A Brief History of the Muslim Brotherhood

by PETER FARMER August 14, 2012

As detailed in this writer's previous column ("Our Achilles' Heel" FSM, 1 August 2012), there exist numerous vulnerabilities in the security protocols of our nation's most powerful institutions, including those of the federal government and the military. Not surprisingly, our adversaries have moved to exploit these weaknesses by infiltrating agents into these organizations; they have done so with remarkable success. Perhaps no group has exploited these opportunities as adroitly as the Jamiat al-Ikhwan al-muslimun, better-known to westerners as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or simply the Ikhwan (Arabic for "Brothers").  The recent controversy over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff and senior aide Huma Abedin is just one example of a senior government official with verifiable ties to the Brotherhood and its sister organization for Muslim women.

The Abedin incident is noteworthy for several reasons. First, the incident offers the opportunity to review the history of the Ikhwan and educate readers unfamiliar with it. Second, it provides a window of observation into the modus operandi of the Brotherhood and some of the methods used to advance their cause of civilizational jihad. Third, the reaction of the leftist mainstream media and political class to the incident offers prima facie evidence of the complicity of both groups in excusing, rationalizing and otherwise covering-up actions by the Brotherhood.

Let us turn out attention to the history of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Such an examination would normally be superfluous, given the resources available on the internet and elsewhere, but in researching this article, the author found that many sources have redacted or deleted politically-incorrect content which portrayed the MB in less than flattering terms. Wikipedia and other sources downplay or neglect to mention, the extent to which the Ikhwan have supported violent jihad (holy war) over the years since the founding of the group. Also absent in many internet accounts are the proven links between the Brotherhood and Nazi regime during the era 1933-1945. Today, Islamic supremacists and their enablers go to great lengths to portray the MB as strictly a cultural, social and religious movement. This is manifestly not the case, as we shall see. Moreover, in keeping with the practices of the cultural jihad movement, the by-laws and internal communications of the Brotherhood - which give an accurate reading of the movement's goals and intent - are published in Arabic and other Islamic-world languages, but for propaganda purposes, English language translations have been sanitized and toned-down for western consumption.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by teacher and cleric Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949) as a pan-Islamic organization dedicated to uniting all Muslims under a caliphate (Islamic theocracy) governed by the Koran, the Sunnah and sharia law. A secondary goal was to expel westerners in the Middle East and other Islamic regions. Explicitly anti-western and anti-secular in its outlook, the Brotherhood sought not only to unite all Muslims, but to extend Islam's influence over all of humanity. Al-Banna himself stated, "It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet." The centrality of jihad and martyrdom to its ethos was captured in its motto, which the Brotherhood still uses today, "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations." Al-Banna, a virulent anti-Semite who also hated the British then in control of Egypt, sought to expel both from the Middle East by any means necessary - including violence and terrorism. Ideologically, the Brotherhood belongs to an especially harsh and puritanical branch of Sunni Islam known as Salafism. According to a 2010 report by the German domestic intelligence service, Salafism is the most-rapidly growing Islamic movement in the world.

The Brotherhood grew rapidly; by 1936, it had 800 members; by 1938, it claimed 200,000 adherents. By the end of World War Two, it had two million members across the Islamic world. During the 1930s and in subsequent decades, chapters were opened in Lebanon (1936), Syria (1937) and Trans-Jordan (1946); today there are branches in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya and Tunisia and in 70 countries and territories across the Islamic world. Although the Brotherhood originated within Sunni Islam, there is considerable evidence as well that the Ikhwan have substantial influence among Shi'ite Muslims. While estimates vary concerning the present world-wide membership of the brotherhood and its off-shoots, the influence and global reach of the Ikhwan are now beyond dispute. 

During most of its existence, the MB movement has not been a formal political party, but instead a movement tightly-organized along quasi-political lines. It has, however, spun off numerous political parties outside of Egypt, and as of this writing, the Ikhwan are making a unified and concerted effort to seize overt political power in a number of Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt and Libya, as a part of the so-called "Arab Spring" movement. The MB spreads its message and exerts influence through an extensive multinational network of mosques, charitable organizations, madrasas (Islamic schools), clinics/hospitals and various commercial enterprises. It has a communications/propaganda arm, and sponsors websites, newspapers and publishing houses dedicated to its efforts. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood appear regularly on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic cable television and broadcasting network. These are woven into the larger web of trans-national organizations such as the United Nations and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Members are required to tithe (donate) a percentage of their wealth to support the Brotherhood. In the west, the MB utilizes front groups such as CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) and other not-for-profit groups, as well as a network of Islamic charities, to spread its influence. The Muslim Brotherhood has been in the United States since 1963, when Islamic student refugees from their home nations fled to the U.S. and established the Muslim Student Association (MSA). The Ikhwan established a modern European presence in 1960, when Said Ramadan, the son in law of Hassan al-Banna, founded a mosque in Munich.

The Muslim Brotherhood is well-funded by petro-dollars from the Middle East, in particular contributions from members of the Saudi royal family, who belong to the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism is generally considered a variant of Salafi Islam) common in the Arabic Gulf states. 

Bankrolled by wealthy patrons in the Middle East, the MB has also managed to penetrate deeply into the fabric of  western culture and society, in particular in schools, colleges and universities. The group has also made considerable inroads into the banking and financial industries, where its adherents lobby for sharia-compliant financial services as well as other products oriented to Muslims. Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood has succeeded in placing members in the United States law enforcement, intelligence and military/national security communities.

Although the present-day leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, when in front of cameras and microphones, are careful to denounce violence and claim that the Brotherhood has no paramilitary wing, the facts tell a different story. Indeed, as we shall see, the Muslim Brotherhood is the fountainhead of the modern Islamic supremacy movement and some of its most violent terrorist groups; it has been linked with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and many other similar groups.

The Ikhwan has a long history of supporting extremist causes, and on numerous occasions has directly-employed violent methods or supported them through proxies. In November, 1948, after a wave of bombings and assassination attempts, the Egyptian government arrested many of the group's top leaders and banned the Brotherhood. In subsequent months, a member of the Ikhwan assassinated the prime minister, and al-Banna himself was slain in retaliation. In 1952, the pro-western monarchy of King Farouk I was toppled by Egyptian nationalist General Gamal Abdel Nasser following a successful coup d'état. The Muslim Brothers initially favored Nasser, but relations between the government and the Muslim Brothers soured when Nasser governed in too-secular a manner for the Ikhwan.

Following an attempt on Nasser's life in 1954, the MB was again outlawed and many of its most prominent and influential members - such as Sayyid Qutb - were imprisoned or executed. The Brothers learned many important operational lessons from this episode and others like it across the Middle East - especially the need for better compartmentalization and security. Starting in the 1960s, the Ikhwan preferred to take a lower profile and remain in the shadows while direct-action terrorist and paramilitary operations were undertaken by proxies, such as the PLO-Fatah and similar groups. This allowed the MB itself to maintain a degree of plausible deniability for violent actions, while supporting them covertly, through its many and varied operations internationally.

In the next installment of this series, we will examine some of the key figures in the history of the movement - including Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and Sayyid Qutb.

Copyright 2012 - Peter Farmer

Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic. 



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