Founded in 1928 by the Egyptian schoolteacher/activist Hasan al-Banna (a devout admirer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) — a Sunni entity — is one of the oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organizations in the world. While Egypt historically has been the center of the Brotherhood’s operations, the group today is active in more than 70 countries (some estimates range as high as 100+). Islam expert Robert Spencer has called MB “the parent organization of Hamas and al Qaeda.” In 2003, Richard Clarke – the chief counterterrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations – told a Senate committee that Hamas, al Qaeda, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were all “descendants of the membership and ideology of the Muslim Brothers.”
MB was established in accordance with al-Banna’s proclamation that Islam should be “given hegemony over all matters of life.” Toward that end, the Brotherhood seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, or kingdom — first spanning all of the present-day Muslim world, and eventually the entire globe. The organization further aspires to dismantle all non-Islamic governments wherever they currently exist, and to make Islamic Law (Shari’a) the sole basis of jurisprudence everywhere on earth. This purpose is encapsulated in the Brotherhood’s militant credo: “God is our objective, the Koran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle [jihad] is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”
Consistent with the foregoing credo, MB since its founding has supported the use of armed struggle, or jihad,against non-Muslim “infidels.” As al-Banna himself wrote: “Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim and cannot be ignored nor evaded.” Added al-Banna: “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.”
In the 1930s, the Brotherhood was largely an underground organization. Paramilitary in nature, it stockpiled weapons and operated clandestine camps that provided instruction in military and terrorist tactics. Partly due to its call for a return to traditionalist Islamic values, and partly because of the unpopularity of the Egyptian monarchy, MB’s membership swelled throughout the Thirties and early Forties. By 1944, the Brotherhood in Egypt consisted of some 1,500 branches and as many as a half-million members. As of 1948, its membership may have exceeded 2 million. During the Forties, the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat fought alongside MB.
According to scholar Martin Kramer, the Muslim Brotherhood of that period had “a double identity”:
“On one level, they operated openly, as a membership organization of social and political awakening. Banna preached moral revival, and the Muslim Brethren engaged in good works. On another level, however, the Muslim Brethren created a ‘secret apparatus’ that acquired weapons and trained adepts in their use. Some of its guns were deployed against the Zionists in Palestine in 1948, but the Muslim Brethren also resorted to violence in Egypt. They began to enforce their own moral teachings by intimidation, and they initiated attacks against Egypt’s Jews.”
In December 1948, a Brotherhood member assassinated Egyptian prime minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi. Egypt’s government retaliated by banishing MB from the country. Then, in February 1949, Hasan al-Banna was killed by government agents in Cairo. A harsh, official crackdown was initiated against the Brotherhood; thousands of its members were imprisoned and many others were confined to detention camps.
With Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary seizure of power in Egypt (ending the monarchy of King Farouk) in 1952, MB split into two factions. One, led by Hasan al-Hudaybi, favored working with Nasser’s secular government in an effort to gradually move the country toward Islamic fundamentalism. A more radical faction, led by the writer and ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1909-1966), advocated armed revolution against corrupt (i.e., non-Islamist) regimes in the Middle East and, more broadly, against unbelievers in Western nations.
Qutb — whose wordview distinguished sharply between “the Party of Allah and the Party of Satan,” — declared that Egyptian society under the secular Nasser was contrary to authentic Islam. Asserting that the Prophet Mohammad himself would have rejected such a government, Qutb claimed that Muslims had both a right and an obligation to resist it. Qutb’s writings — which challenged the views of mainstream Sunni theologians, who extolled the Islamic tradition of deference to the state and ruler — are now cited by many scholars as some of the first formulations of political Islam.
A corollary of Qutb’s fundamentalist critique of Egyptian society was his abiding contempt for the Western, especially the United States, which he regarded as spiritually vacant, decadent, idolatrous and fundamentally hostile to Islamic piety.
After MB member Abdul Munim Abdul Rauf tried to assassinate President Nasser in October 1954, the Brotherhood, which had recently received permission to resume its operations in Egypt, was outlawed once again. Nasser dissolved the organization, burned down its headquarters, arrested approximately 15,000 of its members, and executed some others—most famously Qutb. Many of the remaining members fled the country. Scholar Raymond Ibrahim speculates as to why Nasser took such extreme measures against the Brotherhood:
“Nasser, a pious Muslim, was most likely intimately, if not instinctively, aware of what the Brotherhood was—and still is: he was aware that it is impossible for Muslim organizations committed to theocratic rule to negotiate or share power, much less be trustworthy allies. In short, Nasser was aware that, once the opportunity presented itself, the Brotherhood would do everything in its power to take over: unlike secular parties concerned with the temporal, it has a divine mandate — a totalitarian vision — to subdue society to Sharia.
“Some people even maintain that Nasser himself staged the assassination attempt as a pretext to eliminate the Brotherhood. – an interpretation that only further supports the theory that Nasser knew he had to dismantle the Islamists, and was willing to play dirty to do so. Nasser’s approach, then, is the realpolitik approach of one who knows that you must suppress those who would suppress you—once circumstances permit — a long-term approach that takes the big picture into account, unlike many Western politicians who are only looking for a quick fix for the duration of their term.”
With Nasser’s action, MB receded as a political force in Egypt, where it has been banned ever since. Notwithstanding the ban, the Egyptian government has permitted the Brotherhood to operate within limits since the 1970s, keeping the organization in check with frequent arrests and crackdowns.
MB re-emerged somewhat under Anwar Sadat, a sympathizer of the group, when he became Egypt’s president in 1970. Taking advantage of the Brotherhood’s militant aversion to secularism, Sadat sponsored the organization against his communist and socialist political opposition. Later, however, MB joined the political Left in opposing Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel, believing the normalization of relations with the Jewish State to be a betrayal of Islam.
Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, after a fatwa (religious edict) calling for his death had been issued by Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Islamic Group leader who despised Sadat for having struck a bargain with Israel. The assassination was planned jointly by MB and the Islamic Group.
In 1995, Mustafa Mashhur, who would head MB in Egypt from 1996-2002, published Jihad Is the Way, the last of a five-volume work titled The Laws of Da’wa. Jihad Is the Way detailed MB’s determination to advance Islam’s global conquest, to reestablish an Islamic Caliphate, and to infuse all Muslims with a sense of duty to wage jihad against Israel. Masshur said that MB differed from al Qaeda only in its tactics, not in its goals. Among his book’s quotes were the following:
In more recent years, the Brotherhood has attempted to forge a reputation as a moderate and reformist Islamic group that has renounced its violent past, in favor of participation in local and national politics. Even in Egypt, where MB is officially banned, the organization runs candidates as “independents” in that country’s parliamentary elections, under the slogan “Islam is the Solution.” Some Islamist groups have condemned such engagement in secular politics as a heretical abandonment of jihad’s mandates. In practice, however, MB’s political involvement has not replaced, but rather has supplemented, its pursuit of jihad-by-the-sword.
Indeed, numerous statements by MB leaders offer compelling evidence of the group’s undiminished militancy. For example, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, has repeatedly pledged his support for the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah. Muhammad Mahdi Othman Akef, who served as MB’s Supreme Guide from 2004-2009, expressed his support for suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq (during the Iraq War), “in order to expel the Zionists and the Americans.”
Many other Brotherhood luminaries have likewise justified jihadist terrorism against Israel and the United States. MB spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi has written: “There is no dialogue between them [the Jews] and us, other than in one language — the language of the sword and force.” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, was a member of the Brotherhood. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian MB preacher, was a mentor to al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a Brotherhood member as a young man, though he later broke with the group because of its willingness to participate in political elections. And bin Laden himself belonged to the Saudi branch of the Brotherhood before being ejected in the late 1980s for insisting on waging jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan.
“From my point of view, bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri and [the late radical Islamist] al-Zarqawi are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists.”
Embracing Hasan al-Banna’s belief that Islam is destined to eventually dominate all the world, MB today is global in its reach, wielding influence in almost every country with a Muslim population. Moreover, it maintains political parties in many Middle-Eastern and African countries, including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and even Israel. Not only does the Brotherhood exist in Israel proper, but its Palestinian chapter created] the terrorist organization Hamas, through which MB has supported terrorism against Israel ever since. Article II of the Hamas charter explicitly identifies Hamas as “one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine.” In January 2006 Hamas defeated the rival Fatah party to win the Palestinian legislative elections, thereby becoming the first branch of MB to control an official government.
Outside of the Middle East, MB exercises a strong influence in Muslim communities throughout Europe. Among the more prominent Brotherhood organizations in the region are: the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations, the Muslim Association of Britain, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the Islamische Gemeinschaft Deutschland (IGD), and the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF).
The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States:
MB also has expanded its operations to the United States. The first American chapter of the Brotherhood was formed in the early 1960s after hundreds of young Muslims came to the U.S. to study, particularly at large Midwestern universities such as Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Some of these students had been MB members in their homelands and now wanted to spread the group’s ideology in America. MB’s early activities in the U.S. centered around the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada, founded in 1963. One of the more noteworthy founding fathers of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood was Jamal Barzinji.
In the 1970s, the United States experienced a new influx of Muslim Brothers from the Middle East. At that time, MB launched a five-year plan that sought to make the period of 1975-1980 “an era of dedication for general activism.” This phase was characterized by a growing emphasis on secrecy, as well as the development of a long-term strategy.
The Brotherhood initiated a second five-year plan for 1981-1985, with a focus on using Da’wa (proselytization) to increase MB’s influence in organizations that were evolving among young Muslim immigrants to America.
In 1982, MB adopted a 14-page strategic plan known as “The Global Project for Palestine,” which outlined a 12-point strategy to “establish an Islamic government on earth.” Departing from standard Islamist rhetoric (i.e., “Death to America! Death to Israel!”), this Project represented a flexible, multi-phased, long-term plan for a “cultural invasion” of the West. Calling for the utilization of multiple tactics — including immigration, infiltration, surveillance, propaganda, protest, deception, political legitimacy, and outright terrorism — the Project has served, since its drafting, as the Muslim Brotherhood “master plan.”
In May 1991, MB produced an “Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America.” This document was written by Mohamed Akram Adlouni, a member not only of MB’s governing Shura Council, but also of its Planning Committee, its “Special Committee,” its Curriculum Committee, its Palestine Committee (which provided “media, money and men” to Hamas), and its QZT Committee (a high-level entity identified only by its initials).
Asserting that the Brotherhood’s mission was to establish “an effective and … stable Islamic Movement” on the continent, this document outlined a “Civilization-Jihadist Process” for achieving that objective. It stated that Muslims “must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands … so that … God’s religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions.” Through stealth jihad, the Brotherhood would seek to impose Islamic values and customs on the West in piecemeal fashion — gradually, incrementally gaining ever-greater influence over the culture. The memorandum listed some 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” which sought to realize the same goal. These included:
At a 1995 conference (hosted by the Muslim Arab Youth Association) in Toledo, Ohio, MB spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi vowed that Islam would “conquer Europe [and] America — not through sword but through Da’wa [proselytizing].” He also urged Muslims to “continue to fight the Jews” and “kill them.”
In January 2010, Muhammad Badi [a.k.a. Muhammad Badie] was named as MB’s new Supreme Guide. Badi has described the U.S. as an infidel nation that “does not champion moral and human values and cannot lead humanity.” He has characterized America and Israel as “the Muslim’s real enemies,” asserting that “[w]aging jihad against both of these infidels is a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded.” And he maintains that the “change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.”
In January 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s hold on power was threatened by massive swarms of protesters rioting in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria to express their opposition to his government. There was much speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood stood a strong chance of filling the power vacuum that Mubarak would leave behind if he were to step down from the presidency. In a television interview, MB deputy leader Rashad al-Bayoumi declared:
“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the  peace treaty with Israel.”
In early February 2011, Muhammad Ghannem, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, told the Iranian news network Al-Alam that “the people [of Egypt] should be prepared for war against Israel,” emphasizing that “the Egyptian people are prepared for anything to get rid of this regime.” That objective was entirely consistent with former MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Mahdi Othman Akef’s 2007 assertion that his organization had never recognized Israel and never would: “Our lexicon does not include anything called ‘Israel.’ The [only thing] we acknowledge is the existence of Zionist gangs that have occupied Arab lands and deported the residents. If they want to live among us, it will have to be as [residents of] Palestine.”
In a June 11, 2011 article on the website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, veteran MB member Sheikh Ahmad Gad argued that the implementation of shari’a in Egypt must be achieved by “gradual action, preparing the [people’s] souls and setting an example, so that faith will enter their hearts … step by step.” This approach was reminiscent of what had been outlined in the Brotherhood’s 1991 “explanatory memorandum.”
In November 2011, an MB spokesman stated without equivocation, “The Sharia, the Muslim legal framework, must be the foundation for everything.” On November 24, senior Brotherhood leaders publicly preached violent jihad, and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, a Brotherhood entity, declared that it was time to “revive the duty of jihad in all its forms.”
In late 2011, MB, according to a senior Hamas source, officially accepted Hamas as part of the global Brotherhood organization. To emphasize this development, Hamas added the phrase “a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – Palestine” to its official name.
The Egyptian Presidential Election of 2012:
Through early 2012, MB, in an effort to prove its desire for a pluralistic society in Egypt, promised not to run a candidate for the presidency of that country (to replace the ousted Hosni Mubarak, whose regime had regularly persecuted, jailed, and banned members of the Brotherhood). But in the early spring, MB did in fact nominate one of its chief strategists, Khairat el-Shater, to run for president. To avoid violating MB’s pledge not to field a candidate, el-Shater, who had been jailed from 2007-2011 by the Mubarak government, formally resigned from the Brotherhood. In April 2012, however, Egypt’s election commission disqualified el-Shater from the race, citing a law which stated that previously incarcerated individuals could not run in political elections until at least six years had passed since their pardon or their release from prison.
After El-Shater’s disqualification, another MB-backed candidate, Mohammed Morsi, emerged as a serious contender for the presidency. Morsi was chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, which the Brotherhood had founded in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. At a campaign rally for Morsi, a hardline Islamist cleric named Safwat Hegazy declared: “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi,” and “The capital of the Caliphate and the United Arab States is Jerusalem, God willing.”
Anticipating Morsi’s presidential victory, MB leadership in Egypt held a secret meeting (in June 2012) and drew up the so-called “Jazira Plan” — which was was personally approved by MB Supreme Leader Mohammed Badi — to Islamize Egypt and pave the way for the resurrection of the Caliphate. Among the Plan’s first steps would be to “replace the nation anthem with the so-called anthem of the Islamic Caliphate.” Moreover, police uniforms would be swapped out for “Islamic garb”; the Ministry of Information would be disbanded and replaced by a new office that would “publish Islamic heritage only” and regulate the culture; and the memorization of Quranic verses would be required for students to advance academically.
In June 2012, Morsi indeed won the first free presidential election in Egyptian history. Upon his victory, Morsi said that Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel would be “revise[d]”; he blasted Egypt’s military leaders for having recently dissolved the nation’s Islamist-dominated parliament; and he asserted that Egypt’s forging relations with Iran were “part of my agenda” and would “create a strategic balance in the region.”
The Iranian Armed Forces, for their part, lauded Morsi’s victory as “the first stage of Egypt’s revolution in the era of Islamic Awakening.” They also called on the Egyptian military—the main opposition to the Egyptian Islamists—to “welcome this divine blessing with open arms” and share in the building of Egypt “based on Islamic foundations….” In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian population likewise celebrated Morsi’s win. Hamas head of government Ismail Haniya told Reuters TV: “We will look to Egypt to play a big, leading role…in helping the Palestinian nation get freedom [and] return home….” Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said: “We are ready to sacrifice our blood to protect Egyptian soldiers” as sweets were handed out to Egyptian-flag-waving civilians in the streets.
During his first few months in office, Morsi assumed virtually dictatorial powers and began to brutally subdue his enemies. On December 9, 2012, The Daily Caller reported that according to Mohamad Jarehi, a journalist for the privately owned Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Muslim Brotherhood was operating (in the words of The Daily Caller) “a carefully controlled network of torture chambers designed to violently dehumanize opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.”
The Libyan Presidential Election of 2012:
On July 7, 2012, former Muammar Qadhafi crony Mahmoud Jibril, candidate of the National Forces Alliance (NFA), defeated MB’s Justice and Construction Party candidate in the battle for Libya’s presidency. Though the Western media largely hailed NFA as a “liberal” and “secular” party, it was in fact neither; indeed it described itself as moderate Islamist. Moreover, NFA was not actually a political party in the traditional sense of the term, but a broad, nebulous bloc of approximately 60 parties and hundreds of civil and national organizations, ranging from tribal groups to soccer clubs. At the time of the election, the identities of many NFA member groups were unknown to the public.
The first of the founding principles in the NFA draft charter stated that “Islam is the religion of society and authority, and Islamic Sharia is the major source of legislation.” The thirty-first principle called for supporting the Palestinian cause “by all means” and rejected any dealings with the “Zionist entity.” Further, the draft charter made no mention of the bloc being “pro-Western,” as media reports described it. Giving no recognition to Africans or non-Muslims, the charter was in essence a document of Islamic and Arab supremacism. Thus, its values and agendas were largely compatible with those of the Brotherhood. Soon after the election, journalist Daniel Greenfield explained the alliance that NFA and the Brotherhood had quietly made:
“[T]he NFA and the Brotherhood are on the same page…. The Brotherhood needs Jibril out front to reassure foreign investors…. The central purpose of the Libyan election is to maintain the illusion of stability even as the fighting goes on…. As the West sends money to reconstruct Libya, a good deal of those contracts will go to Muslim Brotherhood businessmen with construction companies. While NFA chieftains sit on the boards of national companies,… the Brotherhood’s big wheels will carve out their own monopolies. Between them the regime businessmen and the Brotherhood businessmen will form a mafia splitting Western economic aid and contracts between them…. The Libyan election was a farce which saw the NFA and the Muslim Brotherhood join together for a sham election whose true purpose is soliciting Western money while uniting to crush eastern separatists. It is not a step forward for democracy, but a return to tyranny.”
MB Leader Calls for “Holy Jihad” Against Israel:
In July 2012, Mohammed Badie, head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, said that “all Muslims” have an “individual duty” to “purify [Israel] from the hands of usurpers and cleanse Palestine from the clutches of the Occupation … They must wage Jihad with their money and lives and free it, and free its prisoners, male and female … and enable all of the displaced to return to their homeland, their homes, and their possessions.”
In October 2012, Badie revisited this theme: “Let Muslims know and let Believers be certain that the recovery of the holy sites and the safeguarding of goods and blood from the hands of the Jews will not be through the corridors of the United Nations, nor through negotiations. The Zionists only know the method of force. They will not step back from transgression, unless they are forced to. This will only be by holy Jihad, and enormous sacrifices and all forms of resistance. One day they will be certain that we will choose this Way, and raise the flag of Jihad in the Way of God. We will go forth to the field of Jihad. This will curb their hands and prevent their tyranny.”
MB Outlawed in Egypt:
On Christmas Day 2013, the Egyptian government formally labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, banning all of its activities including protests. The announcement came after the government blamed the Brotherhood for the suicide bombing of a police station in Mansoura.
United Kingdom Designates MB As Terro**rist Entity:**
Following an 18-month governmental study, the United Kingdom in December 2015 issued a report describing MB as a terrorist organization that was opposed to a number of key Western values. According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT): “The new account, resulting from an exhaustive investigation by respected foreign-policy experts, presents a brutally honest and in-depth examination of the [MB] movement. In breaking from the U.S., the U.K. has ironically shifted closer to Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in identifying the MB as a terrorist group.” “Aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in a statement, “… run counter to British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality, and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” “The main findings of the review,” he added, “support the conclusion that membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.” Consequently, the prime minister said that the U.K. government would not only continue to refuse visas to MB members and associates, but would also increase its surveillance on the group’s activities.
The Obama administration quickly condemned the UK report and characterized MB as an organization with a history of nonviolence. The “political repression of nonviolent Islamist groups has historically contributed to the radicalization of the minority of their members who would consider violence,” said the administration. “The de-legitimization of non-violent political groups does not promote stability, and instead advances the very outcomes that such measures are intended to prevent.”
IPT offered the following insight into why President Obama and his administration had so consistently been sympathetic to MB, its operatives, and its agendas: “Ever since it took office, the Obama administration has accepted Islamist groups and regimes run by the Muslim Brotherhood into its fold, under the belief that, when allowed to participate in government, Islamists will no longer feel repressed and forced to engage in brutality. Rather, they will channel their frustrations into peaceful political action, support a pluralist form of government, and forgo any violence.”