European Eye on Radicalization
A new book, “La Menace Mondiale Des Frères Musulmans” (The Global Threat of the Muslim Brotherhood), composed under the direction of Atmane Tazaghart, is comprised of five reports that were produced by the United States Subcommittee on National Security, a component of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in July 2018.
The reports are considered as the largest and most comprehensive Western official documents on the global threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. They shed unprecedented light on the ramifications of the secretive Brotherhood, considered as the mother ship of contemporary Islamism, with its tentacles implanted in more than seventy countries throughout the world, where it spreads its supremacist dogma as part of its aim to establish an Islamic State.
The book is structured around the five reports, and the ideas and perspectives become clear when reading the titles of the book’s sections:
- “United States and Muslim Brotherhood: ‘Misleading’ or ‘Complacent Arrogance’?” by Atmane Tazaghart.
- “A Maddening Report for the Islamist Brotherhood”, by Roland Jacquard.
- “What To Do For ‘the Brothers of Jihad’?” by Martin Gozland.
- “The End of the Historical Blindness of the West in the Face of Islamism?” by Hamid Zanaz.
- “The Banning of Muslim Brothers Still Not on the Agenda?” by Ian Hamel.
In the first section, Atmane Tazaghart sheds light on the different points of view about Muslim Brotherhood within the Congressional National Security Subcommittee during the 2018 session. The chairman of the Subcommittee, Ron DeSantis, then-a Republican Representative from Florida and now the Governor of the State and a likely Presidential candidate in 2024, stated that the networks of Muslim Brotherhood raised funds, even in the US, to finance terrorist activities. DeSantis welcomed President Donald Trump’s hard line against the Brotherhood, which would shortly afterwards include a consideration to add them to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs): in DeSantis’ view this was a welcome change from the previous administration of President Barack Obama, who had considered the Brotherhood potential allies who had renounced violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood was widely considered by the Subcommittee as a gateway to jihadism. It is a group that advocates hatred, and its ideology is xenophobic, fanatical, and totalitarian. The author reported the opinion of Hillel Fradkin, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, who stated: “We [the U.S.] wanted to know how the Muslim Brotherhood would behave once in power before they succeed. Some had believed that once in power, the Muslim Brotherhood would learn moderation. This was wrong and there are reasons for it. When the opportunity to exercise power presented itself to them, they exercise it in a totalitarian manner.” Similarly, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, explained that when Muslim Brotherhood operates under a repressive regime, they have no choice but to recognize the regime and renounce violence, but this is merely tactical. They are more than willing to play the democratic game in order to get to power, but there is nothing in their credo to indicate a sincere renunciation of violence and or embrace of democracy.
The author documents the opinion of the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Zuhdi Jasser, who criticized the fact that much of the debate about the Muslim Brotherhood was perverted, obscured, and misrepresented by supporters of the Brotherhood and its allies in the West. The root cause of terrorism is the ideology of political Islam and the belief in the supremacy of an Islamic State, said Jasser, and violence is considered entirely permissible to achieve this goal. Ignorance of the Brotherhood and groups like them allow the exploitation of Western freedoms.
The Brotherhood rejects the nation-state as a legitimate form of governance. They consider it as a foreign imposition on Muslim countries that runs counter to the traditional forms of Islamic governance. The researchers, academics, intelligence analysts, and policy makers who testified all agreed that there is no united Muslim Brotherhood, rather there is a superstructure of networks that share personal connections and an ideological orientation, spawned from a central cadre of Brotherhood operatives. All agreed, however, that this global network consistently produces Islamist terrorist offspring.
This is why it is important in the fight against terrorism and radicalization to recognize the role of political Islam, which threatens Muslims and Islam itself, as well as other groups and the wider world. Contrary to the argument that identifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a radical terrorist organization would demonise or securitize all Muslims, the identification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a key actor responsible for perpetuating radical Islam shrinks the scope of U.S. and Western security fears.
For his part, Paul Gosar, a Republican Representative from Arizona, considers the failure of U.S. strategy vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood to stem from several factors. One of the main difficulties in dealing with Muslim Brotherhood lies in the fact that they have created their own autonomous entities, many of which take on the outwards forms of respectable institutions like civil rights advocates, community groups, and charitable associations. As just one example, the Middle East Forum documented that Islamic Relief Worldwide, an international charity NGO, has close links with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Faced with this dilemma, Jasser recommends getting out of the binary vision of “violent” and “non-violent” Islamist groups, since the latter—such as the Brotherhood—often provide cover for the former. For far too long, says Jasser, the West has been playing “a game of hide and seek” with the Brotherhood ideologues, playing into their deceptions rather than directly countering their operations. At some point, honest analysis has to break through and recognize that the fruit of all the Islamist branches is poisonous and at the centre of the tree is the Brotherhood. The author, however, is sceptical that a terrorist designation against the Brotherhood would be helpful: it would consume precious U.S. federal resources in trying to identify Brotherhood members, and would then have to go through a legal wrangle to trace the Brotherhood’s role in terrorism. Moreover, the Brotherhood would find a way around this designation in the blink of an eye, reorganizing its front groups and satellite entities to avoid detection and continue their destructive work.
A somewhat opposing view recorded by the author came from Stephen F. Lynch, a Democratic Representative from Massachusetts, who argued that the effectiveness of the counter-terrorism operations and the protection of the troops in the Middle East and North Africa requires a cautious approach to this issue. A broad designation of the Brotherhood would damage U.S. relationships with regional security partners, including Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood has strong roots in society. It may also stir tensions in the Middle East, he added, a region that hardly needs any aggravation.
The Obama-era Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, takes a similar line, pointing to Jordan, where “the Brotherhood plays an official political role under the banner of the Islamic Front, which was very active in the Jordanian Parliament,” and the Brotherhood party in Kuwait “officially has seats in the national Parliament”. In Morocco, the ex-Prime Minister came from the Brotherhood-linked Development and Justice Party (PJD). And in Tunisia, the apparent success story of the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood’s Ennahda movement occupied a central role in political life until its downfall last summer.
Since the birth of Brotherhood in 1928, it has been a secret, cultish movement that has an “international organization” called al-Tanzim al-Dawli. Decades after the birth of Egyptian Brotherhood, this structure stands: not exactly a pyramidal command structure issuing directives to its global branches, but the central node in a distributed network that pushes in one general direction, towards one overall goal. It is in this sense that Jasser and others point out that whether a specific branch of the Brethren is engaged in terrorism is immaterial; they provide support, ideological and material, to, and benefit from, branches that do.
The author highlighted a book, “The Epistle of Jihad,” written by the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, where in he explains: “Jihad means fighting against the infidels and implies that all necessary means are implemented to reduce the enemies of Islam, including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their temples, and reducing their idols to pieces.” Al-Banna goes further, saying, “We have to begin to fight them [unbelievers] after sending the invitation to embrace Islam, even if they do not fight us.” The words of Al-Banna were never really disowned by the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide. Even the logo of the Brotherhood has not changed: two crossed swords and words in Arabic which refer to a passage from the Qur’an (verse 16 of Sura 8) dealing with preparation for jihad and war.
This can be seen in various ways. Take Mohamed Louizi, the former head of the Brotherhood in Lille, the author of “Why I Left the Muslim Brotherhood”. Louizi explains that in the context of the training the leaders of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF), known as the Muslims of France (MF) since 2017, the French branch of the Brotherhood, Muslims were indoctrinated on the rules of armed jihad and serving God by waging war in His name to secure the domination of Islam over the whole world. The doctrine of taqiya (dissimulation), generally thought of as a Shi’a doctrine, has been adopted by the Brethren and its allies.
Another Brotherhood defector, Abdul Rahman Khalifa Salem Sobeih al-Suwaidi, an Emirati, in his book, “Ken Penjar: My History with the Organization of the Muslim Brothers,” does document that a Muslim Brother who encouraged young Muslims to join the jihad in Syria was formally excluded, but he is clear that this was largely about PR, rather than a serious deviation over ideology, and the “non-violent” Brotherhood retained “deniable” contact with its members who went to fight a violent holy war in the Levant. This is, again, unsurprising. For all the bitterness between the Brotherhood and jihadist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the differences are fundamentally tactical; the Brotherhood merely believes, at least in public, that terrorism is not the way to get to the end-state that they all broadly agree upon. Osama bin Laden, after all, began his career under the mentorship of a Palestinian Brother, Abdullah Azzam, and right to the end Bin Laden showed how deeply he was shaped by the Brotherhood.
If a terrorism designation is, as some panellists argue, too blunt an instrument, comparative cases have to be explained. In July 2020, the courts in Jordan banned and dissolved the Brotherhood; so far from increasing instability, it stabilised a situation that was slipping. Perhaps this cannot be mapped on to a Western country, but something has to be done to hinder the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to prepare the ground for an Islamic State by infiltrating the society, spreading communitarian strife, and demonizing non-Muslims.
As DeSantis put it: “U.S. policy did not take into account the radical behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood and its support for terrorist groups”. Faced with this threat on the horizon, the Muslim Brotherhood panicked, though in public largely kept its composure, running a controlled information operation to accuse the Subcommittee of “being part of a campaign by the extreme religious Right in the United States against Islam”. Still, some of the Brotherhood’s branches were less circumspect in their reactions. In Libya, Khaled al-Mashri, the leader of the Brotherhood’s “Party of Justice and Construction” (JCP), a political showcase of the Muslim Brotherhood in many ways, was quick to arrange a meeting with the U.S. chargé d’affaires Stephanie Williams, where Al-Masri on the one side presented himself as “seeking clarification”, while issuing a not-so-veiled threat that the report could have “dangerous consequences”.
It was behaviour like Al-Masri’s, trying to verbally intimidate U.S. diplomatic staff, as well as the voluminous evidence produced by the Subcommittee, that led the Trump administration in 2019 to seriously look at adding the Brotherhood to the FTO list. For various reasons, internal and external to the administration, this never happened. But the report produced by Congress in 2018, presented here in this book, has brough into the light, as never before in the West, the secret structures of the Brotherhood, its objectives, and its true doctrine.
In the Brotherhood’s heartland, the Muslim Middle East, the tide has very much turned against the Brotherhood at the geopolitical and even popular levels. In the very country of the Muslim Brotherhood’s birth, Egypt, the group is banned as a terrorist organization. This is not to say the Brotherhood has not been able to do immense damage—it contributed to the chaos in Iraq and Syria, for example, and remains involved in both places, playing on the instrumentalization of religious and other societal divisions—or that the Brotherhood is finished. The Brotherhood remains alive, and has been able to spread. For instance, it now has access to power in countries like Turkey and Tunisia, where in years gone by it had been kept very weak by stern secular governments. Finding a way to counter the ever-evolving Brotherhood will be a challenge long into the future. For analysts and policy-makers working on the issue, this book has to be considered core reading.