The Muslim Brotherhood is often correctly described as a gateway to extremism and jihadism. Its ideology is xenophobic, bigoted, and totalitarian. And although its various branches all seek to promote this ideology, they differ in terms of their preferred tactics. Specifically, some of its branches are violent and some are not. This, in short,
is the challenge in targeting the entire Brotherhood under the current system.
But my testimony will also explain that there are still opportunities for designating some of the worst factions of the Brotherhood. In addition to being less controversial, such a piecemeal approach is more suitable to the current U.S. system. I will suggest some possible targets in my testimony today.
Finally, I will argue today that if U.S. policymakers truly wish to undermine the global reach of the Muslim Brotherhood, it must take a hard look at the group’s state sponsors. Qatar and Turkey, often referred to as U.S. allies, are the primary state backers today of the Brotherhood. Congress must craft thoughtful policies on how to deter this support.
The Muslim Brotherhood – al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Arabic – was founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. 1 Al-Banna famously established the “secret apparatus” within the Brotherhood, a paramilitary outfit that “represented the organization’s commitment to jihad” and engaged in political violence. 2 In 1948, the group assassinated a judge, a police chief, and Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Naqrashi. The Egyptian government responded with a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood activity, including the assassination of al-Banna.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, the group became increasingly militant under the influence of one of the Brotherhood’s most prominent ideologues, Sayyid Qutb, who argued that most Arab rulers were heretics, and that their governments were un-Islamic. He suggested holy war, or jihad, as the answer. In 1966, he was tried and hanged for opposing the regime.
Today, the group operates in as many as 92 countries.3 Its ideology is widely viewed to be the gateway to jihadist violence. Indeed, the leaders and adherents to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have drawn inspiration from al-Banna, Qutb, and other Muslim Brotherhood thinkers.
Interestingly, as scholar Mokhtar Awad notes, “soldiery and violence is not central to the Muslim Brotherhood’s stated methodology for social and political change,” but it did feature in “Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna’s writings and vision for an ideal Muslim society.”4 Today, the Brotherhood’s creed is unambiguous: “Allah is our goal. The Prophet is our leader. The Quran is our constitution. Jihad is our way. Death in the service of Allah is the loftiest of our wishes. Allah is great, Allah is great.” 5
And while al-Banna extoled the virtue of violent armed struggle to further the global Islamic cause, it was his successor, Sayyid Qutb, who blamed the Christians and the Jews for the Muslim world’s crisis. In his most influential book, Milestones, Qutb alludes to “one of the tricks played by world Jewry so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs.”6
Christian principles and teachings, according to Qutb, were “absolutely incomprehensible, inconceivable and incredible.”7 He contended, “it would be extremely short-sighted of us to fall into the illusion that when the Jews and Christians discuss Islamic beliefs or Islamic history … they will be doing it with good intentions.” 8 Modern-day Brotherhood leaders like Gemal Heshmat, whom Turkey now hosts, similarly believe that “Jewish and Christian religious extremists” are culpable for attempts to destabilize Islamist-led governments. After the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure warned that the country’s Christians should “reconcile with Muslims or their blood will continue to run like rivers and nobody will care.” 9
The Brotherhood also vilifies secular democracy. Al-Banna founded the Brotherhood out of a conviction that “Westernization” and, in particular, the West’s modernity, had caused the decline of Muslim societies. 10 Qutb was even more anti-Western, finding Western values abhorrent after he had spent a short time in the United States. In his book “The America I Have Seen,” 11 Qutb offered a distorted chronology of American history and condemned America as a soulless, materialistic place that no Muslim should aspire to live in. 12He believed that the Western world’s separation of religion and state was “hideous schizophrenia.” He thus believed Muslims had a duty to return Islam to public life. 13 And for those Muslims who did not agree, he endorsed takfir – the process of declaring a Muslim an apostate. 14
The ideas of al-Banna and Qutb continue to echo within today’s Muslim Brotherhood. In 2015, for example, a group of Brotherhood and allied Islamist scholars published a book titled The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup, in which they claimed that the “goal of Egyptian army operations in the Sinai is … for the benefit of the Jews.” 15 A series of articles posted to the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language website in October 2010 feature titles such as “Authenticity of Perversion and Corruption in Jewish Personality.” 16 Jurisprudence also claims that “enemies of Muslim peoples,” a thinly veiled reference to the West, have “long harmed Muslims” and rendered them incapable of retaliation. 17
Finally, the Brotherhood has not forgotten the call to jihad. In recent years, Brotherhood members continued to extol “the Jihadi tendency settled as a doctrine in the foundation of Imam al-Banna’s methodology and the acculturation of the Muslim Brotherhood.” 18
Read the full testimony here.