Algerian-style civil war – a possibility which is chilling even the boldest of Arab leaders in the Middle East like it was done with President Mubarak of Egypt. Arrests have been done but, however, most of them were, in fact, symbolic and temporary. As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood due to its popularity and popular support enjoys an important level of freedom in fighting for Islamic reforms at least as long as it is stopping short of challenging the power of the ruling political regime. In any case, the Muslim Brotherhood and its parallel organizations are claiming political victory for the growing strength of the Islamic movement in North Africa, the Middle East, and some other Muslim regions in Asia. On other hand, as a matter of fact, secular regimes still are in power in predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East regardless of the historic success of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1978‒1979, but the power of moderate Islamic organizations and groups is continuing to reach new successes in the Muslim world very much encouraged by the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It became true that patience is their reward.
The flexibility as well brought to the Muslim Brotherhood certain benefits. Different from the Islamic jihadists and other radical fundamentalists, the Muslim Brotherhood is not locked to all or nothing political-military strategy of violence that unnecessarily is provoking the animosity of secular governments in Muslim countries. Rather, the Muslim Brotherhood can adapt its policies to fit the needs of the situation, biding its time while it builds a foundation for eventual victory. Following the same manner of wide flexibility, all Muslims, Arabs or not, Sunni or Shi’a, are equally welcome to join the Muslim Brotherhood as long as they are willing to work toward the establishment of the Islamic State within the framework of the guidelines of the Brotherhood which fixed as well as that when the Islamic State is finally established, Allah will deal with the sinners and sort out the sectarian conflicts forever.
The critique by Islamic jihadists
It is evident that the Islamic jihadists, from their standpoint, are constantly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood for their flexibility and patience as both strategies are for the jihadists only excuse for, in fact, doing nothing. On the contrary, the Islamic jihadists are heavily condemning the strategy of the Islamic Brotherhood of cooperation for perpetuating secular regimes and making them appear Islamic in the eyes of the public. In the process, corruption and immorality have embedded themselves ever deeper in Islamic society.
Another attack on the Brotherhood by the Islamic jihadists is the Brotherhood’s claim that the Islamic radicals and radical fundamentalists are too weak to challenge the military power of the secular regimes in the Muslim societies. However, the jihadists are giving an example of, for instance of Iran/Persia when the Shah of Iran before the Islamic Revolution claimed to possess the 5th largest army in the world but his regime collapsed without a whimper in the face of Ayatollah Khomeini. That Shah’s army, btw, was trained by the US experts and armed with the latest American weaponry but it did not save the secular and pro-US regime. According to the jihadists, military power cannot save a corrupt regime that lost touch with its own population and, therefore, the Iranian soldiers did not want to fight to protect the Shah and save his regime, and, consequently, the soldiers of the Islamic world will not fight to save their corrupt and godless masters. For the Islamic jihadists, most soldiers in Muslim societies are good Muslims, and they will join the Islamic revolution when the time arrives.
The jihadist critique of the Muslim Brotherhood as well contains several practical issues:
1) Flexibility, according to the jihadist critique, equates with a lack of focus.
2) The Muslim Brotherhood is speaking of guidelines, however, the jihadists see only a few guidelines other than a commitment to cooperate with corrupt Muslim and Arab regimes in the Greater Middle East and North Africa (the MENA) in the vain hope to establish an Islamic State (Caliphate).
3) With everyone doing their own thing, from the jihadist point of view, the goal of the Islamic State gets lost in the practice.
4) The stress on its size by the Muslim Brotherhood, has had the same result as by attempting to gather the vast number of Islamic believers into a single organization, the Brotherhood at the same time is finding itself in the impossible position of trying to please every Muslim. The result is, according to the jihadist perspective, stagnation and the defection of the most dedicated members of the organization. Therefore, in practice, the Muslim Brotherhood as the organization became nothing more than a huge bureaucratic apparatus, the zeal of its members is being sapped by petty concerns of status and authority.
5) The most criticized issue by the jihadists is that the Muslim Brotherhood is soft on the Shi’a Muslims. In other words, by embracing the Shi’a Muslims with their teaching, the Brotherhood is, in fact, giving tacit approval of the Shi’a heretical teaching. According to the (Sunni) jihadists, both the Quran and the Sunna, say nothing of Hidden Imams or ayatollahs. These are all embellishments that have diverted Islam from its true course and cannot conceivably be part of an Islamic State which has to be founded on and to function according to the Quran and the Sunna.
Nevertheless, in addition to the jihadist critique of the Muslim Brotherhood, it has to be clearly stressed that the Brotherhood finds itself in heavy political and ideological competition with the Islamic jihadists for the hearts and minds of the Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. Continued moderation is threatening defection to the jihadists, while increased radicalism is threatening reprisals by the governments of the Muslim states in the region of the MENA. The fine line that the Muslim Brotherhood has pursued in recent decades is, in fact, becoming increasingly difficult to walk as the distance between the governments of the Muslim states and their populations continue to broaden.
Here, one can ask a focal question: What is the real truth? On one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is portrayed as a vast octopus that is gradually sapping the will of the secular governments of the Muslim states to resist the Islamic movement to create a pure Islamic State or better to say to re-establish the medieval Caliphate. On other hand, however, according to the jihadist accusations, the Muslim Brotherhood is a vast moribund bureaucracy that has lost its practical capacity and moral legitimacy for effective action in favor of the Muslim world. In addition, the question arises is the Muslim Brotherhood the militant revolutionary organization proclaimed by its credo, or does it undermine the Islamic movement with false hopes of finding a peaceful road to the Islamic State?
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas
Hamas is the largest of the Palestinian Islamic extremist groups which began its activities as an offshoot of the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood itself was established in Jerusalem and other major Palestinian cities by 1946 – two years before the proclamation of Israel as an independent state in May 1948 and the beginning of the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948‒1949. The Israeli Zionists with great help from outside especially by the USA won the war, but Jordanian and Iraqi forces occupied Jerusalem and the central regions of Palestine (the West Bank annexed by Jordan in 1952). Egypt retained the Gaza Strip, a narrow coastal plain linked to Egypt’s the Sinai Peninsula. However, the situation on the ground changed dramatically with the crushing Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War as Israel occupied West Bank, Gaza, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Height. For the matter of the liberation of Arab Palestine, it was established the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the PLO) – a loose confederation of leftist groups under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. For the Arabs, the PLO was, in fact, the legitimate Government of the Palestinians but for the Zionist Israel, it was public enemy No. 1 as Israel feared PLO terror and that the international community would forcibly establish a PLO-led Government in the Occupied Territories. As a matter of fact, at that time only a few Israelis worried much about the Muslim Brotherhood and its imitators in Palestine but on the contrary, the Israeli Government encouraged the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood as a counterweight to the PLO. However, in retrospect, it was a terrible mistake.
It was a real fear by the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that the ascendance of a very secular PLO would stifle the Islamic movement in Palestine, much as President Nasser had stifled the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, it was particularly disconcerting the military capacity of the PLO as the PLO had its own armed militias but the Palestinian Brotherhood did not. Therefore, it became such a political-military reality that led to the emergence of Hamas as the military wing of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 but in reality, the nucleus of Hamas was created much earlier simply called the “Military Wing” (raa el askary). It is important to notice that the original membership of Hamas was recruited exclusively from the Muslim Brotherhood. However, in the course of time, Hamas developed both its own membership and identity and membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was not a prerequisite – it was a zeal.
The line between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood all the time was vague. It can be seen from the statement in 1988 by Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (the official name of the Hamas) which referred to the organization as one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood makes no bones about its support for Hamas including funding or the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to Gaza. However, at least for the moment, Hamas is much more concentrated on the issue of the liberation of Palestine than it is doing with establishing the Caliphate in Palestine which has very secular traditions. Hamas was using several similar strategies as used by the Muslim Brotherhood like preaching, welfare, and politics in order to reach its political objectives. The political agenda of Hamas was traditionally focused on terrorist strikes against the Zionist targets in Israel but military politics has recently been joined by electoral politics as Palestine moves toward statehood. It is a sign that in the future Hamas can be transformed from a resistance movement into a democratic political organization once a viable Palestinian state has been established. That is giving hope to those arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots are, in fact, willing to operate within a democratic framework.
Fellow to Center for Geostrategic Studies
© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2022
Personal disclaimer: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
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