The Muslim Brotherhood

Yasmin Fathi, Monday 22 Nov 2010

Founded in 1928 by Hassan El-Banna in Ismailia, the Muslim Brotherhood stands today as the largest opposition group in Egypt.

On October 9, 2010, the group’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie announced in a press conference that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will contest 30% of the seats in the parliamentary elections set for November 28. Following his announcement, over 200 members of the group were arrested and 88 Brotherhood-owned companies were raided by the authorities.

The arrests targeted numerous Brotherhood members that included top leaders in several governorates, as well as university students and the editor-in-chief of their official Arabic website Ikhwanonline. The Brothers claimed that the arrests were a pre-elections sweep intended to sabotage the group’s electoral chances. Tension between the MB and the government has become the norm as the latter tries to curb the group's growth.

The MB was established only four years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 and the abolishment of the Caliphate in Turkey. Founder Hassan El-Banna, the son of a sheikh, aspired to re-establish the Muslim Caliphate. He believed that Islam was a comprehensive ideology that should infiltrate the political, economic, social and cultural lives of believers.
The Brotherhood's ideology favors a fundamentalist approach to Islam. They encourage a return to the faith’s original sources of the Holy Quran and teachings of Prophet Mohamed. The movement quickly spread and by 1932 had 50 branches nationwide.

The Muslim Brotherhood and King Farouk
The MB initially supported King Farouk when he came to power. However, the group’s support dwindled after the king demonstrated weakness vis-a-vis the British occupation and signed the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty, which gave British forces the right to remain at the Suez Canal.
Meanwhile, the group’s paramilitary wing, which was established in the late 1930s, began to carry out armed operations. By the 1940’s they had conducted several attacks in which guns and explosives were used.
Alarmed by the Jewish influx to Palestine since the mid 1930's the group supplied the Palestinian resistance with funds and arms. In 1947 the MB bombed several Jewish-owned businesses in Cairo and deployed troops of volunteers to Palestine. Alongside the Egyptian army, they battled Zionist militias that were massacring Palestinians and evicting them from their homes as part of the Zionist project to create a Jewish "home" in Palestine. The MB's endeavour was interrupted in December 1948 when Prime Minister Mahmoud El-Noqrashi issued a military decree dissolving the group, accusing it of secretly plotting to overthrow the monarchy. He also banned members of the group from travelling to Palestine. Less than a month later El-Noqrashi was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood. The government retaliated by assassinating El-Banna himself in February 1949.

President Gamal Abdel-Nasser did not immediately target the group after taking power because of its cooperation with his Revolutionary Command Council. However, he swiftly cracked down on them after a member of the Brothers’ military wing attempted to assassinate him while he was delivering a speech in Manshia, Alexandria in 1954. Nasser arrested thousands of Brotherhood members, sentencing six to death. Some members died of torture in prison. Many others fled abroad.
In 1966, 1,000 Brothers were arrested and 365 tried, and top figures, including idealogue and political philosopher  Sayyid Qutb, were executed.

By the time President Anwar El Sadat came to power in 1970, the Brotherhood had been weakened as a serious political force, with many of its most prominent figures either languishing in military jails or in self-chosen exile overseas.
The situation quickly changed when Sadat released hundreds from jail, to counter leftist dissent on university campuses.
Despite returning to the semi-multi-party system in 1976, Sadat still refused to allow the MB to acquire a legitimate status as a party. He nevertheless allowed them to operate and even suggested that they merge with any of the active political parties at the time.
The Brothers also began running for parliament at the time. In 1976, they cooperated with the ruling Arab Socialist Party and secured six seats.
The MB began to form alliances with sections of the Gamaa Islamiya -- the Islamist student societies which spread throughout university campuses in the 1970s. The movement gained momentum, and dominated the student union elections in Cairo, Alexandria and Minya. To inject life back into the MB, they convinced several of the Gamaa’s charismatic leaders to join them, including Essam El-Erian and Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who more-or-less led the revival of the group in the 1970s. Other members of the Gamaa, especially those in Upper Egypt, refused to join the Brotherhood and chose to join forces with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad instead.
Despite this period of relative peace, Sadat became apprehensive about the popular appeal of the group. The MB also used their magazine Al-Dawa to attack Sadat’s policies, following his peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Sadat responded by arresting hundreds of Brothers, along with numerous other dissidents, in September 1981, and shut down Al-Dawa. One month later he was assassinated by the Islamic Jihad.

The MB co-existed peacefully with President Hosni Mubarak during the beginning of his reign. In 1982, he released scores of Brothers from jails. Mubarak, worried about the increasing radicalization of the country’s Islamic movements, looked at the Brotherhood as a moderate counterforce.
The MB devoted special attention to organization within the professional syndicates. They won seats in the doctors’, engineers’, pharmacists’ and the lawyers’ syndicates in the mid 1980s to the early 1990s.
In the 1984 parliamentary elections, Mubarak allowed the MB to cooperate with the New Wafd Party for the general elections, and they secured eight seats.
In the 1987 elections, they once again formed a coalition with the Socialist Labor Party and the obscure Al-Ahrar Party, under the name “The Islamic Alliance,” winning 36 seats, and thus becoming the largest opposition group in the parliament.
Worried about their increasing influence in the syndicates and the heavy criticism they levelled against the 1990-1 Gulf War, Mubarak’s relationship with the MB deteriorated quickly. Hundreds were detained before the 1995 parliamentary elections where they planned to contest 170 seats.
In the 2000 parliamentary elections, with judicial oversight, the Brothers ran as independents. The group fielded only 75 candidates and steered away from their famous slogan “Islam is the solution.” They won 17 seats, which was a shock to the government, and then followed that with an even larger success in the 2005 elections where they secured a record 88 seats. The MB have not managed to repeat their success in the 2010 Shura Council elections where they failed to secure a single seat.
The Mubarak era also saw the growth of Brotherhood businessmen. During the 2000 elections an alleged 900 Brotherhood-owned businesses suffered some form of suppresion; varying from threats to the freezing of assets.  

The Road to Legitimacy?
During the Mubarak era, the Brotherhood also began to work more diligently to transform into a legal party. The attempts included the Shura Party (1987), Al-Eslah Party (1991), Al-Amal (1994) and the breakaway Al-Wasat Party (1994). The Brotherhood, however, continues to operate in the murky water of being an illegal but tolerated group.  
In 2004, the Brothers issued their first political reform initiative in which they asked for the lifting of the emergency law, ridding the media of “non-Islamic content,” curtailing the sweeping powers of the president, ensuring religious, speech and political freedoms, releasing political detainees, and applying the principle of rotation of power. Some leading members of the group also stated that women should be allowed to occupy all posts and that Copts are an integral part of Egyptian society.
In 2007, the group created a preliminary draft for a civil party in which they called for the creation of a “Supreme Ulama Council” -- a body of religious personnel who would review executive decisions to make sure they comply with Islamic law. The opinions of the Muslim Clerics in the council would be compulsory on all matters relating to government, by consulting “proven Islamic texts.” The platform also banned women and Christians from holding the post of president.
Under the leadership of Mohamed Badie, who was elected as a the group’s chairman (Supreme Guide) in a stormy internal election in January 2010, the group has been shifting away from any serious confrontation with the regime, despite the continued police crackdowns.

Internal Makeup
A Supreme Guide holds the top position in the MB. A Guidance Bureau, an executive body that is responsible for formulating policies, as well as running the groups activities, assists him. The group also has a consultative Shura council.
The group is now divided into two factions: the conservatives and reformists. The conservatives belong mostly to the 1950s and 1960s generation, which witnessed the most intensive period of government crackdowns. They tend to be politically conservative and prefer to focus on missionary work. The second faction, which includes the reformists, are part of the 1970s generation. They mostly push for the group to become more politically active and have expressed more liberal views with regards to the role of women and Copts in society, and a less militant stance towards the US and Israel.

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