The Secret Apparatus. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Industry of Death is an intense and ardent j’accuse against the Muslim Brotherhood and Western countries like the United States that still cannot detect the danger posed by the Ikhwan. The main thesis is that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded nearly a century ago (1928), presents a far greater threat than is usually perceived, is nothing less than “the world’s incubator of modern Islamic terrorism” and “the world’s most dangerous militant cult”.
The book’s author, Cynthia Farahat, is an Egyptian writer who immigrated a decade ago to the United States, where she has written on jihad for American publications, penned a column for an Egyptian newspaper, testified before Congress, and advised US law enforcement about Islamism and jihad. Before that, in Egypt, she also co-founded the Liberal Egyptian Party.
Decades of research
Farahat’s rage is apparent on every page of the book, which is a culmination of more than two decades of research. She explains that she wrote the book in memory of a dear friend, Michael Mos’aad, a classic liberal human rights activist who was “murdered by Muslim Brotherhood soldiers” during the Maspero Massacre (2011). Moreover, according to the author, Farahat’s brother, Amir Abdelmalek, became a victim when Brotherhood-affiliated government agents kidnapped and tortured him to try to coerce Farahat into working with them.
Yet, even if the book is undeniably animated by deep resentment against the Brotherhood, the author is able to provide facts and accounts and approach different topics accurately and meticulously. The research, analysis, and conclusions presented in the book do not come from third-party opinions or translations but mainly from original texts and the words of Muslim Brotherhood leaders themselves.
The foreword to the book is written by Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum since its founding in 1994. To help the reader approach and appreciate Farahat’s work, Pipes outlines the content of the book’s 13 chapters by dividing them into five main blocks: background influences, the MB founder, deceptions, impact, and US policy.
Regarding the formation of the Brotherhood, Farahat traces its origins to two main sources. First, Iran and the Shia branch of Islam. In the words of the author, the medieval Assassins served as the biggest influence on the Brotherhood’s formation, something made possible by taqrib — the effort to narrow theological differences between Shia and Sunni Islam with the ultimate goal of re-establishing the caliphate and jointly waging jihad against their common enemies.
Farahat reminds us that the Iranian ideologue Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani may have been “the most important figure in the revival of Islamism” because he combined Western secret societies with Islamic clandestine proselytism. MB founder Hassan al-Banna drew heavily on this legacy to create a “twentieth-century equivalent of the order of the Assassins”.
In the mid-1960s, Ali Khamenei took advantage of his time in an Iranian prison to translate two of the MB’s key books by Sayyid Qutb into Persian and the Iranian revolution of 1978–79 saw an MB branch formally established in Iran. The two sides forged new bonds following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, when the MB fervently supported Iran’s nuclear program. From this long record, Farahat concludes that “the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian cooperation is one of the most dangerous and complicated relationships in the world of international politics, jihadism, and transnational terrorism”.
The second source of influence on the formation of the Brotherhood were, according to Farahat, an eclectic array of modern Western ideologies and forces: Kaiser “Hajji” Wilhelm II and his World War I propaganda, the Nazis (especially the brutality of the Sturmabteilung or S.A.), and the Soviets (especially Lenin’s ideas, the Comintern’s dual model of public party and secret apparatus, and Stalin’s NKVD).
The second nucleus of the dissertation pivots around al-Banna, whose influence remains dominant long after his death. The author effectively describes the controlling and invasive view of members’ obedience. Notoriously, every member must vow total obedience to the leader, known as the General Guide. However, officers of the organization involve themselves in every aspect of a member’s life, including marriages, illnesses, and hardships, in the continuous effort to pressure and control the individual.
Beyond organizational matters, al-Banna stressed two themes: the caliphate and death. Similar to virtually every jihadist group worldwide, the return to the Caliphate seemed to be the answer to every problem, whereas the cult of death led him to constantly glorify it. The mention of an “Industry of Death” (sina’at al-mawt) in the title of Farahat’s book refers to some telling statements by al-Banna in which he discusses the glory of dying for Islam: “Death is an art, sometimes a beautiful art despite its bitterness, it might even be the most beautiful of arts if it is created by the hands of a masterful artist. The Qur’an honorably presented it to its believers and compelled them to cherish and love it more than others love life … Muslims will not be saved from their reality unless they adopt the Qur’an’s philosophy of death and embrace it as an art, a truly beautiful art.”
Farahat then moves on to offer three key insights about the three MB historical deceptions. The first deception is based on a duality — namely the existence of a somewhat benign public face, the General Apparatus, and a demonic covert militia, the Secret Apparatus. The organization has engaged in doublespeak about its two halves since 1951, with the one opportunistically spouting liberal democratic values and the other expressing “extremist and pro-terrorism rhetoric”.
The second deception concerns the MB practice of directing members to formally sever ties with it and to found seemingly unrelated offshoots. For instance, Egypt’s various Salafist organizations make the MB look moderate and Hamas successfully infused the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with violence that it became a model for other MB franchises.
The third deception involves infiltration: “the Secret Apparatus systematically infiltrates and internally subverts political parties, militaries, intelligence agencies, media, educational systems, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and other influential groups”.
The fourth part of the work revolves around the notion of Civilizational Jihad, defined by the author as the entire set of lawful actions, covert operations and infiltration, cultural and political subversion, and the recruitment of people inside academia, military, intelligence community, law enforcement, and other governmental agencies.
Egypt is the model for Civilizational Jihad worldwide. Farahat argues that, since the late 1950s, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has almost full control over al-Azhar University and al-Azhar’s personnel effectively controlled the legislative branch of government by virtue of their ability to draft or vet laws prior to their being taken to Parliament. The Civilizational Jihad Operation, Farahat argues, is even “more damaging” than violence.
The final section of the work is dedicated to the myopic policies of the United States vis-à-vis Muslim Brotherhood threats. Farahat is dismayed to find that MB deceptions have succeeded: “veiled terminology was a contributing factor to the infiltration of the US government, and led to policies that supported the Muslim Brotherhood”. In the author’s view, the Muslim Brotherhood represent an existential threat, and Washington must criminalize the movement by designating it a terrorist organization.
Muslim Brothers weaponize theological terminology and poison it with violent definitions that are alien to the vast majority of Muslims. The organization founded 94 years ago operates as an imperium in imperio with parallel transnational military, intelligence, diplomatic, and educational apparatuses and, Farahat warns, Western administrations and intelligence agencies who believe they can employ jihadists as allies in their missions are delusional. The tactic of allying with jihadist groups is a methodology that inherently gives the advantage to Islamists because of their long-term strategy and their theologically-based mission. They will always win this equation.
Most importantly, the monastic patience of Islamists allows them to dominate short-term political cycles and even shorter-term memories in the West. Their project is a long-term plan: they can wait, adapt, restyle their image, but aren’t going anywhere.
The Secret Apparatus. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Industry of Death is a passionate and well documented work that can help readers see the bigger picture and understand the Brotherhood raison d’etre, strategies, and transnational links.