Wed, March 23, 2011 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Muslim Brotherhood and Its Political Agenda: “Islam is the solution”
The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic mass movement whose worldview is based on the belief that “Islam is the solution” and on the stated aim of establishing a world order based on Islamic religious law (a caliphate) on the ruins of Western liberalism. With extensive support networks in Arab countries and, to a lesser extent, in the West, the movement views the recent events in Egypt as a historic opportunity. It strives to take advantage of the political process for gradual, non-violent progress towards the establishment of political dominance and the eventual assumption of power in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries.
The Muslim Brotherhood (Jama’at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) was established in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in the early 20th century. Later in that century, it became one of the major movements of political Islam.
Its worldview, based on the belief that “Islam is the solution” to all individual, social, and political problems, and that Islam is “both a religion and a state”, has turned it into a major challenge for the Arab regimes. The movement has also spread to Muslim communities in Europe, often becoming a major source of political and social power in the communities.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s success lies in a combination of political and social factors that peaked by the mid-twentieth century: its ideology was perceived as an authentic response to the hegemony of the “Western occupation”, winning over a public that had grown tired of other failed ideologies; it managed to take root among the urban educated middle class which was undergoing a process of Islamization; above all, it developed an extensive socio-economic system (da’wah) to be used as a tool in the battle for hearts and minds.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s emphasis in this activity is on addressing the problems of ordinary citizens through extensive social assistance systems, education and health infrastructure, and a network of mosques and preaching. These have often been a substitute for dysfunctional state institutions and an effective social network for the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious-political message.
At its core, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood aims to achieve an Islamic revival and establish a global regime based on Islamic religious law (i.e., a caliphate), starting with the removal of Arab regimes in the current “land of Islam” (dar al-islam) and ending with the emergence of a caliphate on the wider world scene (dar al-harb), on the ruins of the Western liberal word order.
The movement considers the land of Palestine an Islamic endowment (waqf), denies Israel’s right to exist, and opposes the peace treaties and any compromise with it. It consistently pursues an anti-Semitic line and spreads anti-Semitic ideas, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At the same time, the movement opposes terrorism, except when it’s aimed against “Zionism” and the “occupation” in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and strives for a gradual realization of its objectives while taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Unlike the militant factions of other Islamist movements, which completely rule out democracy on the basis of it being a Western, pagan, and ignorant idea, the Muslim Brotherhood does use the term “democracy”. In its view, however, it has two main connotations: a tactical, instrumental means of taking over countries through the use of the democratic process; and an “Islamic democracy” based on Shari’ah law (i.e., Islamic religious law) and a model of internal consultation with the leadership (shura). These views have nothing in common with the ideas of liberal democracy (including minority rights, personal freedoms, rule of law, pluralism).
The Muslim Brotherhood is not a uniform movement, consisting also of more moderate, pragmatic factions, some of which have a real desire to integrate Islam with true democratic parliamentarism and political tolerance. In our understanding, however, these factions taken together exert relatively minor influence compared to the more dogmatic elements in the movement—at least for the time being.
Since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood has been persecuted and suppressed throughout the Arab world (by some regimes more than others), and outlawed as well. Mubarak’s regime considered it its sworn enemy and, in a long struggle, was able to neutralize its power and influence in Egyptian internal politics. This was clearly demonstrated in the latest elections, when the regime was able to practically eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood presence in the People’s Assembly (which, in retrospect, appears to be a Pyrrhic victory, as it undermined the legitimacy of Egypt’s political game).
In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been plagued by internal ideological and political dissension; faced fundamental questions over its identity; and had difficulties retaining its status as an ideologically attractive option for the younger generation. This has mostly been a result of its conservative leadership’s lack of desire for change, and the competition with other Islamist factions that has eroded the status of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. Nevertheless, it is our understanding that it is currently the most organized opposition force in Egypt.
While the movement played no dominant part in the latest Egyptian revolution, it considers it a historical opportunity to increase its political power and put itself in a better position to assume power and turn Egypt into an Islamic state. However, at this point, the Muslim Brotherhood proceeds slowly, cooperating with other opposition parties and movements intending to run for the parliament elections, presenting an ostensibly moderate political line to reduce concerns among the public, the regime, and in the West. To the extent that circumstances permit, it will attempt to gather momentum and make similar achievements in other Middle Eastern countries.
Part 1: The historical evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
Part 2: The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood
Part 3: The Muslim Brotherhood’s education, preaching, and social activity
Part 4: The structure and funding sources of the Muslim Brotherhood
Part 5: The Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle against the government and other challenges facing it
Part 6: The Muslim Brotherhood’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Part 7: The development of political discourse in the Muslim Brotherhood and the 2007 election platform
Part 8: Profiles of prominent Muslim Brotherhood figures in Egypt
Part 9: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s ties to its branches in Middle Eastern and Western countries
Part 10: The Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries and in Europe
Part 11: A profile of Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Part 12: Islamic jihadist organizations in Egypt ideologically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood
Note: This is the Overview of a study which appears in its entirety on the ITIC website in Hebrew. The English translation will be posted in the near future.