• April 16, 2007
  • 12 minutes read

The Debate About The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood Continues

The Debate About The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood Continues

A lot has been said and published lately about the Muslim Brotherhood by western researchers, but by far “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” study published in Foreign Affairs by Steven Brooke and Robert Leiken, has been one of the most stimulating and accurate accounts, and helped to open a serious and rational debate about our movement.

We find these debates highly informative and we encourage others to participate. Ikhwanweb will post all arguments, as we always do, whether we agree with them or not, because we value constructive dialogue. Our mission is to present people with the facts and let them form their own conclusions.

Before I let you examine Dr. Debat”s letter to Andrew Cochran, I would like to emphasize that we strongly oppose targeting civilians in armed conflicts, whether it is done by an army or resistance group. It is against the teachings of Islam to target civilians who are not directly involved in aggression. Having said that, I can understand from the psychological point of view how human beings can seek revenge if they witness their loved ones being unjustly eliminated by brutal force. There is no difference in this matter between any group regardless of race, sex, or nationality.

All concerned parties must realize that neither one will succeed to eliminate the other, and only then, we will be able to fight the hatred that divides us and focus our attention on finding ways to build bridges between our people and learn how to coexist with each other for the sake of humanity.

Khaled Salam, Editor




Dr. Alexis Debat”s Response to Andrew Cochran, from Counterterrorism.com

By Andrew Cochran

(For full version of Mr. Cochran”s article, please click here)

UPDATE: Alexis Debat, a friend and respected expert at the Nixon Center and consultant at ABC News, wrote a response to my post about the nuances of the MB, which is reproduced in its entirety below. We hope to hold a debate on this issue in the near future.

Dear Andy,

Your Muslim Brotherhood post is fascinating in that it highlights so much of what is right and wrong with the debate on the Muslim Brotherhood today. I have several remarks:

1. I think you are being a little tough on my Nixon Center colleagues (and friends) Robert Leiken and Steve Brooke. They both did extensive research on the movement, including on the ground in Egypt. Of course they have been mostly exposed to a certain category of MB elements and officials, those who are mostly forward-looking and “modernist”, and are trying to force more conservative leaders (Akef) to open the movement up to more “mainstream” elements (their definition of that value-laden term is of course very different than ours). Yes, in the Middle East “mainstream” includes condoning “resistance” in Iraq and Palestine, including acts and organizations that we qualify here as “terrorist” (rightly so in the case of Hamas and other Iraqi organizations). But as you pointed out, and that is where your point I think both hits and misses the target, is that there are other elements of the MB who are more vocal and sometimes more graphic in their support of violent militancy (including in the Sudan and Somalia). But I am not aware of any specific support given to Al Qaeda by any elements within the Egyptian MB in the past (the Syrian MB has given a lot of help, in fact it received some direct financial support from OBL in the early 80s).

2. Both my colleagues and you are correct: those two elements coexist in the MB, which by the way NOBODY has been able to “map out” successfully, including the Egyptian government. Part of it is structural, as Hasan al Banna always portrayed the MB as a movement and not a party: a party is based on exclusion, whereas Islam is for everyone: a movement is therefore more appropriate. The second reason is security: as we are reminded almost every day, the MB was and still is largely submitted to brutal repression by the Egyptian regime, hence the need for clandestinity and “porous borders”. You mention Doug Farah”s research. I trust Doug”s integrity and investigative genius because I have worked with him. I do think, however, that he should take a clear stand on what or who he defines as “Muslim Brotherhood”. This is difficult but crucial. As far as I know about Doug”s research (which is not a lot) he has been focusing on Al Taqwa”s financial dealings, which involve the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter is almost completely separate from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and far more militant. So in fact Doug and Steve-Bob Leiken could be talking pas each other about two very different movements.

3. The MB is a supermarket: you can find almost anything there. Bob and Steve”s point, and that is where I truly and completely agree with them, is that in the silent but extremely brutal battle for supremacy within the Brotherhood itself, the “modernist” elements are currently winning (and by the way this is also the opinion of MB experts in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, probably the best observers of the MB in the world … yes they talk to them also). There are two problems with this hypothesis, which as far as I am concerned is supported by significant evidence: first, even the “modernists” and “pragmatists” (Futuh, el Arian, Helbawy) used to – and in some cases still – support Palestinian resistance. From their point of view it is a fundamental and very symbolic issue. It is also an absolute prerequisite in the Middle East for whoever wants to be a player in any way. The breaking point of course is whether they support (in words or finances) violence against innocent civilians. On that issue I do not think that the “modernists” have been forceful or vocal enough. I think (but I am not 100% sure) that they have remained mostly silent on this issue, which is a shame. Second, it is probably reasonable to assume (but there again we do not know) that the current repression by the Mubarak regime against the MB in Egypt is both reopening the option of violent activism and re-empowering those who have been advocating it within the movement (mostly younger elements, discreetly cultivated over the past few years by MB”s leader Muhammad Mehdi Akef to be able to keep the rise of the “modernists” in check).

4. Your point is very interesting in that it highlights another dilemma for researchers: it is always perilous to trust public statements and promises by political leaders in the Middle East. In principle, it is of course more interesting – but equally perilous- to trust their financial flows. As I said, NOBODY knows where the Muslim Brotherhood starts and ends, not even the Egyptian Mukhabarat. I trust Doug Farah -even if I often disagree with him- and his investigative journalism instincts, but I would be very interested in finding out from him which financial flows he has identified as “Muslim Brotherhood” and why.

You can post this if you want.

Hope all is well.



Alexis Y. Debat, PhD

Senior Fellow, National Security & Terrorism

The Nixon Center

1615 L Street, NW

Suite 1250

Washington, DC 20036

Office: (202) 887-1000

The moderate Muslim Brotherhood Robert Leiken and research associate Steven Brooke Size