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The Muslim Brotherhood

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Mustafa Kemal (later given the last name Atatürk, or father of the Turks). The hero of Gallipoli, who blunted and then defeated the British-French invasion at the straits of the Dardanelles in 1915, thwarted Western plans to partition Turkey into imperial holdings.

The result was a Turkified nation, one in which religion was separated from power. Atatürk's Turkey was committed under his leadership to joining the Western world - in language, in dress, in its commitment to development and to military power. And in this project, Atatürk by and large succeeded. Turkey today is his greatest achievement.

But Atatürk's insistence on a largely secular government also sparked a counter-movement of Muslims who wished to save Islam from the 'polluting' contact with the West. In Egypt, this led to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 to revive the Caliphate, following the abolition of the Ottoman Empire by Atatürk four years earlier. Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna rejected the phenomenon of Western-style nationalism and espoused an ideology of “pan-Islamic nationalism” in the hopes of bringing back the Caliphate.

“Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries, nor does it acknowledge racial and blood differences, considering all Muslims as one Umma (global community of Muslims). The Muslim Brethren (Muslim Brotherhood)…. believe that the Caliphate is a symbol of Islamic Union and an indication of the bonds between the nations of Islam. They see the Caliphate and its re-establishment as a top priority...” - Hassan al-Banna

Banna was concerned with what he considered the greatest threat to Islam: the rise of secularism and Western culture in Muslim societies. To counter this danger, Banna began Da'wah (proselytization) in schools, mosques, and coffee houses, spreading his pan-Islamist ideology and emphasizing the need to return to Sharia.

Hasan al-Bana founder of the Muslim Brotherhood

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Brotherhood’s most notable theorist, Sayyid Qutb, promoted jihad as an offensive force to be used against secular Arab governments. Qutb argued that Muslim societies living under these governments existed in a 'state of jahiliyya', similar to Arabia’s pagan existence prior to the divine message of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

According to Qutb, this affliction could only be corrected by the implementation of Sharia, brought about by offensive jihad and the killing of secular state officials. Indeed, Qutb helped to re-popularize the Islamic concept of Takfir, by which Muslims serving a secular ruler are rendered apostates and thus legitimate targets for execution.

In the 1990s, the late Mohammad Ma’mun al-Hudaibi - who served as the Brotherhood’s supreme guide between 2002 and 2004 - expounded upon the Brotherhood’s ideology in an interview with the Harvard International Review. Hudaibi stated that in a Caliphate envisioned by the Brotherhood, daily life would be governed by Islamic teachings as interpreted by Islamic judges, with no need for a state’s rulers to impose man-made or “general laws.”

Hudaibi stressed that the holistic, Islam-centered Caliphate was shattered by Western and Christian imperialism, including Britain’s rule over Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries. While Muslim peoples eventually liberated themselves from Western rule, they were unable to reclaim the Islamic governance under which they had previously lived.

Therefore, Hudaibi explained, in order to repair society after its purported deterioration into Western imperialism, “Movements of Islamic revival became active to spread the correct Islamic ideas and to demand the application of the rulings of the Islamic Shari’ah... ”Among these movements was the Muslim Brotherhood. Since, according to the Brotherhood, the lack of holistic Islamic governance is the “problem,” the Brotherhood’s longstanding slogan has been that “Islam is the solution.”

Two Pillars

The Brotherhood has two pillars articulated by Hudaibi and published on the group’s website:

  1. “The introduction of the Islamic Shari‘ah as the basis controlling the affairs of state and society”

  2. “Work to achieve unification among the Islamic countries and states, mainly among the Arab states, and liberating them from foreign imperialism.”

According to Hudaibi, the Brotherhood seeks to re-establish Islamic governance from the bottom up by building a “popular base that believes in the Islamic system and is aware of its main ideas.”

The Brotherhood has built this popular base through grassroots efforts, including not only political organizing and religious indoctrination but also, most notably in Egypt, provision of health care, education, and other social welfare goods and services that governments often fail to deliver satisfactorily.

In Egypt and elsewhere, the Brotherhood has used this popular base to obtain increased political representation and power through democratic processes, despite the group’s ultimate political goal of un-democratic, Islamist rule.

The Brotherhood seeks to implement its vision in stages.

Banna promoted the gradualist construction of the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, the Muslim community, and finally the Muslim government, or Islamic State, which Banna believed would bind all Muslims to Allah.

Banna stressed that the Muslim Brotherhood was uninterested in revolutionary tactics, and instead operated with a slow and steady approach. Article 4, section 2 of the Brotherhood’s 1945 basic regulations stated, “The Brethren [Brothers] will always prefer gradual advancement and development.”

According to the Brotherhood’s official English website, Ikhwanweb, Banna would warn the Brotherhood members “who were looking for fast results that they would either have to learn to be patient and persevering or leave the movement.”

Today, the Brotherhood is split between the old guard that champions this strategy, and the younger generation that has voiced and demonstrated its support for a revolutionary approach using violent means.

The Brotherhood’s organizational structure

The Brotherhood’s International Organization is reportedly comprised of the group’s global affiliates, which operate in at least 18 countries, including Egypt.

Former Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib told Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahrar in 2008 that global Brotherhood affiliates share “the same ideology, principle, and objectives” as the Egyptian branch, but operate in a “decentraliz[ed]” fashion in order to respond to the unique challenges and contexts that each entity confronts.

Brotherhood scholars suggest that the International Organization is loose and often ineffective, as domestic circumstances outweigh each affiliate’s loyalty to the larger global apparatus. In addition, there is believed to be little formal coordination between global affiliates.

There is disagreement as to the overall leader of the International Organization. While some reports name imprisoned Egyptian Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie as the Organization’s leader, others indicate that it is led by the London-based Ibrahim Mounir.


During Morsi’s year-long presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood is believed to have received large sums of money from the Qatari government. Qatar reportedly loaned Morsi’s government approximately $2.5 billion, and aided Morsi’s regime with grants and so-called “energy supplies,” according to Reuters.

Also during Morsi’s presidency, Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Al Thani reportedly secretly transferred funds as high as $850,000 to the Brotherhood. Numerous transfers of money between Al Thani and top Brotherhood leaders reportedly occurred in early-mid 2013.

In addition to relying on outside funding, the Brotherhood owns valuable assets and sources of income in the countries in which it operates. In Egypt, the group collects taxes and fees from approximately 600,000 members, and many Brotherhood leaders own commercial enterprises such as supermarkets and furniture stores which largely profit the Brotherhood.

Western groups affiliated with the Brotherhood are believed to set up vast ‘charity’ and fundraising operations within their local Muslim communities, sending all collected money back to larger Brotherhood operations in Egypt and Syria. Other reports suggest that Muslim Brotherhood members living in Europe are often involved in money-laundering schemes launched to finance Brotherhood activities.

The government of Saudi Arabia financially supported the Brotherhood for decades but reduced its funding after the Brotherhood supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Throughout its nearly nine-decade history, the Brotherhood has at times imposed 'jizya' (a tax for non-Muslims) on Christians and other religious minorities.


The Egyptian Brotherhood’s recruitment process is tailored to prevent security officials from penetrating the group. According to Eric Trager in Foreign Affairs, local Brotherhood leaders scout potential members “at virtually every Egyptian University.”

The members approach potential recruits in a non-political context and engage in activities such as tutoring or soccer. Recruiters do not initially reveal themselves as Brotherhood members.

According to Khaled Hamza, an editor of the Brotherhood’s English-language website, the recruitment process can last up to a year. Hamza notes, “We are an ideological grass-roots group, and we use our faith to pick members.” The children of Brotherhood members are often exposed to Brotherhood activities at an early age. In some cases, children as young as nine are targeted as recruits.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood expanded its recruitment activities amidst the chaos of the Syrian civil war, setting up recruitment offices and urging members living in large Syrian cities to return to local communities and reconnect with the people there.

A Syrian Brotherhood member familiar with recruitment told the Carnegie Endowment in 2013, “[there is a] real thirst for the Muslim Brotherhood inside Syria.” The Syrian Brotherhood found success in recruiting members from rebel-held areas of Syria, especially in and near Aleppo.

Physical Training

Because the Muslim Brotherhood does not have a military arm, the group does not carry out military training. However, a 2012 piece in 'Der Spiegel' quoted a former Brotherhood member as saying that there are training camps in Egypt that train Brotherhood members in “hand-to-hand combat,” a claim that the Brotherhood reportedly denies.

In 1940, the Egyptian Brotherhood launched Nizam al-Khass, or the “secret apparatus,” largely in response to the failure of the Arab uprising in Palestine (1936-1939). The military wing was composed of civilians with varying degrees of paramilitary training.

It carried out numerous assassinations and bombings that concluded in the 1948 murder of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nuqrashi Pasha, who had recently banned the Brotherhood.

During the 1952 Egyptian revolution that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, members of the secret apparatus blocked the infiltration of British troops into the Suez Canal zone and secured the highway between Cairo and Ismailia.

Ideological Training

The Egyptian Brotherhood’s ideological training process consists of a series of stages during which members’ philosophical beliefs are monitored, shaped, and tested. In the preliminary stage, which can last from six months to four years, Brotherhood members closely observe the new recruit’s ideology. The recruit is referred to as a muhibb, or “lover.”

If the muhibb’s ideology proves developed and sturdy, the muhibb enters an usra, or “family” of approximately four or five Brotherhood members.

The usra meets once a week and serves to educate and strengthen the ideology of the muhibb. After graduating from the usra, the muhibb becomes a mu’ayyad, or “supporter,” a stage that lasts from one to three years.

Although the mu’ayyad cannot yet vote within the Brotherhood structure, he can preach, teach in mosques, and recruit new muhibb-level candidates. A mu’ayyad also has the responsibility of studying Hassan al-Banna’s texts.

After graduating from the mu’ayyad stage, the member become a muntasib, or “affiliated” individual. After one year at muntasib status, the Brother graduates to become a muntazim, or “organizer.”

The muntazim stage generally lasts one year, and the individual is responsible for forming usra groups as well as memorizing of the Quran. A muntazim is regularly presented with false accusations and information to test his loyalty under pressure.

In the final stage, the muntazim becomes an akh-‘amil, “working brother,” and has the right to vote in Brotherhood elections and compete within the leadership hierarchy.

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