World

10 questions with the editors of the Global Muslim Brotherhood Report

10. For readers who may not know, can you provide a brief history of the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by a 22 year old Hassan El-Banna, a school teacher and son of a prominent local Islamic cleric. El-Banna was disturbed by what he saw as the westernization and secularization of Egypt under British colonial rule and believed that Islam must return to its earlier, “pure” form. He believed that Islam was not merely a set of religious practices but rather a comprehensive guide to all aspects of life including political rule. El-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood employed sophisticated organizing techniques to build a base of support centered on mosques, social welfare organizations, and neighborhood groups; combining religious piety with political fervor and taking on social issues and causes important in the Islamic world.

During WWII, the Brotherhood maintained close ties to the Nazis and sent  volunteers to fight in the 1948 Arab war against Israel. Its paramilitary organization, known as the “Secret Apparatus”, was involved in bomb attacks against Jews in Cairo and the assassination of an Egyptian judge. The Egyptian government banned the organization in December 1948, impounded its assets, and jailed many of its members. Less than three weeks later, the prime minister was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood, followed by the assassination of El-Banna himself in February 1949, likely on the orders of the government.

Following years of turmoil, the Egyptian Brotherhood supported the nationalist revolution of Gamal Abdal Nasser in 1952 but after the successful revolution, the relationship soured and on 26 October, a member of the Secret Apparatus fired shots at Nasser while he was making a speech. The Brotherhood was officially dissolved, its headquarters burned, and thousands of its members arrested. Some of the Brotherhood’s leaders were imprisoned while others were hanged.

Far less known than this early history of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is the development of a global network of individuals and organizations that developed as Muslim Brotherhood members dispersed to other countries while fleeing the crackdowns on the organization in Egypt. After the events of 1954, thousands of Muslim Brothers fled Egypt for other Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, where they became particularly influential, helping the Saudis to establish well-funded religious organizations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). Many of these Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) also settled in Europe and the United States where they went on to found what have become the some of the most prominent Islamic organizations in their new home countries. (Although the Egyptian Brotherhood has acknowledged a presence in over 70 countries, with the exception of Jordan and Syria, none identify themselves as such.)