Background: Who are the Muslim Brothers?

Egypt's largest, best-organized opposition movement wants to first prepare society, and then found a Koranic state.

Muslim Brotherhood Leadership Council in Egypt 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Muslim Brotherhood Leadership Council in Egypt 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
As the Egyptian popular uprising enters its seventh day on Monday, all eyes are on the Muslim Brothers, the country’s largest and best-organized opposition movement, to see how it will try to leverage the crisis to further its goal of rising to power.
Founded by Hassan al- Banna in the smoky coffeehouses of Cairo in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood believes in the establishment of a fundamentalist state ruled according to the strictest interpretation of Shari’a (Islamic law).
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As the movement grew, it became the target of an anxious Egyptian establishment, and in December 1948, one of its members assassinated prime minister Mahmud Nokrashi. Soon afterwards, Egyptian security forces killed Banna in retaliation.
In 1954, secular nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser banned the Brotherhood, and it has remained prohibited in Egypt ever since.
Thousands of members were imprisoned and routinely tortured in the second half of the 20th century.
The Brotherhood views secular Arab regimes as the foremost obstacle to setting up a state it believes has been ordained by the Koran. These ideas have been expressed most virulently by Islamist ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in Egypt in 1966.
The Brotherhood’s ideology has placed it on a collision path with the Egyptian state for more than 60 years, forcing it to come up with a pragmatic, slowmoving tactical road map, that seeks to work within the current political order in order to undermine it.
The Muslim Brothers share the goal of Islamist sovereignty with the global jihadi movement, led by al-Qaida, but the Brothers scorn the tactics of the jihadis, which they view as counterproductive.
As the Brotherhood evolved in Egypt and then spread to other Arab countries, and beyond, its ideologues came to believe that instant jihad was useless so long as the masses were not “properly” following Islam.
There would be no point in establishing an Islamic state, they reasoned, if an Islamic nation following their ideology did not first exist to populate it.
The Muslim Brothers therefore dedicated themselves to spreading their ideology and interpretation of Islam throughout society, a process they call Da’wa, and have used charities, clinics and social aid networks to spread their ideas and prepare the public for the implementation of a Koranic state.
Once an Islamic society was formed in Egypt, as well as in other Muslim states, they reasoned, an Islamic revolution would naturally erupt, or a government of their choosing would be elected without the need to fire a single bullet.
Violent jihadis, on the other hand, believe that their desired state must first be created through armed revolution, and that Islamizing society is the secondary goal.
Today, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt are led by Muhammad Badi, elected as head of the organization in 2010, who is considered too meek and uncharismatic a character to gain the backing of the multitudes of Egyptians trying to force out their government, according to Prof. Elie Podeh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
“We’ve heard nothing from Badi since the beginning of this,” he said.
Podeh said that while the exact popularity of the Brothers cannot be measured due to the lack of democracy in Egypt, 2005’s parliamentary elections did see 88 Muslim Brotherhood representatives – who ran as independents to bypass the law – voted into the 454- member parliament.
By the time the 2010 parliamentary elections were held in November, the regime had become alarmed at their influence, and not one Muslim Brotherhood candidate won a seat.
“That means that 88 out 454 is the minimum number of seats they could win, and their popularity could be greater,” Podeh said. “The regime is very afraid of them.”
Podeh said the Brotherhood could now be deliberately lowering its own profile in the current crisis as a deception tactic, while supporting the uprising.
Should free elections ever be held in Egypt, the Brothers have a reasonable chance of winning, he said. “Clearly this is a possibility.
This is the most organized opposition in Egypt. The rest of the opposition groups are are a rabble.”
The Brotherhood has worked with liberal parties within Egypt in recent years, and likely views former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition figure calling for democracy in Egypt, as “a tool that can serve them,” Podeh said.
The movement is probably still biding its time to see whether the Mubarak regime will fall or not, and fears severe retaliation if it attempts a coup that fails, he said.
In addition to representing a sea change within Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood government would obviously spell bad news for relations with Israel.
In 2009, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt published a draft charter on its website, in which it said that the peace treaty with Israel would be “reviewed” if it came to power.
“They said review, not cancel. But that may be because they don’t want to worry people,” Podeh said.
Still, a Muslim Brotherhood regime may not automatically lead to confrontation, he added.
“There is a certain pragmatism within the movement, and it may one day be expressed in its foreign policy,” he said.
In addition to its national structure, an international Muslim Brotherhood also exists, led by exiled Egyptian Sheikh Yussuf al-Qaradawi, who lives in Qatar.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt