• July 8, 2007
  • 52 minutes read

Comparing Three Muslim Brotherhoods: Syria, Jordan and Egypt

Comparing Three Muslim Brotherhoods: Syria, Jordan and Egypt

Global Politician published an article by Prof. Barry Rubin examining the Muslim Brotherhoods in three Middle Eastern countries-Egypt, Syria and Jordan-comparing its politics and tactics. Throughout the article, Prof. Rubin addresses the issue of MB and Al Qaeda trying to cite examples of their differences and agreements. Although well written, the article contained few unsubstantiated statements and misconceptions about the Muslim Brotherhood which we felt will be helpful to clarify. Our comments are written in red font within the article itself and following each segment we thought needs to be corrected.


Khaled Salam, Editor

Prof. Barry Rubin, Global Politician
The banner of the Islamist revolution in the Middle East today has largely passed to groups sponsored by or derived from the Muslim Brotherhood. This article develops an introductory examination of three key Muslim Brotherhood groups and compares their politics, interrelations, and methods. Each, of course, is adapted to the conditions of a particular country.

First, it is important to understand the Brotherhood’s policy toward and relations with both jihadist groups (al-Qa’ida, the Zarqawi network, and others such as Hizb al-Tahrir and Hamas) and theorists (such as Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi).

The Brotherhoods do not have ongoing relationships with Hizb al-Tahrir–which is regarded by them as a small, cultish group of no importance. Other than in Jordan, they have had little contact with it at all.

Regarding al-Qa’ida–both its theorists and its terrorist infrastructure–the Brotherhoods approve generally of its militancy, attacks on America, and ideology (or respect its ideologues), but view it as a rival. An example of this kind of thinking comes from Rajab Hilal Hamida, a Brotherhood member in Egypt’s parliament, who said:

“From my point of view, bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri and 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…. [On the other hand,] he who kills Muslim citizens is neither a jihad fighter nor a terrorist, but a criminal and a murderer. We must call things by their proper names![1]”

[Ikhwanweb: The Muslim Brotherhood does NOT approve al Qaeda militancy, certainly never approved attacks on America or al Qaeda ideology. As we stated numerous times; Mr. Ragab Helal Hemida is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc and his views and statements only represent him]
His final sentence is intended to show the difference between the Brotherhood’s and al-Qa’ida’s views of strategy and tactics.

Al-Qa’ida has a growing presence in Syria, and it is trying to grab militants who would otherwise be Brotherhood supporters. In Jordan, it has operated independently as a small group carrying out terrorist operations–which have been condemned by the Brotherhood there, since a number of Jordanians and Palestinians have been killed in bombings.

[Ikhwanweb: We condemned violence against civilians and acts of terror regardless of the victims’ nationalities, race, and religion or skin color]

In Egypt the story is somewhat different, since the jihadist group is an al-Qa’ida affiliate, and many leaders–in fact one might argue the principal influence–of the organization come from Egypt.[2] Again, though the factors of rivalry and concern over government reactions would make the Brotherhood keep its distance from al-Qa’ida, individuals, wanting more immediate revolutionary action, have furnished recruits in the past.

In considering the relationship of the Brotherhood groups with al-Qa’ida three key factors must be kept in mind. First, the Brotherhood and the jihadists are the two main Islamist streams today. They are not enemies, and there has been no violent conflict between them, nor has there been a great deal of ideological battle. Yet at the same time they are rivals, following different strategies and knowing that one or the other would gain mass support and perhaps state power. Thus, it would be misleading to speak of cooperation, except in the special case of Iraq, as discussed below.

[Ikhwanweb: The Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda have different objectives, ideologies and strategies; therefore the word “rivals” is not an accurate expression]

Second, a critical difference between the two groups is that the jihadists–except in Saudi Arabia and Iraq–focus on attacking what is called the “far enemy,” that is, Israel, the United States, the West in general. The Brotherhoods, in contrast, while strongly anti-Israel (and supporting Hamas, see below) and anti-Western, focus on the “near enemy,” that is, Arab governments. Thus, for them, while al-Qa’ida is fighting for the cause, it is also undermining it (except in Iraq) by pulling resources out of the struggle for change within the Arab world.
[Ikhwanweb: The Muslim Brotherhood is anti the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is in violation of the United Nations resolutions. We are not certainly anti-western but we object to specific biased foreign policies by certain western governments. We do not consider Arab governments as our “enemies”, but we are the enemies of corruption and authoritarianism]
Third, while the Brotherhood groups are tactically flexible (as has been shown above), al-Qa’ida is exclusively focused on armed struggle. The Brotherhood groups view the revolutionary process as a long-term one, involving such things as providing social services, educating and indoctrinating young people through institutions, using elections, compromising at times with Arab governments, showing restraint to avoid government repression, at times allying with non-Islamist groups, and so on. Thus, while al-Qa’ida is far more of a danger in terms of terrorism, it is far less likely to seize state power because of what would be called in Leninist terms, its “infantile leftism.”

The best example of this is the use of elections. In Jordan and Egypt, Brotherhood groups embraced opportunities to run candidates in elections even when they knew that the regime would not count the votes accurately or let them win. Al-Qa’ida has condemned elections as putting human voters and parliamentarians in the place of God in terms of making laws. Contrast here the views of the al-Qa’ida leader in Iraq, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and the influential Brotherhood ideologue Qaradawi. In a January 23, 2005 statement, Zarqawi condemned the upcoming Iraqi elections and threatened to kill those running and voting.[3] In sharp contrast, Qaradawi endorsed elections, arguing that the majority of voters would back an Islamist party, while liberals would get little support. If truly fair elections were to be held, he insisted, Islamists would win by a landslide.[4] This analysis correctly predicted the results of the 2005 Egyptian and 2006 Palestinian elections.

In institutional terms, all the above points apply in discussing the Iraqi insurgency if one looks at it as a struggle led by al-Qa’ida. However, in terms of the insurgency itself, while the Brotherhood groups strongly support it and view it as an important struggle, there is no institutional involvement, as there has been in backing Palestinians in the past.

Additionally, the Syrian Brotherhood has a problem, because the government it is fighting is a major patron of the Iraqi insurgency and uses it to strengthen its support among the Islamists who function publicly in Syria. They support it enthusiastically, but in the short run, at least, it does not benefit them; the Syrian Brotherhood would be happier if the leadership did not come from al-Qa’ida.

If one wants a parallel to past experience, one might compare the Brotherhoods’ attitude to revolution and armed struggle to the official Communist parties and al-Qa’ida’s to Maoist groups in the 1960s and 1970s. The former argue that the time is not ripe for revolution and that a variety of methods be used; the latter are for all-out revolutionary struggle now.

Thus, the Brotherhood groups have a profile of their own, self-consciously quite different in strategy and tactics–though very parallel in ideology and goals–from the jihadist groups.

[Ikhwanweb: Clear example of ’Ikhwanophobia”. The writer is just skeptical of the MB across the board regardless of the evidence that strongly indicate our commitment to peaceful and democratic reform]
To what extent are the Brotherhood groups coordinating among themselves in the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood? Does it provide strategic orientation, tactical coordination, and financial and/or operational support?

The Brotherhoods operate in parallel rather than collectively, and there is virtually no coordination between them. If asked, Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria would of course say that they support each other, but in practice it is surprising how little practical backing is offered. For one thing, they are all internally oriented rather than internationalist, except on the Palestinian and Iraq issues, though some funds raised by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood-controlled institutions are donated to Islamist struggles abroad.

Aside from their daily focus and largely “national revolution” goals, there are other reasons for this orientation. Conditions in each country are very different; Abd-al-Majid al-Dhunaybat, controller-general of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, said in an interview that the groups in Egypt and Jordan make their own decisions based on local conditions. Indeed, he denied that any international organization existed and said that this was an idea put forth by the Brotherhood’s enemies.[5]

At the same time, however, Dhunaybat admitted that the leader of the Egyptian Brotherhood–elected only by that group–is seen as being the supreme guide of the movement as a whole. In his words:

    The brothers in various countries… try to standardize the understanding, ideology and positions regarding the world events involving all the groups. Meetings take place every now and then… without there being any obligation to a certain policy on the domestic level. In other words, each country has its own exclusive organizational and political nature and relations with the state in which it exists. This gathering has no binding capacity regarding any domestic decision.[6]

The individual Brotherhoods have a specific problem with coordinating too openly or extensively. The regimes in Egypt and Jordan would not appreciate a vocal stance of calling for the overthrow of other Arab governments, while in Syria the movement is too harried to help anyone else and–except from Jordan–receives little assistance in its life-and-death struggle. For all practical purposes, while these groups respect the same ideologues–for example, Yusuf Qaradawi–they operate independently and in response to local conditions. This is another distinction between them and al-Qa’ida, whose effort to create an Islamist International is in sharp contrast to Brotherhood practice.

Even when the Brotherhoods influence the movement in other places, these contacts are bilateral. For example, Hamas in the Gaza Strip is related to the Egyptian Brotherhood, while Hamas in the West Bank has its links to the Jordanian Brotherhood. Furthermore, to make matters even more complex, the Hamas external leadership is located in Damascus, where the Syrian Brotherhood is outlawed, and its patron is the regime that persecutes the Brotherhood. At times, in discussing the Hamas victory, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood sources have said that the “Muslim Brotherhood” won the Palestinian elections. Yet, again, these are parallel and fraternal movements, not truly branches of a transnational organization.

Next, the strategic and tactical orientation of each national branch (objectives, alliances, organizational forms, attitudes toward the political system in the country where it operates, etc.) should be considered.

What is truly remarkable in discussing the Muslim Brotherhoods of Syria, Jordan, and Egypt is how three groups so parallel in origin, ideology, and goals have developed so differently due to the local situations they face. This fact also reflects the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qa’ida groups. The former have proven tactically flexible; the latter committed to armed struggle as the only proper strategy.

One might sum up the conditions in this way: The Muslim Brotherhood groups are as anti-American and extreme in their goals as the bin Ladinist ones. However, they almost always put the emphasis on gaining power within the context of a single country, compared to the international jihadist policy of al-Qa’ida. Equally, Muslim Brotherhood groups are far more likely to seize power than the bin Ladinist ones, but as long as they do not govern countries, they are also less dangerous in terms of terrorist violence. It also should be noted, however, that many violent revolutionary groups–especially in Egypt–have emerged from the more militant end of the Muslim Brotherhood spectrum.

[Ikhwanweb: The Muslim Brotherhood is not anti-American. However, we disapprove America’s foreign policies in the Middle East, especially its unconditional support of Israeli aggressions and propping up undemocratic regimes in the region]

Briefly, the distinction between the Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian groups may be summarized as follows:

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is a revolutionary underground group, because it has been outlawed by the government there. Law Number 49 of 1981 declares mere membership in the group to be punishable by death. In 1982, the regime unleashed a huge wave of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood, destroying much of its infrastructure and driving it into exile. The Brotherhood has unsuccessfully tried to regain from the regime the right to operate in Syria. Thus, for example, in 2001, it supported a manifesto backed by a broad spectrum of oppositionists urging the end of single-party rule and holding democratic elections.[7] Given the failure of these efforts, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood today is part of a broad coalition of anti-regime groups, which include the former vice president of the regime. In political terms, it functions as a leading group–perhaps in the future, the leader–of the Sunni Arab community, which comprises roughly 60 percent of the population. Thus, it can be characterized as revolutionary (though not necessarily through its own preference) and communalist. Yet while the Egyptian and Jordanian Brotherhoods are in an optimistic mood and are arguably gaining ground, their Syrian counterpart is frustrated and prevented from exploiting a trend toward Islamist thinking in Syria. In recent years, the regime has cultivated Syrian Islamists by building new mosques, allowing radicals to be preachers, and supporting the Islamist insurgency in neighboring Iraq. For obvious reasons, these cultivated activists have not adhered to the Muslim Brotherhood and may build rival groups, including al-Qa’ida affiliates.

As for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, it is a legal group that uses peaceful methods and participates in elections through its political wing, the Islamic Action Front. It has at times cooperated with the monarchy, though recently relations have been strained by its show of sympathy for al-Qa’ida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, which led to a regime crackdown on the Brotherhood in July 2006. It is restrained due to fear of repression but also moderated by having a share of authority. It controls professional groups and other institutions. However, it also knows that the regime will never let it win elections. Thus, the key element of its strategy is a willingness to remain permanently a group that enjoys benefits and privileges but cannot take power or change the country. While it appeals to many Palestinians, the Jordanian Brotherhood also has a considerable East Bank membership and thus is not a communalist organization. Given the decline of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah (that is, Palestinian nationalism), the Brotherhood could become the main organization gaining loyalty from Jordanian Palestinians.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is somewhere in between its two counterparts. It is not technically legal, but is allowed to function normally most of the time. Leaders and activists are periodically arrested by the government to remind the Brotherhood that it functions only if the regime finds its behavior satisfactory. Denied the right to have a party of its own, however, the Muslim Brotherhood has found it easy to work with or even virtually take over other parties, notably the Wafd in the 1980s, and is even willing to work with liberals to press the regime for concessions. In the 2005 elections, when allowed to run what amounted to its own slate, the Brotherhood won 20 percent of the seats in parliament.[8] While it is incorrect to say that the Egyptian Brotherhood has not been involved with violence–and many factions have also left to form terrorist groups–the movement generally avoids it.

To gain a sense of how the Brotherhood can conduct a cultural war, the case of Faraj Fawda is indicative. Fawda was a liberal critic of the Islamists. In 1992, Fawda debated Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Ghazali at the Cairo Book Fair. Brotherhood members in the audience heckled Fawda. When Fawda was murdered five months later by an Islamist, Ghazali testified at the killer’s trial, saying that he had acted properly in killing an “apostate” like Fawda. After being sentenced to execution, the defendant shouted: “Now I will die with a clear conscience!”[9]

[Ikhwanweb: The late Sheikh Mohamed Al Ghazali was a renoun scholar, respected Islamic leader, and public figure. Sheikh Al Ghazali left the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. He was giving his testimony as an Islamic scholar not as a former member of the MB. The assassination of Mr. Fouda was unfortunate, but there has never been any link between the killer and the MB or its ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood does not combat ideas with violence but with dialogue]

The Brotherhoods also played a key role in the Danish cartoon controversy. Qaradawi was a key person in spreading the protest movement. The Egyptian Brotherhood demanded an apology for the publication and urged a boycott of Danish products.[10] The Islamic Action Front organized a protest demonstration in Amman.[11] They clearly saw this as a good issue on which to build a broad base, as defending Islam against alleged attacks on it in the West. Abu Laban himself has strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, so he connected into this network on his visit in an attempt to get an active response on the issue.

To carry out their operations, the Brotherhood groups are reasonably well-funded. Their money seems to come from four major sources. First, rich adherents to the movements give donations. This is especially true of Egyptians who emigrated to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait and became rich there. One of the main Islamist Egyptian businessmen is Hisham Tal’at Mustafa, who is a partner of the Saudi billionaire Prince al-Walid ibn Talal al-Sa’ud. Second, the Brotherhoods in Jordan and Egypt control professional and other associations from which funds can be drained for their cause. Third, in Egypt at least, there are Islamic banks and enterprises–sometimes involved with major corruption scandals–which are a source of money. Finally, there is international funding, including Saudi state and Kuwaiti or Saudi charitable foundations, in some cases passed through the international organization. The Saudis and Kuwaitis involved are not so much trying to use the Brotherhoods as state sponsors but rather merely ensuring that they do nothing inimical to Saudi or Kuwaiti interests.

Is the Muslim Brotherhood conducive to dialogue with the United States, and if so, over what specific issues? If by dialogue what is meant is to talk to American officials, the answer is generally yes. However, if what is meant here is the ability of American officials to change Brotherhood positions through explanations and mutual understanding or to engage in negotiations that would lead to any cooperation, the answer is generally no.

[Ikhwanweb: Dialogue in itself, whether a final agreement is reached or not, is needed and is vital for people to communicate and negotiate to reach a common ground and mutual understanding. This is indeed has been the MB doctrine in seeking dialogue with concerned parties either internationally or domestically. We have repeatedly stated that we are open to dialogue, but based on mutual respect and understanding]

The Islamic Front in Jordan says that holding such a dialogue is a decision that might be taken by any individual group. Dhunaybat has no objection to his Egyptian colleagues doing it, but:

    We in Jordan, however, believe that in terms of the situation in the Arab and Islamic world, particularly with regard to Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and its role in the region, America does not want a dialogue in which it can listen to others and change its policies. What we see is that it wants to dictate certain terms by promoting this so-called dialogue, which is like giving instructions. Therefore, I believe that there is no benefit in holding a dialogue with the people in charge of the U.S. policy.[12]

Yet Dhunaybat also has no objection to the Islamic Action Front in Jordan–which his group largely controls–from having a dialogue with the United States. This approach is clearly a division of labor in which the Brotherhood maintains the stance of an internationalist revolutionary group, while the Front, as a political party, can have such contacts if it aids its own interests.

There are some specific points on which the Brotherhoods both want to influence the United States and think that doing so would be possible. These include the Egyptian Brotherhood’s desire that the United States push harder for democratic elections and more civic rights in Egypt. While they would denounce such things publicly as imperialistic, the Brotherhood wants to widen its sphere for public action. If elections were freer, the Brotherhood could win more seats. Indeed, some leaders believe it would win outright in free elections, though this is more doubtful. Of course, another goal of the Brotherhood is to win legal status as an organization.

Syria is clearly the most interesting case. Both the United States and the Syrian Brotherhood view the regime as an enemy. Would this be a case of the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend? The answer is likely, yes. The Syrian Brotherhood might well be willing to talk about U.S. covert support. Indeed, since it is participating in a wider coalition also, it could more easily excuse such a policy as going along with its partners.

It should be stressed, however, that this is a dangerous game. A stronger Syrian Brotherhood might be able to seize leadership of the 60 percent Sunni Arab population and take over the country, transforming Syria into an Islamic republic. Such an outcome could create far worse crises and threats to U.S. influence in the region. In addition, it should be noted that while the Muslim Brotherhoods in Egypt and Jordan are the largest Islamist factors in their respective countries, this is no longer necessarily true for their counterpart in Syria.

The Brotherhoods’ view of the United States and its allies is profoundly hostile. They view the United States as extremely hostile, trying to take over the Middle East and destroy Islam. While they are passionately opposed to U.S. support for Israel, they are no happier with American support for the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes.

In terms of their analysis of and hostility toward the United States, there is not much difference between the Brotherhoods and al-Qa’ida, though their responses to this analysis are very different. One difference in analysis is that al-Qa’ida argues that American support is the main reason why Arab regimes survive. This legitimates their priority on attacking the United States. The Brotherhoods have a more sophisticated understanding of the sources of power and support for regimes, though they overstate American influence and responsibility in their own countries.

The preceding analysis may seem to apply mainly to Egypt and Jordan. The Syrian Brotherhood has to deal with the fact of American hostility toward Damascus, though it no doubt has some belief in conspiracy theories that they are secretly allied. At any rate, this does not make them any less anti-American. One response may be to argue that America is a great threat to Syria but that the Ba’thist regime is incapable of handling it and that only an Islamist government could do so victoriously.

Given these positions, the Brotherhoods’ support for the Iraqi insurgency is not surprising. All three, including their top leaders, have attacked the U.S. presence in Iraq in the most extreme terms and have called for supporting the insurgents. It should be remembered that even if the Brotherhood groups do not have institutional links to the insurgency leadership (which largely comes from al-Qa’ida), they are all Sunni Arab Islamists and in this case seem undisturbed by this distinction.[13]

When Zarqawi, himself a Jordanian, was killed, Zaki Sa’d, the leader of the Islamic Action Front, praised him but also distinguished the Brotherhood from al-Qa’ida regarding their tactics. Zarqawi, he said, was acting not only legitimately but as a Muslim must act in fighting the American forces in Iraq, and the Islamic Action Front supported these actions. Yet it also denounced operations targeting innocent civilians. He did not specifically mention Iraqis in this context but used as his examples the bloody bombing of hotels in Amman by al-Qa’ida forces. [14]

The Brotherhoods have not directly organized units or sent members to Iraq, though it is probable that some of the Jordanians (but fewer of the Egyptians or Syrians) who go there might be rank-and-file members. After all, the leaders of all three groups have told them that fighting the Americans is an Islamic duty. It should also be noted, however, that contrary to al-Qa’ida, the Brotherhoods focus on fighting the American forces rather than the Iraqi Shi’a and Kurds. For them, the battle in Iraq is against non-Muslims rather than an attempt to take over the country and defeat non-Arabs or non-Sunni Muslims there.[15]

In what direction, then, are the Brotherhood groups evolving? Each Muslim Brotherhood group faces a key question regarding its evolution. For the Egyptians, it is whether to continue in the phase of da’wa–recruiting, propagandizing, base-building, and accepting the limits the government places on it–or to move into a more activist phase, demanding political changes and being willing to confront the regime. Given the organization’s current high level of confidence, as the younger generation takes over and the government perhaps appears weaker–especially during the transition to a new president–it could well push harder.

In Jordan, the movement faces the same options, but is probably even more skewed to the side of caution. Its choice is whether to accept the limits of its current operation or to push harder on elections and on a real parliamentary system in which the legislature can affect the monarch’s policies and decisions. Especially important–and delicate–here is the communal relationship. The Brotherhood could become more dependent on Palestinian support, which would broaden its base while also making it more suspect to the regime. It seems likely that caution will prevail.

As for Syria, the Brotherhood there faces the possibility of beginning an active revolutionary armed struggle to overthrow the regime, trying to use the unpopularity of the Alawite-dominated government (the Alawites are not even Muslims) to rouse the Sunni Arab majority to jihad. Given the weakness of the current Syrian leadership, its international isolation, and multiple problems–far greater than its counterparts in Egypt and Jordan–it is quite possible that a major crisis would be seen by the Brotherhood as creating such a revolutionary situation. Yet newer groups with stronger bases in Syria, or at least able to operate more freely there, might be the ones who gain most from this situation.

In terms of their stands on different issues, especially regarding international affairs, the Brotherhoods are fairly candid. Inasmuch as they conceal anything, it is to downplay their goal of an Islamist state in which they rule or specific points such as the likely treatment of non-Muslims in a country they would rule. The cautious rhetoric of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood concerning domestic politics, the Syrian Brotherhood’s willingness to participate in a broad anti-regime front, and the Egyptian Brotherhood’s professions of support for democracy all conceal their objectives of monopolizing power and transforming their societies.

Yet this does not mean that these goals are not often discussed, even publicly. Sometimes this is done indirectly. For example, such key Egyptian Brotherhood leaders as Salah Abu Isma’il and Muhammad al-Ghazali, and then-head of the organization Omar al-Tilmisani praised Sudan at a time when it had temporarily become an Islamist state.[16] They certainly endorsed the application of Muslim law, Shari’a, as the law of the land and have advocated this continually.[17]

In its March 2004 platform, the Egyptian Brotherhood stated:

    Our mission is to implement a comprehensive reform in order to uphold God’s law in secular as well as religious matters…. Our only hope, if we wish to achieve any type of progress, is to adhere to our religion, as we used to, and to apply the Shari’a (Islamic law).[18]

In order to achieve this goal, the Brotherhood’s “mission is to build a Muslim individual, a Muslim family and an Islamic rule to lead other Islamic states.” On specific points, it explains, this means that the media should be censored to coincide with Islam, and the economic and political system should also be structured in this vein. Equally, the “focus of education,” at least in the early years of schooling, “should be on learning the Qur’an by heart,” and “women should only hold the kind of posts that would preserve their virtue.” In parliament, Egyptian Brotherhood members have focused on trying to control the culture, with a great deal of indirect success.

The Brotherhood’s former leader and guide, Mamun al-Hudaybi, explained that its purpose is to establish Islamic unity and an Islamic Caliphate, while former Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashur stated: “We accept the concept of pluralism for the time being; however, when we will have Islamic rule we might then reject this concept or accept it.”[19]

[Ikhwanweb: The statement by Mustafa Mashhur was taken out of context and was followed by clarification by the MB leaders, which was officially published in 1994 to reiterate the MB belief in modern form of democracy and political pluralism (our testimony). More elaborative information regarding the MB political vision can be found under the “MB Today” section on Ikhwanweb

Within the Brotherhood groups, there are also examples of pluralism, most obviously in the Egyptian case. Like parties based on Marxism, from the start, the Brotherhood had a strategy built on the notion of stages. The first stage is base-building. Individuals and families are indoctrinated with proper thought and behavior, coming to constitute a society within the society based on Shari’a. This is the phase of da’wa, a historic Muslim word meaning spreading the faith but which here can be likened to mass- and cadre-organizing. As with Communist parties, the key question is when this phase should be turned into a revolutionary stage, where active measures are taken to seize state power.

The older leadership, which has a better memory of the massive regime repression during the period from the 1950s to 1980s, is more cautious. An example is the current guide, top leader Muhammad Mahdi Akif, who joined in 1948 and was imprisoned in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some of the younger and middle-aged members want a more energetic policy, not using violence but pushing harder for elections, being more aggressive in demanding legalization, and eventually running a candidate for president. Their experience often comes from involvement in the Jama’at al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) in the 1970s, a more militant organization that did extensive student and community organizing, after which some of its members joined the armed struggle of the 1990s.[20] Examples here include such Brotherhood leaders as Isam al-Aryan, head of the political bureau, and Abd al-Mun’im Abu al-Futuh.

One issue on which there are disputes is how to deal with the likely succession from President Husni Mubarak to his son, Gamal. One view is to make a deal with the government in which the Brotherhood accepts this transition in exchange for legalization, an end to the emergency laws, and fairer elections.

In Syria, there are not any clear major differences within the Muslim Brotherhood. This, however, does not just reflect strength. Those who have different views are instead operating as independent Islamists or perhaps even thinking of turning to al-Qa’ida rather than joining the Brotherhood and expressing their positions in its ranks. It should be emphasized that for a Syrian Islamist to join the Brotherhood today is a questionable decision, because he could organize for Islamism far more freely as an independent who conceals his ultimate goals. In other words, the Syrian Brotherhood might come to be seen as an outdated organization of a previous generation, a phenomenon that is clearly not happening in Egypt (where the Brotherhood outlasted its younger rivals) or Jordan.


[1] Ruz al-Yusuf, January 28-February 3, 2006.

[2] For a history and analysis of Islamist movements in Egypt, see Barry Rubin, Islamic Fundamentalism in Egyptian Politics, Second Revised Edition (Palgrave Press, 2002).

[3] http://www.islah.300.org/vboard/showthread.php?t=120471, January 23, 2005.

[4] Al-Jazeera television, February 6, 2005. View this statement at: http://www.memritv.org/search.asp?ACT=S9&P1=534.

[5] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 10, 2006.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Al-Hayat, January 16, 2001.

[8] On the Brotherhood’s participation in the debate over elections, see A. Shefa, “Towards the September 7 Presidential Elections in Egypt: Public Debate over the Change in the Electoral System,” Middle East Media Research Insititute (MEMRI) Inquiry and Analysis Series, No. 237, September 2, 2005, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA23705.

[9] On this and other issues in the struggle between Islamists and liberals, see Barry Rubin, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (NY: Wiley Press, 2005), pp. 1, 23-24.

[10] Times of London, January 31, 2006.

[11] Gulf News, February 11, 2006.

[12] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 10, 2006.

[13] For examples, see the documents translated in “The Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Support of Fighting Americans Forces in Iraq,” MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 776, September 3, 2004.

[14] MEMRI TV, June 14, 2006, http://www.memritv.org/search.asp?ACT=S9&P1=1169.

[15] See for example the interview with Humam Sa’id, assistant controller general of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, in al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 7, 2004.

[16] On these issues and on the Muslim Brotherhood as a parliamentary party, see Magdi Khalil, “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Political Power: Would Democracy Survive?” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (June 2006), http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2006/issue1/jv10no1a3.html.

[17] This point is discussed in Rubin, Islamic Fundamentalism in Egyptian Politics.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] For a detailed history of this era and group, see Rubin, The Long War for Freedom.

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university. His new book is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

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