The Muslim Brothers (Arabic: الإخوان المسلمون al-ikhwān al-muslimūn, full title The Society of the Muslim Brothers, often simply الإخوان al-ikhwān, the Brotherhood or MB) is a transnational Sunni movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab nations, particularly Egypt. The world's oldest and largest Islamist group was founded by the Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928.
These groups are dedicated to the credo:
Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
Since its inception in 1928 the movement has officially opposed violent means to achieve its goals, with some exceptions such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to overthrow secular Ba'athist rule in Syria (see Hama massacre). This official position has been questioned, particularly by the Egyptian government who accused it of a campaign of killings in Egypt after World War II.
The Brotherhood has been described as both unjustly oppressed and dangerously violent. Members have been arbitrarily arrested; in Egypt the government has obstructed the party's attempts to field candidates in elections, with arrests or harassment of activists and obstruction of voting in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds. However, supporters of the Brotherhood have demonstrated violence on their part in many occasions and have often clashed with supporters of other parties, specifically the NDP in Egypt. Outside of Egypt, the group's political activity has been described as evolving away from modernism and reformism towards a more traditional, "rightist conservative" stance. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Kuwait opposes suffrage for women.
Among the Brotherhood's more influential members was Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was the author of one of Islamism's most important books, Milestones, which called for the restoration of Islam by re-establishing the Sharia and by using "physical power and Jihad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system, which he believed to include the entire Muslim world. While studying at university, Osama bin Laden claimed to have been influenced by the religious and political ideas of several professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood including both Sayyid Qutb and his brother Muhammad Qutb. With a bit of clarification it is easy to see the Brotherhood's theology and methods are opposed to those of bin Laden, and that they are "reformist," "democratic," "non-violent" and "chiefly political. However some journalists have reported the opposite.
The Brotherhood is financed by contributions from its members who are required to allocate portion of their income to the movement. Most of these contributions come from members living in oil-rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
On the issue of women and gender the Muslim Brotherhood interprets Islam quite strictly. Its founder called for "a campaign against ostentation in dress and loose behavior," "segregation of male and female students," a separate curriculum for girls, and "the prohibition of dancing and other such pastimes..."
The Brotherhood is one of the most influential movements in the Islamic world, and especially so in the Arab world. It was founded in Egypt and Egypt is considered the center of the movement; it is generally weaker in the Maghreb, or North Africa, than in the Arab Levant. Brotherhood branches form the main opposition to the governments in several countries in the Arab world, such as Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and are politically active to some extent in nearly every Muslim country , possibly excluding Turkey. There are also diaspora branches in several Western nations and in south and east Asia, composed by immigrants previously active in the Brotherhood in their home countries.
The movement is immensely influential in many Muslim countries, and where legally possible, it often operates important networks of Islamic charities, creating a support base among Muslim poor. However, most of the countries where the Brotherhood is active are ruled by non-pluralist regimes. As a consequence, the movement is banned in several Arab nations, and restrictions on political activity prevent it from gaining power through elections.
The MB is a movement, not a political party, but has created separate political parties in several countries, such as the Islamic Action Front in Jordan and Hamas in Palestine. These parties are staffed by Brotherhood members but kept independent from the MB to some degree.
The Brotherhood itself denounces the "catchy and effective terms and phrases" like "fundamentalist" and "political Islam" which it claims are used by "Western Media" to pigeonhole the group, and points to its "15 Principles" for an Egyptian National Charter, including "freedom of personal conviction... ... opinion... forming political parties... public gatherings... free and fair elections...
It has the following divisions (not complete): - Executive leadership - Organisational office - Secretariat general - Education office - Political office - Sisters office
In each country there is a Branch committee with a Masul (leader) appointed by the General Executive leadership with essential the same Branch-divisions as the Executive office has. To the duties of every branch belongs fundraising, infiltrating in and overtaking other muslim organisations for sake of uniting the muslims to dedicate them to the general goals of the MB.
The general goals and strategic plans of the MB are only found in Arabic documents. One for Europe called "The Project" is found in 2001 in Switzerland, another for North America is found in 2005 called the "General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America, an evaluation of this Memorandum is made for US-Congress and for the Pentagon. Their influence is fast growing, especially in Europe, but not easy to trace while the active members have to keep their membership secret.
One citation from the document "General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America make the objectives of the MB clear: "The process of settlement is a 'Civilization-Jihadist Process' with all the word means. 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 is made victorious over all other religions."
Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Ismailia in March 1928 along with six workers of the Suez Canal Company. It began as a religious, political, and social movement with the credo, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.” Al-Banna called for the return to an original Islam and followed Islamic reformers like Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida. According to him, contemporary Islam had lost its social dominance, because most Muslims had been corrupted by Western influences. Sharia law based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah were seen as laws passed down by Allah that should be applied to all parts of life, including the organization of the government and the handling of everyday problems. The Brotherhood also saw itself as a political and social movement Al-Banna strived to be a populist. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed to want to protect the workers against the tyranny of foreign and monopolist companies. It founded social institutions such as hospitals, pharmacies, schools, etc. However, in addition to holding conservative views on issues such as women's rights, it was from the start extremely hostile to independent working-class and popular organisations such as trade unions. This is disputed however by William Cleveland, who points out that the Muslim Brotherhood became involved with the labour movement early on, and supported efforts to create trades unions and unemployment benefits.
By 1936, it had 800 members, then this number increased greatly to up to 200,000 by 1938. By 1948, the Brotherhood had about half a million members. Robin Hallett says: "By the late 1940s the Brotherhood was reckoned to have as many as 2 million members, while it strong Pan-Islamic ideas had gained it supporters in other Arab lands". The Muslim Brotherhood also tried to build up something like an Islamist International, thus founding groups in Lebanon (in 1936), Syria (1937), and Transjordan (1946). It also recruited among the foreign students in Cairo. Its headquarters in Cairo became a center and meeting place for representative from the whole Muslim world.
In November 1948 police seized an automobile containing the documents and plans of what is thought to be the Brotherhood's "secret apparatus" with names of its members. The seizure was preceded by an assortment of bombings and assassination attempts by the apparatus. Subsequently 32 of its leaders are arrested and its offices raided. The next month the Egyptian Prime Minister of Egypt, Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi, ordered the dissolution of the Brotherhood.
In what is thought to be retaliation for these acts, a member of the Brotherhood, veterinary student Abdel Meguid Ahmed Hassan, assassinated the Prime Minister on December 28, 1948. A month and half later Al-Banna himself was killed in Cairo by men believed to be government agents and/or supporters of the murdered premier.
The Brotherhood has been an illegal organization, tolerated to varying degrees, since 1954 when it was convicted of the attempt to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, head of the Egyptian government. The group had denied involvement in the incident and accused the government of staging the incident to use it as a pretext to persecute the group and its members. On this basis from 1954 until Nasser's death in 1971, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members were systemically tortured under Nasser's secular regime, highlighted in Zainab al Ghazali's Return of the Pharaoh. Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, promised the Brotherhood that shari'a would be implemented as the Egyptian law and released all of the Brotherhood prisoners. However, as a result of Sadat signing a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, an Islamic group other than the Brotherhood assassinated Sadat in September, 1981.
The Brotherhood is still periodically subjected to mass arrests. It remains an extremely opposition group in Egypt, advocating Islamic reform, democratic system and maintaining a vast network of support through Islamic charities working among poor Egyptians. The political direction it has been taking lately has tended towards more moderate Islamism and Islamic Democracy, somewhat more anti-Western than and a degree to right of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood's candidates, who must run as independents due to their illegality as a political party, won 88 seats (20% of the total) to form the largest opposition bloc. The electoral process was marred by many irregularities, including the arrest of hundreds of Brotherhood members. On the other hand observers such as Jameel Theyabi, writing in an op-ed for Dar Al-Hayat, noted that a December 2006 Muslim Brotherhood military parade and the "wearing of uniforms, displaying the phrase, 'We Will be Steadfast', and the drills involving martial arts, betray the group's intent to plan for the creation of militia structures, and a return by the group to the era of 'secret cells'....
Meanwhile, approved opposition parties won only 14 seats. This revived the debate within the Egyptian political elite about whether the Brotherhood should remain banned.
General leaders (G.L) or Mentors of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt المرشد العام لجماعة الإخوان المسلمون
After the Six Day War when occupation started, Israel, usually through the Mossad, looked to cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism. One of Israel's first actions after the war was to release various Muslim Brotherhood activists from prison, including Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the future founder of Hamas. From there, political Islamism grew exponentially. Between 1967 and 1987, the year Hamas was founded, the number of mosques in Gaza tripled from 200 to 600. (Dreyfuss 2006) Likewise, antagonistic and sometimes violent opposition to Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization and other secular nationalist groups increased dramatically in the streets and on university campuses.
The Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, founded in 1987 in Gaza, is a wing of the Brotherhood , formed out of Brotherhood-affiliated charities that had gained a strong foothold among the local population. During the First Intifada (1987-93), Hamas militarized and transformed into one of the most violent Palestinian militant groups.
Hamas had refused to accept the 1993 Oslo Accords, and has, particularly during the al-Aqsa Intifada, launched a series of attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. This led many governments, including the USA, Canada, and the European Union, to label Hamas terrorist movement, while the prevailing view in the Arab-Muslim world has been that Hamas is carrying out a war of legitimate resistance.
In the general elections of January 2006, Hamas swept to victory, claiming 74 out of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Palestine, while still under occupation, thus became the only present-day Arab nation where the Muslim brotherhood has gained power through democratic elections. However, when the movement later formed the first non-Fatah government, this engendered considerable controversy, as Western governments refused to deal with a group that they had formally listed as a terrorist organization. This has caused an economic crisis for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), as these governments withheld the foreign aid that is the main source of the PNA's income. While these developments are primarily a part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are also closely monitored by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in other countries, and seen as a setback to its strategy of participating in democratic elections.
Among the most prominent leaders of Hamas are Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of the movement who was assassinated by Israel in March 2004, his successor Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, who was also assassinated by Israel in April 2004, and Mahmoud al-Zahar. The political head of the movement is now Khaled Mashal, a hardliner living in exile in Syria, who survived an assassination attempt by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1997.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Israel -the Islamic Movement- is divided between the southern and northern branches. The southern branch is represented in the Knesset, Israel's parliament while the northern radical branch boycotts Israeli elections.
At that time Navab Safavi was an associate and ally of Ayatollah Khomeini who went on to become a figure in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Safavi is thought to have influenced Khomeini with the ideas of the Brotherhood Khomeini and other religious figures in Iran worked to establish Islamic unity and downplay Shia-Sunni differences.
Also, in the north of Iraq there are several Islamic movements inspired by or part of the Muslim Brotherhood network. The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) holds seats in the Kurdish parliament, and is the main political force outside the dominance of the two main secularist parties, the PUK and KDP.
Always close to Egyptian politics, Sudan has had a Muslim Brotherhood presence since 1949. In 1945, a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt visited Sudan and held various meetings inside the country advocating and explaining their ideology. Sudan has a long and deep history with the Muslim Brotherhood compared to many other countries. By April 1949, the first branch of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood organization emerged. However, simultaneously, many Sudanese students studying in Egypt were introduced to the ideology of the Brotherhood. The Muslim student groups also began organizing in the universities during the 1940s, and the Brotherhood’s main support base has remained to be college educated. In order to unite them, in 1954, a conference was held, attended by various representatives from different groups that appeared to have the same ideology. The conference voted to establish a Unified Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood Organization based on the teachings of Imam Hassan Al-banna.
An offshoot of the Sudanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Charter Front grew during the 1960, with Islamic scholar Hasan al-Turabi becoming its Secretary general in 1964. The Islamic Charter Front (ICM) was renamed several times most recently being called the National Islamic Front (NIF). Turabi has been the prime architect of the NIF as a modern Islamist party. He worked within the Institutions of the government, which led to a prominent position of his organization in the country. NIF supported women's right to vote and ran women candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood/NIF's main objective in Sudan was to Islamize the society "from above" and to institutionalize the Islamic law throughout the country where they succeeded. The Brotherhood penetrated into the ruling political organizations, the state army and security personal, the national and regional assemblies, the youth and women organizations of Sudan. They also launched their own mass organizations among the youth and women such as the shabab al-binna, and raidat al-nahda, and launched educational campaigned to Islamize the communities throughout the country. At the same time, they gained control of several newly founded Islamic missionary and relief organizations to spread their ideology. The Brotherhood members took control of the newly established Islamic Banks as directors, administrators, employees and legal advisors, which became a source of power for the Brotherhood.
The Sudanese government has come under considerable criticism for its human rights policies, links to terrorist groups, and war in southern Sudan and Darfur.
The conservatism of at least some elements of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood was highlighted in a August 3, 2007 Al-Jazeera television interview of Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Sadeq Abdallah bin Al-Majed. As translated by the Israeli-based MEMRI, Bin Al-Majed told his interviewer that "the West, and the Americans in particular ... are behind all the tragedies that are taking place in Darfur," as they "realized that it Darfur is full of treasures"; that "Islam does not permit a non-Muslim to rule over Muslims;" and that he had issued a fatwa prohibiting the vaccination of children, on the grounds that the vaccinations were "a conspiracy of the Jews and Freemasons.
The chairman of the organization is Dr. Ali Shiekh, who is also the President of Mogadishu University. During the 1990s, Al-Islah devoted much effort to humanitarian efforts and providing free basic social services. They are also known to have contributed to educating the Somali people. The leaders of Al-Islah played a key role in the educational network and establishing Mogadishu University. Through their network, they educate more than 120,000 students in the city of Mogadishu. In Somalia, they are known to be a peaceful organization that does not participate in any factional fighting and rejects the use of violence.
Today the group's membership includes urban professionals and students. According to a Crisis Group Report, Somalia’s Islamists, “Al-Islah organization is dominated by a highly educated urban elite whose professional, middle class status and extensive expatriate experiences are alien to most Somalis.” Although Al-Islah have been criticized by some hardcore Islamists who considered them to be influenced by imperialist western values, Al-Islah speaks of democratic peaceful Somalia. They promote women's rights, human rights, and other Western ideas, which they argue that these concepts originate from Islamic concepts. Al-Islah is gaining momentum in the Somali societies for their humanitarian work and moderate view of Islam.
Dr. Ezzudine Ibrahim was one of the most influential founders of the Brotherhood in Libya. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Brotherhood was a religious and intellectual tendency in Libya and had many followers amongst the intellectuals and students in the university campuses, and by the mid 1970s it developed a structured Brotherhood organization. The Brotherhood in Libya limited itself to peaceful social, political, economic, and cultural activities.
Soon after coming to power, Muammar al-Gaddafi regarded the Brotherhood a potential source of opposition. He arrested many Egyptian Brothers and expelled them back to Egypt. In 1973, the security services arrested and tortured members of the Libyan Brotherhood banning the organization and forcing it underground. The secrecy phase helped the Brotherhood to become more popular. The Brotherhood operated secretly in groups of interlinked cells, which was spread in the country. The brotherhood remained underground until the end of 1970s. At the beginning of 1980s, the Brotherhood renamed itself the “Libyan Islamic Group” (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya al-Libyia) and tried to re-introduce themselves into the Libyan society. On March 2, 2006, the Libyan government released 132 members of the Muslim Brotherhood that were held as political prisoners.
Their core ideology, strategy, operations and membership are the same as Brotherhood groups in other countries: it seeks to replace the existing regime with one following Sharia law through what it claims are peaceful means. It has an active charitable and welfare wing and has attracted many members of the middle classes, mainly academics, students, engineers and business people. The group has been strengthened by the large number of Libyan students who became member or supporters of the Brotherhood while studying abroad in the United Kingdom and the United States, and have returned home to spread its ideology. .
Organizations in the US started by activists involved with the Muslim Brotherhood include the Muslim Students Association in 1963, North American Islamic Trust in 1971, the Islamic Society of North America in 1981, the American Muslim Council in 1990, the Muslim American Society in 1992, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought in the 1980s. According to the Washington Post, Muslim activists say MSA's members represent "all schools of Islam and political leanings -- many are moderates, while others express anti-U.S. views or support violence against Israelis."
The Holy Land Foundation trial has led to the release as evidence of several documents on the Muslim Brotherhood In one of these documents, "Ikhwan in America", it is revealed that the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US include going to camps to do weapons training (referred to as Special work by the Muslim Brotherhood), as well as engaging in counter-espionage against US government agencies such as the FBI and CIA (referred to as Securing the Group).
Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005.
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