The Muslim Brotherhood has been the subject of study, curiosity, monitoring and fear.
Hassan Al Banna, who founded the group in Egypt in 1928, is considered the father of modern Islamism.
The inspiration behind the so-called Arab Spring was largely drawn from Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
The West, in large part, views the Muslim Brotherhood with much skepticism. This is due largely due to the group’s influence on violent extremist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
The organization seeks to impose the traditional values of Islam and Sharia (religious-based laws) on modern society. It blames the deterioration of Islamic societies on Western colonial powers and their liberal ideologies. It views the Muslim faith as the answer to society’s ills and a force that unites people from all over the Muslim world, beyond national borders.
The Muslim Brotherhood believes that, in order to achieve their objectives, they must participate in politics. It believes that by participating in politics it can affect change in society. However, on many occasions, they have resorted to terrorism and violence to achieve their goals.
Because of these starkly different methods, the group has experienced a serious split in some countries with most favoring politics, but some opting for violence.
A distinctive feature of the group is how successfully it has created structures, organizations and services to support the community. Building schools, hospitals and mosques have been effective tools in winning over large segments of society.
In the 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood expanded to Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.
The “conquest” of Europe would come a few years later. The first “brothers” arrived in Spain in the 1960s. This essay intends to look at how the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated Spain.
Let’s first look at common expansionist practices of the Muslim Brotherhood:
- Its members adapt their organization to the environment and structures of the nation that receives them. There is full freedom of movement for nascent organizations with full communication with the structure of origin.
- They capture the hearts and minds of citizens by offering humanitarian services.
- There is an “official” rejection of violence by all the Muslim Brotherhood organizations. However, this does not prevent the movement from inspiring terrorist groups and the creation of violent cells in the host countries.
- Muslim Brotherhood members in Europe maintain deep secrecy. There is a serious lack of official data on the affiliations to the leaders of the main Muslim Brotherhood organization.
As mentioned before, the group came to Spain in the 1960s. During this time, Spain’s educational and cultural policy attracted a large number of students from the Middle East. Spain was also a better option for Arab students because of its lower cost of living compared to other European countries.
Additionally, the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria during those years caused many of them to seek refuge in Spain.
Following the Law of Associations of 1964 and the Law of Religious Freedom of 1967 in Spain, the first Muslim associations were created. The most important association was the Islamic Center of Granada created in 1966 by Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian students. The direction of this center, on several occasions, was led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The main activities in the center during those years were the coordination of religious education and preaching for non-Arabs. It presented itself as a “safe space” to debate the political situation back in their home countries and drew in large audiences and subsequently their membership increased.
Divisions existing back home often were replicated in Spain. For example, in Syria two factions had emerged: The Al Talia Al Muqatila which favored armed confrontation and the Al Attar (Al Talia Al Islamiya) which supported change through political means. In 1971, the followers of Al Attar in Spain funded the Islamic Association of Spain in Madrid in 1971, breaking with the Islamic Center of Granada. Both the Islamic Center of Granada and the Islamic Association of Spain brought together all the followers of the Muslim Brothers in Spain, serving as places for congregating and debating the group´s initiatives and evolution for militants and supporters.
One figure worth highlighting is Nizar Ahmad Al Sabbagh. He led the movement in Spain until his death in 1981, and acted as a contact point and mediator between the organization in Spain and the World Muslim League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
In the 1990s, the Spanish project begins, resulting in a gradual break with Syria, but divisions emerged weakening the group in Spain. Therefore, the group lost its chance to consolidate itself as a strong organization, as it happened in other countries such as Germany and the UK.
The Muslim associating movement in Spain has a lot to do with this evolution. They tried to act as valid interlocutors with the State in order to sign the necessary cooperation agreements. Their goals were more oriented towards strengthening their institutional position to manage the growing Muslim population in Spain rather than following corporate guidelines of the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, some figures emerged in Spain who were clearly linked to terrorist actions.
In the mid-90s, the Abu Bakr mosque began to receive young people from radical environments. These youth began to distribute propaganda of Islamic Jihad, Hamas or the Algerian GIA. They wanted to create a terrorist cell linked to Al Qaeda in Spain.
Among those young was Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (Abu Musab al-Suri), from the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. He also had connections to the Algerian GIA and the Taliban in Afghanistan. His photo appears in 2010 in the first issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda´s newsletter in the Arabian Peninsula in English, along with an article published with the name of Abu Mu’sab al-Suri.
Another young man was Abu Dahdah. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria but fled the country. After traveling through multiple countries he settled in Spain, where he founded the first jihadist network there. His group, known by the Security Forces as the Abu Dahda Network, is the starting point for some of the participants in the attacks in Casablanca in 2003 or in Madrid in 2004.
At present, there is no conclusive data that affirms the official rebirth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain or the existence of an official organization or structure associated with them.
Riaj Tatary, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIDE), who is said to belong to the Brotherhood, has denied it on several occasions.
However, it appears that different organizations with a possible link to the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain are discreetly emerging such as the Islamic Relief in Spain which associated with Islamic Relief Worldwide, with members in their board of directors linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another association, the Islamic League for Dialogue and Coexistence in Spain (LIDCOE), promotes and coordinates the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain and acts as a representative of the movement before the Federation of Islamic Organization of Europe (FIOE), the branch in Europe of Muslim Brotherhood.
While their ideology is not radical in itself, the associates serve as an ideal breeding ground to facilitate radicalization and discouraging Muslims from integration into Spanish society.
• José María Blanco Navarro/Óscar Pérez Ventura MOVIMIENTOS ISLAMISTAS EN ESPAÑA. Documento Marco 2012. Instituto Español de Estudios Estratégicos.
• Los hermanos musulmanes en España. Elena Arigita y Rafael Ortega. Los movimientos islámicos trasnacionales y la emergencia de un “islam europeo”. Frank Peter y Rafael Ortega (eds)
• De la Corte Ibáñez, Luis/Jordán, Javier. La yihad terrorista (Ciencias políticas)
• Carlos Igualada Tolosa, Los hermanos Musulmanes y su presencia en España.
• Hispanomusulmanes.com. El pensamiento muslima de hoy. http://www.hispanomuslim.es/noticias/prensamuslima.htm
• La ideología de los hermanos musulmanes https://hermanosmusulmanes.wordpress.com/ideologia/
• Sergio Castaño Riaño, Los Hermanos Musulmanes.
• Javier Martin, Los Hermanos Musulmanes.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.