Is the Muslim Brotherhood Moderate?

Is the Muslim Brotherhood Moderate?

ROBERT S. LEIKEN, director of the Immigration and National Security Programs at the Nixon Center and author of the forthcoming book Europe’s Angry Muslims, and Steven Brooke, a research associate at the Nixon Center, discussed their findings concerning the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Europe at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, DC on April 4.

The gathering was sponsored by the Middle East Institute, in partnership with Busboys and Poets. Leiken and Brooke’s analysis of this controversial organization was based on their research for their article “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood,” published in this year’s March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, <>.

Brooke opened the discussion by describing the Muslim Brotherhood as the world’s oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organization, and noted that the Brotherhood has been condemned by both the West as well as radical groups in the Middle East. “American commentators have called the Muslim Brothers ‘radical Islamists’ and ‘a vital component of the enemy’s assault force…deeply hostile of the United States,’” Brooke said. “Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri sneers at them for ‘lur[ing] thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections, instead of into the lines of Jihad.’”

During their research, the two scholars interviewed dozens of members of the Brotherhood from Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They discussed many topics, such as democracy and jihad, their stand on Israel, Iraq, the United States and what type of society they are struggling to achieve.

Leiken and Brooke found that members of the Brotherhood come from various factions with varying approaches, and that many are pursuing moderate routes to obtain their goals.

“U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington’s tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood—and the Islamist movement as a whole—as a monolith,” Brooke stated. “Policymakers should instead analyze each national and local group independently and seek out those that are open to engagement. In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a noble opportunity.”

Since its establishment in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood’s main objective has been to bring together religious principles of the Qur’an with anti-imperialism, Brooke said. “At its beginning, the Brotherhood differed from earlier reformers by combining a profoundly Islamic ideology with modern grass-roots political activism,” he explained. According to Leiken and his findings, “the Muslim Brotherhood is very conservative, but not radical,” Brooke said. “Bin Laden is not political; the Muslim Brotherhood wants power.”

Brooke pointed out that many analysts legitimately question whether the Brotherhood will adhere to the principles of democracy or simply use the process as a means to gain power. Quoting historian Bernard Lewis’ statement, “One man, one vote, one time,” he noted that such political groups such as the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and Syria promoted the process of democracy, but recanted once in control. Except for the slogan of “Islam is the solution,” Brooke said, evidence of the Brotherhood game plan is hard to come by. “But in at least one respect, the Brotherhood differs from those admonitory precedents,” he stated. “Its road to power is not revolutionary: it depends on winning hearts through gradual and peaceful Islamization.”

Many of the Brotherhood’s allies across the Middle East told Leiken and Brooke that they had full confidence that the members of the Brotherhood would uphold and respect the democratic process. “We know them,” they told Leiken and Brooke. “We grew up with them.”

Leiken then discussed the Muslims of Europe. “In Europe, the Brotherhood-led groups understand they represent a minority and will remain a minority,” he said. “They are fighting for their rights.”

Citing the cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper last year, he told the audience that “Although its transnational networks helped spread the word about the cartoons, all branches officially called for peaceful protest.”

Leiken went on to talk about the 2005 riots in France—the so-called “French intifada.” In doing their research, he said they found that after three and a half weeks of riots, the Islamists had made no impression. “Islamic radicals played no role in the triggering or spread of violence,” Leiken stated. “The chief of the Paris branch of the Renseignements Generaux [the French domestic intelligence service] told us that of the 3,000 rioters arrested in Paris last fall, there was ‘not one known as belonging to an Islamist crowd, and we monitor them quite closely.’ In fact, when the Islamists emerged it was to try to calm the autumn rioters, who often greeted these missionaries with hails of stone.”

Leiken and Brooke concluded that “Born as an anti-imperialist as much as an Islamic revivalist movement, the Brotherhood, like the United States, will follow its own star. If individual branches resist the intercession of fellow organizations, how much less likely is it that they will embrace U.S. tutelage? But cooperation in specific areas of mutual interest, such as opposition to al-Qaeda, the encouragement of democracy and resistance to expanding Iranian influence could well be feasible.”