Saturday, 22 August 2009
The Muslim Brotherhood: A Moderate Islamic Alternative to al-Qaeda or a Partner in Global Jihad?
Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi
The Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly at the center of a heated political controversy in the U.S. and among its Western allies. Foreign Affairs, an important weathervane of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, featured in its March-April issue an article by Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood had become a moderate organization.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the British House of Commons issued a report in the summer of 2007 concluding: “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.” Ironically, while prominent voices in the West are calling for a new political dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Arab world many serious analysts warn about its continuing violent nature and global ambitions.
At a meeting of the National Defense and Security Committee of the Egyptian Parliament held in January 2007, Muslim Brotherhood parliament member Mohammed Shaker Sanar openly admitted that the Muslim Brotherhood was not committed to Western democratic values. He said that nothing about the organization had changed. “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.”
This year, newly revealed federal court documents that were accepted into evidence during the trial of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation revealed further the inner thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood about its global mission. A sixteen-page Arabic document discloses: “The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.”
The Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda differ regarding tactics but share a common strategy. Al-Qaeda favors an implacable jihad to destroy the economies of the Western countries. The Muslim Brotherhood supports terrorism and jihad against foreign presence in the Islamic world, but its top priority is constructing a Muslim infrastructure in the West which will slowly but surely enable it to rule during the 21st century. As far as the final goal is concerned, there are no policy differences between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. The two organizations have the same objective: to place the entire world under an Islamic caliphate.
The Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly at the center of a heated political controversy in the U.S. and among its Western allies. On April 23, Newsweek speculated about whether the attendance of a Muslim Brotherhood leader at a diplomatic party held by the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, might signal a shift in the Bush administration’s policy toward the worldwide radical Islamic movement. Indeed, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also had a brief exchange with the Muslim Brotherhood member at the event, where he heard a brief rationalization of the policies of Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch that has engaged in suicide bombing attacks and is recognized as an international terrorist organization.
Finally, Foreign Affairs, an important weathervane of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, featured in its March-April issue an article by Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood had become a moderate organization.1 The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which seeks to reach out and influence the American political system posted on its website the Foreign Affairs piece on the Muslim Brotherhood. And James Traub echoed many of their arguments in the New York Times Magazine on April 29, 2007, in which he claimed that “the Muslim Brotherhood, for all its rhetorical support of Hamas, could well be precisely the kind of moderate Islamic body that the administration says it seeks.”
The opening of a relationship between Washington and the Muslim Brotherhood would represent a major reversal in U.S. policy in the war on terrorism. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood has been widely regarded in the Arab world as the incubator of the jihadist ideology that led to the rise of radical Islamic militant organizations. A former Kuwaiti Minister of Education, Dr. Ahmad Al-Rab’i, argued in Al-Sharq al-Awsat on July 25, 2005, that the founders of most modern terrorist groups in the Middle East emerged from “the mantle” of the Muslim Brotherhood.2 A recently disclosed British Foreign Office memo from January 17, 2006, which was leaked to The New Statesman, indeed admitted, “The Egyptian Government perceives the Muslim Brotherhood to be the political face of a terrorist organization.”
Ironically, while prominent voices in the West are considering opening a political dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Middle East many columnists are still warning about its hostile intentions. Thus, Tariq Hasan, a columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, alerted his readers on June 23, 2007, that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing a violent takeover in Egypt, using its “masked militias” in order to replicate the Hamas seizure of power in the Gaza Strip.3 And writing on October 23, 2007, in the Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat, columnist Hussein Shobokshi wrote that “to this day” the Muslim Brotherhood “has brought nothing but fanaticism, divisions, and extremism, and in some cases bloodshed and killings.” Thus, both Arab regimes and leading opinion-makers in Arab states still have serious reservations about the claim of a new moderation in the Muslim Brotherhood.
There are understandable reasons why Arab regimes reach such conclusions; Abdullah Azzam, the teacher and mentor of Osama bin Laden, was a member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Bin Laden’s current deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was heavily influenced by the ideology of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.4 And Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait in his youth.5 Even in recent years the Muslim Brotherhood’s publication in London, Risalat al-Ikhwan, maintained its jihadist orientation; it featured at the top of its cover page in 2001 the slogan, “Our mission: world domination” (siyadat al-dunya). This header was changed after 9/11, but the publication still carried the Muslim Brotherhood’s motto which includes: “jihad is our path; martyrdom is our aspiration.”
Despite this unambiguous historical record, parts of the U.S. intelligence establishment have in the past entertained working with the Muslim Brotherhood. Robert Baer, who was a CIA case officer in the Middle East for its Directorate of Operations, describes how the CIA’s station chief in Khartoum, Milton Beardon, did not reject the idea of working with members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood in order to topple the Libyan leader, Mu’ammar Qaddafi.6 In 1986, Bearden would go on to become the CIA station chief in Islamabad, where he became instrumental in working with the most militant Afghan mujahideen, many of whom were allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadi groups, in their war against the Soviet Union.7
In 2005, after his retirement, Bearden would join other ex-intelligence officials, like Alastair Crooke, from Britain’s MI-6, in seeking to launch a dialogue in Beirut with radical fundamentalist groups, including the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah, and Hamas.8 Thus even though the work of Western intelligence agencies in the 1980s produced the “blowback” that was witnessed with the rise of al-Qaeda in the 1990s, there has been a constant school of thought in the West believing in the advisability of working with the representatives of radical Islam, in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular.
Indeed this school of thought has been making important inroads; the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the British House of Commons issued a report in the summer of 2007 concluding: “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.”9 The underlying assumption of this recommendation is that the Muslim Brotherhood has indeed become a more moderate organization, just as Leiken and Brooke argue in their Foreign Affairs article. For that reason, it is important to carefully analyze their arguments in order to ascertain whether they have any basis
U.S. Policy Toward Radical Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood Debate
The September 11 attack prompted the American administration to change both its domestic and foreign policies and to initiate a comprehensive campaign against radical Islam, which preaches global jihad, and the countries developing weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States. Promoting the idea of democracy is at the core of President Bush’s foreign policy, which seeks to support democratic governments or those aspiring to democracy and to exert pressure on the Arab regimes to adopt the principles of democracy and human rights as a way of battling religious fundamentalism. The president’s initiative kindled an argument between those who regard it as an effective way of creating an alternative to the Al-Qaeda-Muslim Brotherhood school of radical Islam and those who feel that conditions in the Middle East are not yet ripe and that such an initiative is liable to achieve the opposite result and pave the way for a radical Islamic takeover of the current regimes.
Dr. Robert S. Leiken, director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center in Washington, and Steven Brooke, a researcher at the Center, have called upon the American administration to institute a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood to promote democratization in the Islamic world. They published an article in the March-April 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs called “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” in which they advise the American administration to enter into a strategic alliance with the organization, which they refer to as “moderate,” calling it a “notable opportunity” to use the Brotherhood to promote American interests.
They have also written that “When it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, the beginning of wisdom lies in differentiating it from radical Islam and recognizing the signiﬁcant differences between [the] national Brotherhood organizations [operating in various parts of the world]. That diversity suggests Washington should adopt a case-by-case approach, letting the situation in each individual country determine when talking with – or even working with – [the branches of] the Brotherhood is feasible and appropriate….Washington should be taking stock of its interests and capabilities in the Muslim world – a conversation with the Muslim Brotherhood makes strong strategic sense.”
Leiken and Brooke based their recommendation on the assumptions that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate, has a constructive approach to democracy, and is a potential partner for America and the West. This article will contrast Leiken and Brooke’s main arguments with facts taken from official, public Muslim Brotherhood sources.
Leiken and Brooke: The Muslim Brotherhood has Embraced Democratic Western Values
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna as an organization seeking to combat the secularization of the emerging Egyptian state. But it evolved into an organization that saw itself struggling against Western civilization, as a whole, in order to advance what it defined as Muslim civilization.10 It quickly spread and established branches in dozens of countries within the Middle East and even beyond.
According to Leiken and Brooke,
The Muslim Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy….The [Muslim Brotherhood] followed the path of toleration and eventually came to find democracy compatible with its notion of slow Islamization.
A distinction should be made between how the Muslim Brotherhood regards democracy [as positive] and how Al-Qaeda regards it [as infidel]….Many analysts, meanwhile, sensibly question whether the Brotherhood’s adherence to democracy is merely tactical and transitory….There is slim evidence that the Brotherhood has pondered what it would do with power. Although it has been prodded by the electoral process to deﬁne as its slogan “Islam Is the Solution”….And in extensive conversations with the Muslim Brotherhood’s disparate allies throughout the Middle East, we heard many expressions of conﬁdence that it would honor democratic processes.
The Muslim Brotherhood does indeed participate in political activity and defend the democratic process. That is not, however, because it has accepted the principles of Western democracy as Leiken and Brooke have claimed, but rather because the democratic process can be exploited to establish an Islamic regime which will then obviate democracy, as was made evident by its platform in the 2007 Egyptian parliamentary elections.11 The organization claimed to be participating in the elections because “the Muslim Brotherhood preaches the path of Allah…[and therefore it is participating] to fulfill Allah’s commands in peaceful ways, using existing constitutional institutions and a decision determined by the ballot box.” That is, democracy is Islam’s ingress to power. The Muslim Brotherhood platform also noted that “the rule in [Egypt] must be republican, parliamentary, constitutional and democratic in accordance with the Islamic Sharia,” and that “the Sharia ensures liberty for all.” The organization does not accept the principle of the separation of church and state, and the Islamic rule they aspire to is, for them, a realization of democracy.
Leiken, Brooke and the Muslim Brotherhood all use the same word, democracy, but their definitions and interpretations are worlds apart. Interviewed on September 17, 2007, by the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Karama,12 Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akef said that the organization’s campaign slogan would be “The Sharia is the Solution” and that human rights and democracy would be included under Sharia rule. He devoted his May 12, 2007, weekly missive to an exposition of democracy as seen through Muslim Brotherhood eyes. He said that only Islam, which was given to men by Allah, was the expression of true democracy. He wrote that “Islam preceded…doctrines and ideologies devised by men. The final, absolute message from heaven contains all the values which the secular world claims to have invented….Islam and its values antedated the West by founding true democracy, exemplified by the Shura [the advisory council under the Caliphs] and Islam’s respect for the equality of other religions….With regard to liberty, Islam reached a goal which secular preachers have not, for the liberty promised by Islam is genuine in every way, even in faith and religion….As to the claim that Islam does not recognize civil authority, the authority of Islam is democratic…it is genuine liberty, it provides equality in practice and is transparent, it neither oppresses nor robs any man of his rights….It is on that foundation and with those values that the Muslim Brotherhood calls for justice, equality, and liberty.”13
‘Akef has never equivocated regarding his views on Western democracy. On April 30, 2005, he told the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram that the Muslim Brotherhood opposed American democracy because it was “corrupt and serves the American agenda….The Muslim Brotherhood has held demonstrations against foreign intervention and against any democracy that serves the Americans….[American] democracy is corrupt because it wants to destroy the [Islamic] nation, its faith and tradition.”14 He told the BBC that Western democracy was “unrealistic” and “false.”15
One of ‘Akef’s examples of America’s “corrupt values” is the attempt to stop female circumcision in Africa. On July 12, 2007, he wrote that “[the Americans] spend billions of dollars and endlessly plot to change the Muslim way of life, they wage war on Muslim leaders, the traditions of its faith and its ideas. They even wage war against female circumcision, a practice current in 36 countries, which has been prevalent since the time of the Pharaohs.”16
Leiken and Brooke: The Muslim Brotherhood Opposes Jihad against the West and Does Not Incite Muslims to Wage Jihad
According to Leiken and Brooke, the Muslim Brotherhood deters Muslims from violence and channels them into politics and charity work. They based that claim on having been told the following:
A senior member of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s Guidance Council in Cairo said, “If it weren’t for the Brotherhood, most of the youths of this era would have chosen the path of violence.”
The leader of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in Jordan, said that his group outdoes the government in discouraging jihad: “We’re better able to conduct an intellectual confrontation…[than] a security confrontation with the forces of extremism and fanaticism.”
The Brotherhood claims success at sifting radicalism out of its ranks through organizational discipline and a painstaking educational program….If a Muslim Brother wishes to commit violence, he generally leaves the organization to do so…[and is] more likely to join the moderate center rather than to take up jihad.
The Muslim Brothers are intent on achieving national [not global] goals, as opposed to the jihadists who want international murder….The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt pursues internal issues, not jihad.
However, according to the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad, that is, holy war against the infidels, is one of the fundamental elements spread by the Muslim Brotherhood. The organization’s ideology, as it appears on its official website, regards “the prophet Muhammad as its leader and ruler, and jihad as its path.”17 Jihad has a global strategy beyond self-defense, it is the unceasing attack on every infidel rule, intended to widen the borders of the Islamic state until all mankind lives under the Islamic flag.
Clicking the links “The Goals of the Muslim Brotherhood” and “Muslim Brotherhood Measures” leads to explanations of jihad based on the writings of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. Jihad, it is noted, is Islam’s most important tool in effecting a gradual takeover, beginning with the Muslim countries, moving on to reestablishing the Caliphate over three continents in preparation for a conquest of the West, and finally instituting a global Islamic state. The following are quotations from the organization’s website:
We want a Muslim individual, a Muslim home, a Muslim people, a Muslim government and state that will lead the Islamic countries and bring into the fold the Muslim Diaspora and the lands robbed from Islam and will then bear the standard of jihad and the call [da'wah] to Allah. [Then the] world will happily accept the precepts of Islam….The problems of conquering the world will only end when the flag of Islam waves and jihad has been proclaimed.18
The goal is to establish one Islamic state of united Islamic countries, one nation under one leadership whose mission will be to reinforce adherence to the law of Allah…and the strengthening of the Islamic presence in the world arena….The goal…is the establishment of a world Islamic state.19
And if prayer is a pillar of the faith, then jihad is its summit…and death in the path of Allah is the summit of aspiration.20
It is evident that the Muslim Brotherhood does not hide its global aspirations and the violent path it intends to follow to achieve them. The Muslim Brothers are meticulous in their step-by-step plan first to take over the soul of the individual and then the family, people, nation and union of Islamic nations, until the global Islamic state has been realized. The principle of stages dictates the Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed “moderation,” which impressed Leiken and Brooke so deeply. However, that “moderation” will gradually vanish as Muslim Brotherhood achievements increase and acceptance of the existing situation is replaced by a strict, orthodox Muslim rule whose foreign policy is based on jihad.
Unlike Leiken and Brooke, who minimize the importance of jihad in the Muslim Brotherhood’s world concept, for ‘Akef it is at the center of the struggle against the United States, the West, Israel, and other infidel regimes. He regards Islam as waging “a battle of values and identity” against the forces of “imperialism” and the “Anglo-Saxons” attacking the Arab-Muslim world “on the pretext of spreading democracy, defending minority rights, and opposing what they call terrorism.” He advises Muslims to adopt “the culture of resistance against the invasion,” explaining that Allah gave “the occupied, oppressed nations jihad and resistance as a means of achieving freedom.” He added that “the culture of resistance to invasion and occupation have intellectual, military, and economic aspects. Experience in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan have proved that resistance is not imaginary or fictitious or impossible, but rather it is possible when the [Islamic] nation presents a united front and uses its weapons and faith to face an imperialist, whether he comes with arms or inundates us with his ideas, values, or obsolete morality.”21
In a recent weekly missive, ‘Akef declared a new strategy adopted by the Brotherhood to confront Western imperialism and the satanic alliance between the U.S. and Israel based on supporting the “resistance” in any Muslim country under foreign occupation, including Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For the first time, ‘Akef called upon the Brotherhood to grant not only financial and material support but to join the resistance to achieve freedom for the Muslim nation.22
One of the planks of the Muslim Brotherhood platform in the Egyptian Parliamentary elections in 2005 dealt expressly with that aspect, stating that “it is important to support national resistance movements in all the occupied Arab lands in every way possible.”23 During the war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah during the summer of 2006, ‘Akef called upon Egyptian President Mubarak and the other Arab leaders to support “the Lebanese resistance,” and it was implied that the Muslim Brotherhood had a broad military infrastructure in place. ‘Akef said that he was “prepared to send 10,000 jihad fighters immediately to fight at the side of Hezbollah” if the Egyptian government would permit it.24
The links between the Muslim Brotherhood and global terrorism were also made evident by the reception Hassan al-Turabi, a high-ranking Muslim Brother and at that time one of the heads of Sudan, provided for Al-Qaeda in the early 1990s. In 1991, accepting al-Turabi’s personal invitation, Osama bin Laden moved from Saudi Arabia to Sudan and established a terrorist network there. In addition, al-Turabi founded the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, some of whose members were the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and the Egyptian Jihad. The Conference met in April 1991, December 1993, and March 1995.25 In August 1993, in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, the United States included Sudan in its designated list of terrorism sponsoring states.26 Prior to the U.S. led attack on the Taliban regime, the Muslim Brotherhood actually had training camps in Afghanistan, where it worked with Kashmiri militants and sought to expand its influence in Central Asian states, especially Tajikistan.27
Similarly, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas (the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) enables the various Islamic terrorist organizations – including Al-Qaeda branches – to operate unhampered. One of the factions, the Army of the Nation (more commonly known as the Army of Islam and openly boasts of direct connections with Al-Qaeda), participated in joint terrorist attacks with Hamas and was responsible for the abduction of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in March 2007. Sources in the Gaza Strip said that to secure Johnston’s release, Hamas gave it $5 million and more than a million rounds of ammunition for Kalashnikov rifles and promised not to harm its operatives.28 Interviewed for the Ilaf Website on July 17, 2007, Abu Ashur, right-hand man of Army of Islam chief Mumtaz Durmush, admitted that the Army of Islam had “adopted Al-Qaeda’s principles” and was working toward the establishment of an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip and the liberation of Palestine. He said that Al-Qaeda both sent money to finance the Army of Islam and gave it instructions.29
Leiken and Brooke: The Muslim Brotherhood Does Not Reject the Possibility of Recognizing the State of Israel
Even on the central issue of Israel, each national organization calls its own tune. Every Muslim Brotherhood leader with whom [Leiken and Brooke] spoke claimed a willingness to follow suit should Hamas recognize the Jewish state….Zawahiri expressed the jihadist view saying, “No one has the right, whether Palestinian or not, to abandon a grain of soil from Palestine, which was a Muslim land and which was occupied by inﬁdels.” The Muslim Brotherhood does not stress the religious aspect, and that enrages the jihadists. Compare the statement from the Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who argues that “the enmity between us and the Jews is for the sake of land only,” with this one from Zawahiri: “[Allah], glory to Him, made religion the cause of enmity and the cause of our ﬁght.”
Yet in reality, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership has repeatedly proclaimed that the movement will never recognize the State of Israel or its right to exist.30 ‘Akef, interviewed by the daily Filisteen al-Muslima in 2005, glorified in the increase in the number of Palestinian “resistance organizations” [i.e., terrorist organizations], calling them “a great blessing,” if only they would all unite to work for “the genuine goal, the expulsion of the Zionists from the land of Palestine.” He called the State of Israel “a foreign body which by virtue of its nature cannot remain where it is.”31 In October 2007, he again stated that the Muslim Brotherhood vigorously opposed the idea of recognizing Israel and that this position was “one of the movement’s basic principles and will not be negotiated.” He said that “as far as the movement is concerned, Israel is a Zionist entity occupying holy Arab and Islamic lands…and we will get rid of it no matter how long it takes.”32
Completely contradicting Leiken and Brooke’s claims, the Muslim Brotherhood justifies its position toward Israel with religious arguments similar to those of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s second in command. ‘Akef, like Zawahiri, has said that “no one has the right to give up one inch of Palestinian soil, for the land of Palestine is the natural right of its [Arab] inhabitants and of all Arabs and Muslims.” He has also said that “those rights [of Muslims to Palestine] cannot be negotiated, and no one can waive them, nor does posterity have the right to waive them under any pretext….Our religion does not permit acceptance of the loss of the land and the contamination of the holy places.”33
Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood fully agrees with Al-Qaeda regarding Palestine, basing its position on the Islamic faith and on jihad as the way of achieving the final goal. That goal is the destruction of the State of Israel and the establishment of a state ruled by Islamic law on its ruins. Leiken and Brooke’s claim that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has moderate views regarding Israel is extremely strange, to say the least. Qaradawi is known for his radical fatwas, for providing religious Islamic justification for carrying out suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, for a fatwa permitting Palestinian women to carry out such attacks,34 for brainwashing Palestinian youth into joining the jihad, and for raising funds for charitable societies in the Palestinian Authority affiliated with Hamas.35 Sheikh Qaradawi, considered Hamas’ spiritual mentor, is well known in the Muslim world, is often interviewed, and often expresses his opinions publicly. Thus it is particularly strange that his views were not known to Leiken and Brooke.
Like Zawahiri, Qaradawi’s view of the Jews is filtered through religious hatred. He has written that “today the Jews are not the Israelites praised by Allah, but the descendants of the Israelites who defied His word. Allah was angry with them and turned them into monkeys and pigs, and that is why they are called a stiff-necked race. Allah pledged they would suffer until they gave up their tyranny, corruption, and crime, which is what they have employed in Palestine. Among the slaves of Allah, the faithful will be those who carry out Allah’s pledge regarding the Jews.” He also said that today the Jews have the same character faults as the Jews in the Qur’an, “they are evil, deceitful, and violate agreements.”36 The future will lead to a total victory of Muslims over Jews: “There is no doubt,” he said, “that the battle in which the Muslims overcome the Jews [will come]…. In that battle the Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them.”37
Leiken and Brooke: The Muslim Brotherhood is Not an International Organization with a Single Agenda
According to Leiken and Brooke, there is no Islamist Comintern. The Brotherhood’s dreaded International Organization is in fact a loose and feeble coalition scarcely able to convene its own members….The ideological affiliations that link Brotherhood organizations internationally are subject to the national priorities that shape each individually.
In a December 2005 interview with the London-based daily newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, ‘Akef boasted that the movement was “the largest organization in the world,” and said that “a [Muslim] person who is in the global arena and believes in the Muslim Brotherhood’s path is considered part of us and we are part of him.”38 In a different interview he revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood operated in more than 70 countries. When asked if the Muslim Brotherhood leader served all the movement’s branches, he answered that it did, saying “the Muslim Brothers have the same guide [leader] all over the world. And [the heads of the movement's branches] outside Egypt have the title of Inspector General. Every region is free to make its own decisions and determine its own policy, but there are certain general issues on which we take a stand.”39
In an in-depth interview with Al-Jazeera, Yusuf Nada, the Muslim Brotherhood’s “foreign minister,” explained the relations between the world leadership in Egypt and the various branches around the world. He said that the movement had one guide [i.e., Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akef] and no other. There were, he said, representatives who met for specific purposes. When asked if the Shura council operated the various branches, Nada answered in the affirmative.40
In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Sheikh Kamal Helbawy, the founder of the Muslim Association of Britain and one of the founders of the Muslim Council of Britain, revealed how the Muslim Brotherhood operated globally. He said there was “coordination at the global level… similar to federal [coordination]. Meetings and consultations are held [regularly]….Every aspect is the subject of consultations….The Muslim Brotherhood’s main headquarters are in Egypt, and the Supreme Guide is Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akef. There are independent organizations [i.e., within the federal structure] outside Egypt….International coordination has not ceased and will never cease, unless there are the means [for collaboration], which will hopefully bring about…the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate following the path of the prophet [Muhammad]….Coordination is continuous in the Islamic movement [the Muslim Brotherhood] between regions, not individuals. The regions choose whoever is capable of participating in international coordination [that is, in the Shura council]….In regions where Islamic movement activity is just beginning, the focus is usually on construction, education, and studies, guided by activists preparing for the future.”41
Therefore, it can be seen that Muslim Brotherhood authority rests with the Supreme Guide, Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akef, but the branches in the various host countries are able to act independently as necessary. The situation of Muslim Brotherhood activists in Syria, where the organization’s activities are banned by law, is different from that in Jordan, where they can operate freely. Every branch throughout the world is committed to the movement’s ideology as set down by Hassan al-Banna and to the decisions made by the world leadership. Thus the policies expressed by ‘Akef are binding and are the true voice of the movement.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Goals
Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a staunch Islamist, who in the past was a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, issued a fatwa in April 2003, describing how Islam would conquer Europe and defeat Christianity by exploiting Western liberalism and democracy. It would be made possible, he promised, by spreading Islam until it was strong enough to take over the entire continent. He wrote that “it is eminently clear that the future belongs to Islam, and that the religion of Allah will be victorious and will, by the grace of Allah, conquer all other religions.” His prediction was based on an Islamic tradition according to which the prophet Muhammad said that one of the signs of redemption in Islam would be the initial conquest of Constantinople and then the conquest of Rome.
According to Qaradawi, “Constantinople was conquered in 1453 by a 23-year old Ottoman named Muhammad ibn Murad, whom we call Muhammad the Conqueror. Now what remains is to conquer Rome. That is what we wish for, and that is what we believe in. After having been expelled twice, Islam will be victorious and reconquer Europe….I am certain that this time, victory will be won not by the sword but by preaching and [Islamic] ideology….The conquest of Rome and the spread of Islam East and West will be the fruit of the seed we plant and entail the return of the Caliphate, which treads the straight path [of Islam] and is based on the path of the prophets….[The Caliphate] is worthy of leading the nation to victory.”42
Like Qaradawi, ‘Akef does not hide the Muslim Brotherhood’s aspirations to lead a world Islamic revolution. He has stated that “the path of the Muslims is global,” and Islam is the “religion of humanity.” The Caliphate, he explained, is “the home of the entire [Islamic] nation, not only of the Muslim Brotherhood….We want…the Arab-Muslim world to be one nation, relying on the words of Allah: ‘This is your nation, one nation.’”43
At a meeting of the National Defense and Security Committee of the Egyptian Parliament, held in January 2007, Muslim Brotherhood parliament member Mohammed Shaker Sanar openly admitted that the Muslim Brotherhood was not committed to Western democratic values. He said that nothing about the organization had changed. “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.”44
This year newly revealed federal court documents, accepted into evidence during the trial of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, revealed further the inner thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood about its global mission. A sixteen-page Arabic document, entitled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal of the Group,” established that it sought to create “a stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood.” In explaining the “role” of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America, the memorandum discloses: “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 God’s religion [i.e. Islam] is made victorious over all other religions.”45
Conclusion and Evaluation
The thesis presented by Leiken and Brooke was inspired by impressions received during conversations with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose names are not mentioned and who are quoted neither fully nor accurately. It is clear that both Leiken and Brooke were duped by the ambiguity of their interlocutors’ rhetoric, which was tailored for Western ears and meant to lull suspicions and hide genuine intentions. Leiken and Brooke were deeply impressed by the support given by the Muslim Brotherhood for “democracy,” but they failed to understand that for the Muslim Brotherhood and the West, the word has two completely different meanings. As far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, Islamic rule expresses “true democracy,” and that is the only kind to which they are committed.
The Muslim Brotherhood poses a serious threat to the West. It hides behind ambiguous terminology, which makes the organization appear moderate and enables it to operate freely in its host countries, thereby establishing a convenient base from which to disseminate radical Islamic ideology among the growing Muslim communities. Once that has been achieved, demography and radically-minded public opinion will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to take over a government by “democratic” means. That will signal the last day of Western democracy in that country and the installation of an Islamic government, whose objective will be to export radical Islamic rule to other countries, the next step in realizing the vision of a world Caliphate. In Europe the sand is running out, and a showdown with the Muslim Brotherhood is closer than anyone suspects. However, to a certain extent, the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict delays the realization of Islamic aspirations in Western Europe.
As far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, Spain is an occupied country, as are other regions in Europe that were once under Islamic control. The organization’s “pragmatism” is manifested by its willingness to postpone a confrontation until it has garnered sufficient political (or military) power to shake the ruling governments to their foundations and effect a complete reversal. The collapse of the moderate Arab regimes into radical Islamic hands is likely to accelerate the empowering of an Islamic state that regards the West and its culture as the chief enemy.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda differ regarding tactics but share a common strategy. Al-Qaeda favors world Islamic recruitment for a revolution made possible by terrorist attacks and an implacable jihad to destroy the economies of the Western countries and expel Western presence from Muslim regions. The Muslim Brotherhood supports terrorism and jihad against foreign presence in the Islamic world, but its top priority is constructing a Muslim infrastructure in the West that will slowly but surely enable it to rule during the 21st century. The organization’s stance is that an Al-Qaeda attack against the West at this time might hamper the Islamic movement’s buildup and focus the West on the threat implicit in Muslim communities. However, as far as the final goal is concerned, there are no policy differences between Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. The two organizations have the same objective: to place the entire world under an Islamic caliphate.
The Muslim Brotherhood is involved in terrorism and provides religious Islamic justification for suicide bombing, terrorism, and terrorist attacks against American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jihad in all its aspects, including military, is perceived as the prime tool in the battle against the West. It is difficult to find a common set of interests for the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood, as do Leiken and Brooke. Collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood, while turning a blind eye to their intentions, both overt and hidden, is tantamount to paving the way for their “democratic” takeover of the moderate Arab regimes (similar to the bitter experience of the Legislative Council elections in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006) and for harming the United States’ most vital interests in the Middle East. It is not easy to understand why Leiken and Brooke have recommended that the American administration consider the Muslim Brotherhood a potential partner, given that the United States is its principal enemy. The organization actively seeks to destroy America’s status as a world power and to replace it with an Islamic power whose foreign policy will be based on jihad and the spread of Islam.
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1. Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007. For an initial response to Leiken and Brooke, see Patrick Poole, “Mainstreaming the Muslim Brotherhood,” Front Page Magazine, March 26, 2007.
2. MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 941.
3. ”Warnings in the Egyptian Press: The Muslim Brotherhood Is Going the Way of Hamas in Gaza,” MEMRI, Special Dispatch, No. 1638, June 28, 2007.
4. Montasser al-Zayat, The Road to Al-Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man (London: Pluto Books, 2004), p. 24.
5. 9/11 Commission Report, p. 145.
6. Robert Baer, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002), pp. 86-88.
7. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, (New York : Penguin, 2004), pp. 147-156.
8. See: http://www.forward.com/articles/ex-officials-push-engagement-with-hamas-hezbollah/
9. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Eighth Report (London: The United Kingdom Parliament, July 25, 2007), Section 5, No. 161. See: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmfaff/363/36308.htm.
10. Richard P. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 224-231.
17. http://web.archive.org/web/20060206153332/ikhwanonline.com/Principles.asp; http://web.archive.org/web/20060206153300/ikhwanonline.com/Procedure.asp
25. Ami Ayalon, ed., Middle East Contemporary Survey (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1991), pp. 182-184
26. http://www.thenation.com/blogs/capitalgames?bid=3&pid=8552, http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm, http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2000/2441.htm
27. See British Intelligence document in Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 263-267.
28. Al-Quds al-Arabi, July 5, 2007.
37. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1122528600808&pagename=IslamOnline-Arabic-Ask_Scholar %2FFatwaA%2FFatwaAAskTheScholar
38. Al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), December 11, 2005.
45. “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America,” May 22, 1991.
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Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.