The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was founded in Egypt in 1928. From there, the ideology traveled with its followers over the years, who spread it to new places — particularly the West. However, it has been observed that authorities in Western societies often deal with Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters differently depending on their country of origin.
In the West, authorities, the media, and politics are not only confronted with superordinate religious bodies and umbrella organizations. There are other organizations in the network that don’t seem religious at first glance. But if you take a closer look, the references are there. These organizations can be seen to promote general welfare, the environment, or present themselves as professional or cultural associations. These clubs try to be perceived as non-political institutions. In the secular Western world, these types of groups are more easily accepted and are less prone to scrutiny. In order to obscure their true nature, these groups present themselves differently depending on their audience. They depict themselves one way to the broader society, and another way to their own communities.
Officially belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood comes with at least social penalties in many Western societies. Thus, many organizations with ties to the Brotherhood conceal this fact, and to accuse a group of belonging to the MB requires a lot of proof in the West. It is not easy to officially designate groups as MB affiliates. This makes the fight against the MB very difficult.
Since camouflage tactics of various Muslim groups in these societies vary — some being more effective than others — some groups are more successful at being accepted or even integrated into the society in which they operate. Oftentimes, it only takes a superficial commitment to democracy and human rights for a previously suspicious group to become a partner in politics. This is, of course, despite their fundamental rejection of basic Western values. It is only after extensive research and study that the true ideology of these groups can be exposed.
In the West, as well as in many parts of the Muslim world, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered an extremist group. In Germany, for example, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution makes it very difficult for anyone who openly supports the MB to take part in social dialogue and the funding of the group is often blocked. Therefore, these groups adopt a cautious approach and attempt to play the victim and portray themselves as “normal” Muslims who are the unfair target of racist authorities.
Religious extremism is not immediately recognized in many clubs — particularly those that hide behind cultural or national banners. These groups often appear harmless on the surface — an association to connect members to their ancestral homeland or a normal Muslim association. Interestingly enough, depending on the group’s national origin, authorities may be more or less inclined to view the club with suspicion and politics plays a big role here. The underlying motivations of these groups are also not always easily determined — some can be shown through the general actions and articulated attitudes of members, while others can only be seen in the activities of the group’s high-ranking officials.
This public perception has consequences and the non-profit status — which is important under German association law for tax purposes — can be revoked. Access to public funds is not impossible, as evidenced by more covert funding via projects, but it is generally made more difficult. With regard to official dealings with organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, authorities judge them both professionally and politically, based on the severity of their anti-constitutional beliefs and practices. However, sometimes groups with the same or similar activities are not equally prosecuted.
Council of European Muslims
The largest and most important organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe is the former FIOE (Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe) which has, since January 2020, been renamed to CEM (Council of European Muslims). The current chairman of this organization is Samir Falah, who resides near Karlsruhe. Falah previously headed the largest national representation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany for years, the German Muslim Community (DMG, formerly IGD, Islamic Community in Germany). In addition to the DMG, another CEM member based in Germany is the Islamic Women’s Association for Education and Training in Germany e.V. (IFBED). The chair of this association, Samir Hababa, is also the deputy chair of Islamic Relief Germany (IRD) and is currently the highest-ranking IRD official in Germany. Both CEM and DMG deny any connection with the Muslim Brotherhood (IFBED operates more in the background). The DMG had even filed a lawsuit against the Office for the Protection of the Constitution but withdrew the complaint when it became clear that the Office could expose the group unfavorably.
True ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are not only made clear by statements of defectors, but they are also clearly evident in the training materials of the CEM. According to Marion Mertens, CEM training materials contain ideas from Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sayyid Qutb: “It is noteworthy that in all three books at the elementary level, almost all explanatory texts for the surahs presented were taken verbatim from one of the best-known works by Sayyid Qutb, without being marked as a quotation.”
Associations Based on National Origin
In the case of associations that present themselves as cultural associations based on national origin, there are two obvious challenges: 1) to recognize the religious motivation and 2) to prove political claims. For example, it is difficult to prove ties to the MB when a German-Syrian association that acts as an aid organization because there is no religious mention in the group’s name. However, with a little digging, it is evident that the group is part of the Muslim Brotherhood through its activities and self-descriptions. Particularly in the field of humanitarian aid, there are several associations that do not have any religious reference in their titles. While, some religious ties can be harmless, others can be dangerous and even generate funds for extremist organization.
For cultural associations, Muslim Brotherhood ties usually are a product of immigration —brought in directly from the country of origin as members were typically active there before immigrating — rather than a result of lack of integration. Therefore, the extremist connection is not a reaction to “structural racism” in the West, but already existed. In many cases, the father was active in the Muslim Brotherhood in his home country and his offspring carried that connection with them in Western societies.
Often in the countries of origin, extremist attitudes are not considered extremist, but pious and conservative. There is no need for a system change with God as sovereign in a country that is already geared towards Islam. Therefore, what may be part of the accepted parliamentary political system in an Islamic country is considered to be an extremist movement in Western countries. What is considered to be ultra-conservative Islam in some places, is just considered to be Islamism in Western states. What one needs to be cognizant and wary of, however, is the intention to change the system and make no mistake that anyone who is part of the Muslim Brotherhood is working towards system change in the long term.
Organizations Under Observation
The German Muslim Community (DMG) and the Palestinian Community in Germany (PGD) are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood network and observed by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In contrast with many other observation objects, DMG and PGD have also appeared in the reports of the domestic secret service for many years. The DMG is described as the largest organization in Germany in which Muslim Brotherhood members come together, whereas the PGD is classified as the German representation of Hamas — a spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The DMG is predominantly classified as an organization of Egyptian origin. This is due to the organizational history but does not reflect the current picture of the functionaries of the DMG and was not consistently observed in the past either. The management history of the organization can be traced, among other things, on the basis of the entries in the association registers, whereby the hierarchy published by the organization itself is not necessarily reflected in the registers. At DMG, for example, only two equal board members are named. From 1973-2002, DMG was managed by Ali Ghaleb Himmat, who was of Syrian origin. In the years (2002-2010) in which the Egyptian-born Ibrahim El-Zayat was in charge of DMG, the connection to Egypt seemed more understandable. The nationality of origin of the other board members, namely Hassan Abouelela (with Himmat) and Muhammad Hegazi (with El-Zayat) is unclear because it was before electronic registered documents.
El-Zayat and Hegazi were succeeded by Samir Falah and Khallad Swaid of Syrian origin. According to the register of associations, Swaid was not a board member from 2014-2018. During this time, the Yemeni-born Aniss Al-Doaiss (from 2014) and the Syrian-born Houaida Taraji (2015-2018) were successively registered as further board members with Falah. Since the end of 2018, Khallad Swaid and Sabri Shiref, who is probably of Lebanese origin, have been on the board. Al-Doaiss and Taraji attracted attention through other functions in the Muslim Brotherhood network. Al-Doaiss co-founded the European Institute for Human Sciences (EIHW) and initially headed its sponsoring association. The EIHW is also under observation and is named in the reports for the protection of the constitution. But at other organizations in which Al-Doaiss and Taraji are active, this public warning stops. Taraji was on the board of the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) for several years. Al-Douaiss is chairman of the German-Yemeni Association for Aid and Development e.V.
Groups Not Under Heavy Scrutiny
Among the structures not listed (anymore) in the reports, the Syrian and North African Muslim Brotherhoods seem to have the highest degree of organization. And although some of these German organizations not only have scholars associated with them as members of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), but also of other bodies of the Muslim Brotherhood, their role is not publicly recognized.
The organizations which can be traced back to the foundations of predominantly Syrian immigrants, have not been mentioned in the reports of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution in over a decade, despite their connections and involvement. This is remarkable, as the central organization of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamisches Zentrum Aachen (IZA), has been clearly involved over the years. For example, in a 2009 document by the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), Issam El-Attar and Muhamad El-Hawari, who died in 2015, are named as members. According to the statutes of the IUMS, there is no provision for leaving, someone can only be kicked out or sidelined. In this respect, this document, which can only be viewed in the web archive, has even more significance. El-Hawari was also on the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) until his death and was initially slated to chair its German branch, according to a statement by the Fatwa Committee.
Furthermore, Issam El-Attar, the elderly spiritual director of IZA, has frequently emphasized his closeness and friendship with Yusuf al-Qaradawi on his social media accounts in recent years. In the last few months, old pictures of him with Qutb have been posted on his Facebook page. El-Attar has two children — a son named Aiman and a daughter Hadia. The son was married to Youssef Nada’s daughter and the daughter to Ghaleb Himmat. Nada, the founder of Al-Taqwa, and Himmat, the longtime director of the IGD, are said to have made terrorist financing possible via this Al-Taqwa network. Corresponding allegations could not, however, be proven criminally. So, El-Attar is the father-in-law of two well-known figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is active in Europe. Arranged dynastic marriages of this kind testify to the desire for cross-generational and comprehensive integration into the European network of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In addition to mosque associations linked to the IZA group, there are also German associations of Syrian migrants that cooperate with, or are linked to, the network. For example, the German Syrian Association for the Promotion of Freedom and Human Rights e.V. (DSV) in Darmstadt continues to refer to Islamic Relief Germany (IRD) as a partner. The DSV cooperated with IRD and a Turkish organization that is banned in Germany. According to a parliamentary request from 2019, the federal government has noted an overlapping of personnel between the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Relief Germany. Syrian associations with a similar orientations have joined together to form an umbrella organization. Nahla Osman is the chairperson of the umbrella organization Association of German-Syrian Aid Associations (VDSH), in which the DSV is organized and provides the deputy chairperson. The chairwoman also has clear ties to the MB spectrum. Osman wrote on her Facebook page in 2019 that the House of Islam (HDI) in Lützelbach, Hesse, was her second home and that she spent a wonderful youth there with “Uncle Muhammad”; she also wrote that she sends her children there, too. The HDI was not only the founding place of the DMG-affiliated Muslim youth of Germany, but also a meeting place for a wide range of activities of this spectrum. “Uncle Muhammad” is none other than Muhammad Siddiq aka Wolfgang Borgfeldt. Borgfeldt is one of the most important, if not the most influential German convert active in Muslim Brotherhood bodies. He is a member of the ECFR and probably also of the IUMS. Most recently, a group photo was made public at a ceremony showing him surrounded by German officials of Muslim Brotherhood bodies and organizations. Not all active members of the DSV and VDSH may belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is very worrying when the presidency is assumed by people with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yemeni, Tunisian, and Moroccan Networks
The Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood has activists in various cities and in various associations — for example, in Berlin and Münster. As already mentioned above about Aniss Al-Doaiss, cooperation and cross-connections are repeatedly noticeable in this area. For example, the Arnsberg educational center — an important facility in which events of the movement are organized — was initially managed by the former Islamic Relief Germany chairman, Almoutaz Tayara. He was followed by a director of Yemeni origin until March 2022. Yemeni activists like Talal Hadi are not only represented in the German branch of the ECFR, the Fatwa Committee Germany, but also work in mosques nationwide. In November, for example, Hadi organized a Quran competition at Hamburg’s Al Nour Mosque.
The Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood often works locally. A number of associations, e.g. in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Bochum, have officials close to the Muslim Brotherhood who are of Tunisian origin and then also propose or support corresponding speakers from Tunisia or North Africa, who are close to the MB. These influences are not always evident on boards as they are on imams and spiritual leaders. Two people active in these networks are Taha Amer and Hedi Brik. While the originally longtime Egyptian-led council that Amer now heads is named in intelligence reports, the organizations where he is still active are not. Despite clear connections and activities, the mosque where Brik worked was only mentioned once in the year before last in the report for the protection of the constitution.
Associations close to the Muslim Brotherhood which have functionaries of Moroccan origin are very widespread. A large proportion of the clubs that are being watched nationwide because of their Muslim Brotherhood connections can probably be attributed to their Moroccan origins. However, a not very well-known umbrella organization of Moroccan mosque associations has no religious reference in its name. Politicians could, therefore, mistakenly assume that it is an association with no religious/political affiliation, i.e. a rather secular association. The Moroccan organizations have a lower degree of organization with regard to higher-level structures. The umbrella organizations appear to be of dubious legitimacy, notoriety and widespread acceptance. There have been a number of start-ups in this area in recent years.
In the migrant sector, there are many harmless organizations based on national origin and even religion. However, hiding among these groups are more nefarious organizations that are trying to mask their extremist ambitious with humanitarian, cultural or professional dressings. Therefore, authorities have the important, albeit difficult, responsibility of distinguishing between such groups and appropriately designation such groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood as dangerous. Authorities should be more aware than the Muslim Brotherhood, while Egyptian in origin, has global appeal and membership. It is no longer acceptable to view the group as merely local actors from around the world, but as an organization with global aspirations.
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