10 questions with the editors of the Global Muslim Brotherhood Report

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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The Global Muslim Brotherhood Report is a serious and sober online website that tracks the happenings of the Muslim Brotherhood network around the world.

It was started, according to the editors, “because few were discussing what we call the Global Muslim Brotherhood, seemingly unaware of or ignoring the existence of this global network.” The site seeks to “give interested parties a place to come for daily developments in the Global Muslim Brotherhood as we were tracking them.”

The editors of the site choose to remain anonymous because of the “extraordinary lengths that the global Muslim Brotherhood would go to harass, defame, or slander its critics.”

“We saw this happen to others, including venerable university presses and leading news organizations and with the recent controversy over the resignation of the Obama campaign’s Muslim outreach director,” the site explains. “Hence we made the decision to let the information, often originating from the Brotherhood and its affiliates, and backed by public records, speak for itself, and not get lost in the distraction created by Brotherhood harassment campaigns.”

Recently, The Daily Caller reached out to the editors of the site and they agreed to answer 10 questions from TheDC about the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, which has become ever more relevant with the turmoil in Egypt:

1. What are the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood?

It must be remembered that at its heart, the Muslim Brotherhood is a covert organization albeit with a public face and there is discordance between its public and private positions. Although the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, along with the whole of the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, proclaims it support for democracy, the motto of the organization remains as it always has been:

– 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.

In practical terms, the Brotherhood attempts to gain as much influence for itself as it is able, presumably in the service of its long term vision. Its ability to gain power and influence varies from country to country according to the conditions “on the ground.” That said, its has already been noted that the Global Muslim Brotherhood is a covert organization at its heart and much remains to be learned about its true nature. For example, a secret document unearthed in a U.S. terrorism trial revealed the thinking of a senior Global Muslim Brotherhood leader close to Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, the most important leader in the global Muslim Brotherhood network who lives in Qatar, and which said:

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.

2. Some commentators have suggested that fear of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is overblown. Is fear of the Muslim Brotherhood having a significant influence in a post-Mubarak Egypt, or even taking control in a post-Mubarak Egypt, actually overblown?

A fear can only be said to be “overblown” if it is out of proportion to the threat which is represented, so the question cannot be answered until the threat is examined.

3. Does the Muslim Brotherhood have significant support in Egypt? What percentage of the vote would they get if elections were held and they chose to participate?

Clearly the Muslim Brotherhood does have significant support in Egypt although nobody can say exactly how much and what percentage of the vote they would get in truly free elections. In the 2005 parliamentary elections they won 88 seats (20% of the total) to form the largest opposition bloc.

4. There is a view in some quarters that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t believe in violence but only spreading their message through da’wa (preaching). Is this so?

This is simply not true. In general, the Muslim Brotherhood publicly holds to the doctrine of “defensive jihad”, the idea that a violent response is justified where Muslims or their land or honor is under attack.

For example, the whole of the Global Muslim Brotherhood supports Hamas, whose charter says they are part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and provides significant financial and other assistance, notably through a global coalition of charities headed by Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. Qaradawi himself has ruled repeatedly that suicide bombings against Israel are justified as a form of resistance to what it sees as Israel’s occupation of Muslim lands.

In other cases, Islam is to be spread though da’wa (preaching) and Sheikh Qaradawi famously said “We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America, not through the sword but through da’wa.”

5. What would a Muslim Brotherhood controlled (or significantly influenced) Egypt look like internally?

We generally don’t like to make predictions and this is really impossible to know. Some analysts are looking to Iran or to the Hamas government in Gaza as examples but Egypt is a very different place with its own unique culture and environment. We will simply have to wait and see how events play out.

6. If the Muslim Brotherhood took control of Egypt (or was at least a significant influence in the government), how would Egypt’s foreign policy change? Do you believe war with Israel would be a serious possibility?

Clearly Egyptian foreign policy would change, although exactly how is again a matter of speculation. That said, the Brotherhood is implacably opposed to Israel and, less well known, views itself in a cosmic struggle with worldwide Judaism, viewed by the Brotherhood as dead set on the destruction of Islam.

As for going to war with Israel, Egypt is not in a position economically to put itself entirely at odds with the West given its reliance on U.S. aid, tourism, and economic relationships. However, rational economic calculus is not always in operation. The most likely result is an attempt to bring Egypt into the Syria/Iran/Hamas axis which would certainly make life more difficult for U.S. policy makers. Also, it is unlikely that Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood influence would continue the close count-terrorism cooperation with the U.S.

7. What connection is their between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, if any? And would the Muslim Brotherhood provide a safe haven to al-Qaeda if they were able to gain power?

In general, as many have observed, they are competitors for influence within the Islamic world but this does not mean there is some kind of firewall between the two movements. Important individuals sometimes manage to crossover or to function within both networks (Abdul Majeed al-Zindani in Yemen for example) and sometimes the same Gulf sources have been found to be funding both.

At times, we have seem al-Qaeda and/or related jihadist networks being “grafted” onto Muslim Brotherhood charities, although it is not clear if this is done with the consent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps the best place to look for a template of future relations is Gaza where Hamas is in control. As far as we know, there are al-Qaeda and Jihadist groups operating in Gaza, although they have at times come into armed conflict with the Hamas authorities.

8. What are the most important things Americans should know about the Muslim Brotherhood?

The most important thing for Americans to understand is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not only an Egyptian organization but a worldwide network that has a presence and influence in the West, including within the U.S. That said, it appears that the debate about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. is largely being conducted along partisan political lines which is not helpful if the true threat is to be identified and countered.

9. How influential is the Muslim Brotherhood in countries outside of Egypt?

That question has to be answered on a country by country basis but in general, the Global Muslim Brotherhood groups have managed by virtue of superior funding and organizational abilities to position themselves as the “mainstream” representatives of the Muslim population in each country where they are present. Thus, they are in a position to shape the debate about both domestic and international issues of importance. In the U.S., Global Muslim Brotherhood groups have been welcomed as partners with the U.S. government at many levels and in Europe, the group representing the Global Muslim Brotherhood has a visible presence and partnership with important European Union institutions.

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.)

As a result of this global dispersal, the Muslim Brotherhood today has become a global network, referred to by us as the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian “mother branch” is not necessarily the most important part of the movement. In fact Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, resident in Qatar, is the most important leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood network and in 2004 turned down the offer to lead the Egyptian Brotherhood after the death of its leader, known as the Supreme Guide. Much remains to be learned about the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, its funding, and how it is coordinated.

Meanwhile, following the attempt on Nasser’s life, many members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood were held in prison where they were sometimes tortured. Following a minor thaw in 1964, Sayyid Qutb, one of the imprisoned Muslim Brothers, was released from prison and subsequently developed a new ideology, arguing that since the Muslim states were no longer authentically Islamic, they must be overthrown by violent revolution. Although Qutb was executed in 1966, his thought became highly influential and many analysts believe was important to al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman Zawahiri, who went on to become a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and later a mentor of Osama bin Laden. The Egyptian Brotherhood tried to distance itself from Qutb’s thought and has since maintained that it holds a non-violent ideology, but some have questioned this distinction and it should be noted that the current leader of the Egyptian Brotherhood is known to be favorable toward Qutb.

Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser in 1970, began releasing the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhoods whom he saw as a useful ally against Communism and other leftist forces. Sadat turned against the Brotherhood after they opposed his signing of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and was assassinated by a violent Islamist group on October 6, 1981.

Under the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood once again began gaining strength in the 1980s and came to dominate many of the professional and student associations. In 1992, the government began a new round of action against the Brotherhood including mass arrests. Despite these actions, Brotherhood candidates, forced to run as Independents due to a prohibition on the group, enjoyed some parliamentary successes and in the 2005 parliamentary election, won 88 seats (20% of the total) to form the largest opposition bloc. In the November 2010 elections, the Brotherhood won virtually no seats in what was widely acknowledged to be a rigged election.