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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Past and Present


The Muslim Brotherhood originated in Egypt. For close to a century, the Egyptian state and the Brotherhood have co-existed, mostly in conflict. Tarek Heggy, a respected Egyptian thinker, wrote the following "blog" published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo. Despite its obvious government flavor, the paper endeavors to provide a factually correct overview of the past and present of what is perhaps the world's largest and most influential semi-clandestine society.

    Over the past four years, a great deal of both scholarly work as well as media analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood has been produced, focusing in particular on its year in power in Egypt. What is striking is how partisan and politicized much of this literature is, particularly since the removal of the Brotherhood from power in 2013. Any mention of the Brotherhood frequently provokes polemical debates between writers and commentators, often falling across an East/West divide. As a result, much of what is published eschews balanced and objective analysis.

    It is against this backdrop that I was pleasantly surprised – while undertaking my most recent research project on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and its year in power in Egypt – to come across two thorough and incisive reports published by the British Nine (9) Bedford Row. The first report on “The History of the Muslim Brotherhood”, comprehensively documents the history and development of the Brotherhood since its establishment in 1928, as well as its organizational structure, ideology and method of expansion. The second report on “The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power”, discusses in meticulous detail the reasons for the rise and fall of the Brotherhood between 2012 and 2013.

    In this blog post, I will review and discuss some of the most important findings of 9 Bedford Row’s two reports, which highlight many unknown truths about the Brotherhood. It is my firm belief that the Brotherhood never had any intention of establishing a democratic state in Egypt, and that they simply attempted to manipulate democracy to achieve their own ends. The West tends to forget that the Brotherhood abused their year in government to hijack Egypt’s 2011 revolution and to consolidate their rule. Brotherhood figures have continued, to this day, to state that the organization is not committed to Western democratic values, which they believe do not honour the rule of God.

    In fact, the Brotherhood’s sinister objectives can only be understood upon closer scrutiny of its history of violence and its ties to Islamic extremist and terrorist groups. The first report by 9 Bedford Row is key to properly understanding this context.

  1. The Brotherhood’s History of Violence and ties to terrorism:

     Established in Egypt in 1928 to reinstate the Islamic Caliphate dissolved by Kemal Ataturk, ever since its earliest days the Brotherhood has embraced the rhetoric of violence. Hassan El-Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder “demanded controls over all media of communication,” as he regarded theatres, films, radio, popular music, and the press as promoting vice and immorality. He called for strict surveillance of public spaces and heavier punishments for “crimes against morality”. He tolerated and condoned acts of intolerance and violence against religious minorities as well as women who did not wear “correct Islamic attire” (paras 52-55).

     Because El-Banna sought to expand the Brotherhood’s reach as far as possible, the movement accommodated and at times encouraged militant and extremist reactionary elements. In fact, he went so far as to express his readiness to declare war against “every leader, every party and every organization” that did not implement the Brotherhood’s programmes (para 59, 63).

    Throughout the 1940’s, the Brotherhood’s “Secret Apparatus”, a paramilitary unit established by El-Banna, perpetrated serious acts of political violence. Among those they assassinated were a prominent judge, the Cairo Chief of Police and Egypt’s Prime Minister. In 1954, they attempted to assassinate President (Gamal Abdel) Nasser (para 101-113, 140-143).

     Even after its was dissolved in December 1948, the Brotherhood turned to more violence, militarization and clandestine action. It remained in the grip of the Secret Apparatus for decades, embracing the jihadist philosophy spearheaded by El-Banna and promoted by his disciple Sayyid Qutb.

    Brotherhood splinter groups such as al-Takfir wal Hijra assassinated thinkers who publicly criticized the group’s radical ideology. Tanzim Al-Jihad (established by Al-Qaeda’s second man, Ayman Al-Zawahri – a Brotherhood member), assassinated President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981 after he had signed a Peace Treaty with Israel. These groups as well as others linked to the Brotherhood have also carried out terrorist attacks against tourists and religious minorities.

     Equally, the Brotherhood has ties with terrorist organisations established outside Egypt by leading figures within its “international network”. According to 9 Bedford Row’s Report, Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Aballah Yusuf Azzam,  the three founders of al-Qa’ida were prominent members of the “international network” (para 209, 270-313). All three were strong advocates of Sayyid Qutb’s writings, which formed the basis of their justification for the use of violence both internally and externally (para 211-213, 276, 279).

    The Brotherhood’s teachings have been adopted as a reference point for many terrorist organisations that target both Islamic and Western societies and people.

     For instance, Article II of the Charter of Hamas states that “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organisation which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterized by… its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts…the spreading of Islam… and conversion to Islam” (para 15). Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as was Muhammad Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers. As offshoots of Al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are also indirectly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these groups have cited Sayed Qutb as an inspiration for their actions.

     Although the Brotherhood has tried to publicly distance itself from the actions of these groups, it played a central role in providing the ideological framework which forms the core of al-Qa’ida, Daesh, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, particularly takfirism (the elimination of any deviation from what they consider to be the Islamic Sharia), global jihad (to bring about the rule of God by force), culminating in the establishment of a global Islamic Caliphate.

     US counter-terrorism experts have acknowledged that the Brotherhood continues to advocate the use of violence against innocent civilians. Brotherhood members have provided public support for violent acts of terrorism undertaken by militant Islamist groups. These include former Brotherhood Member of Parliament Rajab Hilal Hemeida, who has publicly praised Bin Ladin, Al-Zawahri and Al-Zarqawi, stating that he “supports their activities” and that “terrorism is not a curse when given its true meaning” (para 319). Other leading Brotherhood figures such as Wagdy Ghoneim, Youssef Al-Qaradawi and Mohamed Badie refer to Bin Ladin as a “martyr”, reject the “crusader” alliance to defeat “brothers in ISIL” and advocate the use of both violent jihad against Western governments and peaceful jihad to “eliminate” and “destroy” Western civilization from within (para 263, 320). They also advocate killing so-called “apostates” from Islam, which includes any Muslim person or government that does not subscribe to their radical ideology.

     In addition, the Brotherhood was implicated in providing material and financial support to militant organisations, a fact confirmed by European and US investigative authorities and courts, as well as the UN Security Council (paras 337-352). As a result, it was banned in Syria, Iraq, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

     Given this legacy and ethos of violence, it is no wonder the Brotherhood and its leadership, up until the time of writing, have been involved in a series of acts of indoctrination, intimidation, subversion of the rule of law, clandestine activity and political violence, including during their year in power and during the mass protests against their rule (para 259). As discussed in more detail below, the Brotherhood’s power grab in Egypt during 2012-2013 and the protests it sparked must be viewed within this much broader context.

          2. The Brotherhood’s Rise to Power and Subsequent Fall

     The second report by 9 Bedford Row highlights the distortion and political manipulation that led to Mohamed Morsi’s rise to power. Within a few months of the revolution, the Brotherhood had established a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which it claimed was independent (although all party leadership positions were reserved for members of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council). The party was able, through false promises, to win a majority in parliament (which was subsequently dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court – SCC).

     Reneging on their promise not to present a candidate in the country’s first presidential election, the Brotherhood nominated Morsi after the disqualification of Khairat El-Shater, its main financier, who had been previously convicted for charges of money laundering and financing of terrorism (para 11-15, 27).

     During these presidential elections, a number of challenges undermined the secular/liberal candidates, not least of which was the confusion besetting the electoral map following the revolution, the large number of candidates (which resulted in splitting the secular/liberal vote), the political organisation of the Brotherhood after years of operating clandestinely and subsequently its ability to mobilise its supporters as opposed to other, newly formed, political parties. This is in addition to reports of irregularities, such as electoral bribing, all factors which culminated in Morsi receiving 24.77% of the vote in the first round, thus qualifying for the presidential run-off.

    It was during the run-off that voters truly found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They could either vote for Morsi (and hence the Brotherhood) or Ahmed Shafiq, who was widely perceived to be tied to Mubarak’s regime. Large numbers of people boycotted the vote or voted for Morsi to avoid Shafiq. In spite of this, Morsi’s victory was very narrow, securing only 51.73% (para 32-49).

    Having secured control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the Brotherhood proceeded to monopolise the Constitution-drafting process. In a clearly undemocratic process, they appointed 65 Islamists to the one hundred member Constituent Assembly, leaving only 16 seats to secularists, 5 to Copts and 6 to women. By the time the Assembly’s first session was convened, 25 members had already resigned in protest of the Brotherhood’s dominance, with representatives from the Coptic Orthodox Church resigning shortly thereafter (para 58).

    Throughout this process, the Brotherhood’s strategy was “to conceal its true objectives … distorting the true intentions of its political platform to appease the concerns of secular and Christian sects” (para 59). This included making false overtures to women’s equality and minority rights, while condoning violence against both women and Egypt’s Copts and other Christians. It also included openly threatening and intimidating political opponents, secretly releasing convicted Islamist extremists, and embarking on a process of “Islamification” (or rather “Ikhwanisation”) of State institutions

    In his less than his one-year tenure, Morsi repeatedly exceeded his executive powers and defied the rule of law. Less than two weeks after assuming the Presidency, he flouted Egypt’s SCC by re-instating the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved by court order. He replaced Egypt’s Prosecutor-General, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, with his own appointee, known for his Islamist leanings.

    Morsi’s power-grab took new heights when he issued a decree declaring that the judiciary was barred from reviewing his decisions, and in particular barring the SCC from dissolving either parliament or the Constituent Assembly (whose constitutionality was being challenged before the Court) (para 97-112). This was coupled with a rush to appoint Islamist sympathisers to replace those who resigned from the Constituent Assembly. This was intended to allow the Assembly to finalise the constitution before the SCC had a chance to rule on the body’s constitutionality. In a mockery of a process, the draft Constitution was approved within nine days. Brotherhood supporters besieged the SCC to prevent the judges from accessing the building.

    Morsi’s decree and his attempt to impose a hastily-drafted, unrepresentative and clearly unacceptable constitution intensified the wave of mass protests against his rule. These protests had never ceased throughout his one-year as President. In fact, a report issued by the presidency during Morsi’s last days in office stated that “a total of 24 million people had taken part in 7709 protests and 5821 demonstrations” even before the final mass protests that removed him (para 187).

     From 1 May 2013, the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign started collecting signatures for a petition calling for Morsi’s ouster and for early presidential elections. The petition is reported to have collected more than two million signatures in the first ten days and more than twenty-two million signatures by 29 June 2013. This far outnumbered the 13.2 million votes Morsi won in the presidential elections (para 236). Between 30 June and 3rd July, millions of people took the streets throughout the country, demanding Morsi’s immediate resignation. However, Morsi remained defiant, refusing to bow to the will of the protestors, and even turning a blind eye to increasing incitement to violence from Brotherhood members and supporters.

     In fact, during the protests, Morsi contacted Ayman Al-Zawahri and his brother Mohamed, inciting them to rise against the Egyptian army in the Sinai and to compel all jihadi elements to come to the Brotherhood’s aid. Al-Zawahiri promised to “set the Sinai aflame” (First Report, para 328-29). Until this day, terrorist attacks in the Sinai continue to claim innocent lives, destroying many livelihoods and all but crippling Egypt’s tourism industry.

     On 1 July, fearing violence and bloodshed between the protestors and the Brotherhood, the army gave Morsi an ultimatum to resign within 48 hours. Two days later, the army announced a political roadmap, naming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim President (para 263-268).


     Although the Brotherhood purports to present a “moderate” view of Islam, this could not be farther from the truth. The Brotherhood has never embraced democratic principles other than as a vehicle to reach power through their manipulative religious rhetoric. They have openly rejected the civil nature of the state, seeking to impose its rigid and radical views. These were the views decidedly rejected by the majority of Egyptian people in June 2013. God only knows what kind of violence, bloodshed and civil strife could have ensued had the army not taken a stance in favour of the protestors and against the regime. One only needs to look around Egypt to other countries in the region to sense the degree of carnage and chaos that could have ensued.

     Egypt is now firmly a state that stands up to, rather than sponsors, finances or condones terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood that once ruled Egypt has intricate links with other terrorist organisations that have not only wreaked havoc in the Middle East, but have also extended their reach to the United States and Europe, claiming thousands of innocent lives. No country is immune to Islamic extremist terrorism, which has at its core the exclusionary, radical and violent ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that also provides moral, material and financial support to these groups. We should not fall into the trap of dealing with each of these groups in isolation or to discriminate in terms of how we treat them. They all share common origins, a common ideology, and common methods of violence and intimidation. It is only through realizing this fact, and through comprehensively addressing the problem from its roots that we may hope one day to eradicate the scourge of terrorism once and for all.

Dr Tarek Heggy -- MFA Blog




Response to Washington Post Article “Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization or a firewall against violent extremism?”

   On March 7, the Washington Post published a confounding piece titled “Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization or a firewall against violent extremism?” by Mr. Marc Lynch. The piece seemed to alternate jarringly between political commentary and academic analysis, seemingly attempting to employ the faculties of both journalism and academia to whitewash the terrorist history of the Muslim Brotherhood and portray the group in a deceptively positive light.

   It is evident that the true concern of the article is to attack the US Republican Party and their stance on the Brotherhood, as part of the ongoing electoral battle in the US. Mr. Lynch is clearly seeking to undermine the credibility of the Republican party’s front-runners by branding anti-Brotherhood positions as inaccurate and Islamophobic.  US domestic politics are not our concern, but the writer’s political agenda leads him to wipe the Brotherhood’s slate clean despite historical and contemporary evidence of their serious involvement in terrorist activity, resulting in a manipulation of history that negates the threat posed by one of the world’s oldest terrorist groups. It also leads him to muddle what is a very important dividing line between anti-terrorism stances and Islamophobia, a dangerous mix-up that has implications on the distinction between terrorism and the faith of Islam, ironically strengthening the anti-Islam narrative he seeks to counter.

   The article asserts several times that the Muslim Brotherhood is ‘not a terrorist organization’, a claim that could not have come at a worse time. On Wednesday March 9th, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior revealed the details of the assassination of Egypt’s former Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat, which was carried out by the Brotherhood. The Minister of Interior explained at length the evidence related to the case, which included the confessions of the perpetrators, who also admitted to belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and taking orders from the group’s leadership to carry out the attack. The tragedy of the assassination is fresh in the memory of Egyptians, as are the results of the investigations.

   While this is the most recent instance of recorded and verified terrorist activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, it is far from the only one. The Brotherhood’s terrorist credentials are well-documented. Recent attacks and assassinations verified by solid evidence, not to mention a history of political violence, glorification of terrorism, and covert support and financing to known terrorist groups, all place the fact that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization beyond a shadow of a doubt. The evidence is far too vast to include here, but it has been documented at length in academic works and official reports, including in the report issued last year by UK law firm 9 Bedford Row, as well as the official British government inquiry, which Mr. Lynch counts as a victory for the Brotherhood despite the report explicitly linking the Brotherhood to radical ideology, extremist narratives, and terror-financing. It is thus bizarre to see someone so ardently insist that they are not a terrorist organization but in fact a force for democracy.

   The article also seems to make a great deal out of the fact that the Brotherhood has on several occasions publicly endorsed democracy and non-violence, overlooking the simple fact that stated positions do not necessarily reflect actions, particularly in this case. No terrorist group labels itself as such, and the Brotherhood’s attempts to market itself as a ‘moderate’ group to the West should mean nothing in the face of concrete, documented evidence of its engagement in and support of terrorism.

   Even worse, the article insists that the Brotherhood, until recently, served as a ‘firewall’ against extremism and terrorism, allegedly providing an alternative to radicalization. This claim is frankly absurd considering the countless Brotherhood offshoots, established by Brotherhood members and disciples, that essentially make up the map of modern-day terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda and its offshoots. In fact, the extremism and radicalism which serve as the lifeblood of today’s terrorist groups is based directly on Brotherhood thinkers and ideologues that are still venerated and closely adhered to by the organization, such as Sayid Qutb. To put it simply, the threat of terrorism as we see it today owes its existence to the Muslim Brotherhood.


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