Muslim Brotherhood

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Originally formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher, the Muslim Brotherhood became a widespread conservative Islamic organization, based on Wahhabism. It began as the Ottoman Empire broke down, and spread into education and politics.[1] While Egyptian at its core, affiliated organizations exist in a number of Muslim states. As it becomes more involved in the Egyptian political process, may be open to a multiparty system. In many respects, it is the ancestor of most modern Islamic political groups.

Brotherhood sympathizers hold independent seats in the Parliament and in influential posts. There are Brotherhood organizations in dozens of countries. Some more violent groups have spawned from the Brotherhood, including al-Jihad and the Islamic Group in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and mujahideen groups in Afghanistan.

The relationship of the Brotherhood to terrorism is unclear. It has denied violence since 1970, the U.S. government does not list it as terrorist, and it seeks involvement in Egyptian politics. Still, it remains distrusted and officially banned by Egypt. [2]

In the 2011 Egyptian protests, the Brotherhood has expressed willingness to be part of a coalition, supporting Mohamed El-Baradei. It appears to have been surprised by the sudden mass protests.[3]


With the movement toward Israeli independence, the Brotherhood took an anti-Zionist position, including terrorist acts in Israel, leading to its banning for a time. A Brotherhood member killed the Prime Minister, Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi, on December 28, 1948.

Al-Banna himself died mysteriously in Cairo in February, 1949, possibly at the hands of government agents.

It was reeestablished in 1948 and limited to religious activities. The Brotherhood was anti-colonialist, and independence from Britain was a major part of its platform. In 1940, Brotherhood members began to meet with Anwar Sadat, a member of Gamal Nasser's Young Officers movement; their cooperation increased in 1950-1952. By the time Nasser led the 1952 coup, however, he was strong enough not to need the Brotherhood and excluded them from the new government. By the time he forced British withdrawal in 1954, he banned them again in 1954 after they insisted on the imposition of sharia. Al-Banna had not planned for an Egyptian-ruled Egypt, and the Brotherhood struggled for a role.[4] In that time, Sayyid Qutb, who had been editor of the Brotherhood newspaper, wrote his book Signposts, comparing Nasser to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a secularizing influence.

In 1954, another activist attempted to assassinate President Gamel Nasser; six members were executed and thousands executed or exiled.

Nasser amnestied the group in 1964 in the hope of weakening the Arab Socialist Party. His successor, Anwar Sadat, promised sharia reform and released all Brotherhood prisoners. After he signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, he was assassinated in 1981.

Outside Egypt

In 1957, when Jordan banned political parties, the Brotherhood was exempted.

There is a recognized Brotherhood in Syria.

Ikwan-i-Musalamin was a youth group, primarily in Afghanistan but also Egypt and Saudi Arabia, linked to the Brotherhood.

U.S. relationship

In 2007, the United States intelligence community, in the George W. Bush Administration held informational meetings with Brotherhood representatives and analysts of the Brotherhood. [5] The Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the U.S. Department of State sponsored the meeting, a result of a paper, prepared for the National Intelligence Council supporting engagement. It was written by Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center, who was invited to present the case for engagement. He said "It is conceivable that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, aware Gaza could serve as an index, will try use its influence to get Hamas to be constructive," and commented that Egypt uses them as a back channel to Hamas. Leiken was invited to prepare the study after publishing an article, "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood", in Foreign Affairs.[6]

Opposing Leiken's view was Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute. While he would not provide his presentation to the press, his colleague, Zeyno Baran was cautious, saying "The thinking is that to deal with terrorism, we need to deal with Muslims who will take care of their communities so there will not be people here and there doing terrorism,...So we treat the brotherhood like an umbrella organization, like the Council on American Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America. You make them partners. They might Islamize the Muslims, but it's okay because they can think or do what they want as long as they are not violent. That is the misunderstanding and mistake."

On April 7, 2007, American legislators, including Rep. Steny Hoyer, attended a reception, at the U.S. Embassy to Egypt, at which Brotherhood representatives were present.

Current activity in Egypt

The group seems to be feeling its way toward political participation. Many members are nonviolent, if for no other reasons that violent former members, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, left it for more extreme groups.

In 2005, they elected 88 supporters to the legislature of 444 seats, facing increased opposition as they built momentum. [7] Dr. Mohamed El-Sayed Habib, First Deputy of the Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, pointed out that the ruling party still has a comfortable majority. The Brotherhood is principally concerned with:[8]

  • "political reform and constitutional amendment, bearing in mind that it represents the true and natural point of departure for all other kinds of reforms;
  • "education, scientific research and native development of technology since this constitutes the mainstay of resurgence and the basis for progress and advance.
  • "comprehensive development in all its dimensions: human, economic, social, cultural, etc.

In this regard, we cannot fail to emphasize the societal problems from which the Egyptian citizenry suffers, i.e. unemployment, inflation and increasing prices, housing crisis, health problems, environmental pollution, etc.

Habib said they did not see constitutional government as incompatible with Islam, and were engaged in dialogue with Coptic Christians whom they regarded as full Egyptians. After electoral successes in 2005, there was a conflict between the loyal core supporting the implementation of sharia law, and alienating the more moderate public. The controversial ideological issue were more important than economic matters.[9]

One developing issue is the role of women in the Brotherhood. While its 2007 platform granted them no leadership role, activists are challenging the position.[10]


  1. Muslim Brotherhood, Globalsecurity
  2. Mary Crane (April 5, 2005), Does the Muslim Brotherhood Have Ties to Terrorism?, Council on Foreign Relations
  3. Scott Atran (2 February 2011), "Egypt’s Bumbling Brotherhood", New York Times
  4. Milton Viorst (2001), In the Shadow of the Prophet, Westview Press, ISBN 0183339022, pp.52-56
  5. Brian Lake (20 June 2007), "Bush Weighs Reaching Out To ‘Brothers'", New York Sun
  6. Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke (May/June 2007), "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood", Foreign Affairs
  7. Sharon Otterman (December 1, 2005), Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections, Council on Foreign Relations
  8. Dr. Mohamed El-Sayed Habib, First Deputy of the Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Frequently Asked Questions, Muslim Brotherhood Official Website
  9. Dry Run for Legitimacy: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Political Party Platform, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 22, 2008
  10. Omayma Abdel-Latif (October 2008), In the Shadow of the Brothers: The Women of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace