Bonus: The Muslim Brotherhood

What Is The Muslim Brotherhood?

The Brotherhood is a global organization with offices and affiliates all over the world

Original ideology was to use Islamic principles for social change and justice

Believed in Pan-Islamism, meaning the global connection of all Muslims

Founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna

  • His father was an Imam and Sheikh who graduated from Al-Azhar University
    • Al-Banna was educated as a teacher in Cairo
  • Hassan Al-Banna was concerned about various things in Egyptian society
    • British domination and colonialization of Egypt
    • Encroachment of western values
    • Spread of atheism and Christian missionaries
  • Egypt was nominally independent, but the British controlled its foreign affairs and military
  • Al-Banna settled in the city of Ismailia near the Suez Canal and became a school teacher
  • He taught Arabic language to students during the day and their parents at night
  • Began to collaborate with other men who worked in the Suez Canal region to protect the rights of Muslims working in the Canal Zone.
  • Over time, this evolved to become an organization concerned with using Islamic principles for social reform and justice
  • The initial success of the Muslim Brotherhood as this organization became known, was Al-Banna’s drive and organizational abilities
  • There were many other small, local Islamic based social organizations in Egypt at that time.
  • But the Brotherhood’s success was based on their sophisticated structure and ability to reach people on various social levels.
  • Since Al-Banna was well-educated in both Islamic and secular studies, he was able to touch on a wide range of concerns
  • This attracted a large cross section of Egyptians to the Muslim Brotherhood.
    • Most other Islamic groups were either rooted in nationalism or Pan-Arabism
    • Al-Banna: “Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries, not does if acknowledge racial and blood differences, considering all Muslims as one Umma. The Muslim Brethren consider this unity as holy and believe in this union, striving for the joint action of all Muslims and the strengthening of the brotherhood of Islam, declaring that every inch of land inhabited by Muslims is their fatherland”
  • Branches of the Muslim Brotherhood sprung up all over Egypt. Within 10 years, there were 500000 members
  • His first concern was raising awareness and social causes such as poverty, hunger, and education as well as minimizing social ills like gambling, prostitution, and crime.
  • As their numbers grew, many members pressured Al-Banna to use more aggressive means, including violence to push the British out of Egypt
  • During this early period, the Brotherhood renounced violence
    • Al-Banna was not non-violent but felt the Brotherhood was not ready to take on the government as yet.
  • Al-Banna knew they had a long way to go before creating a true Islamic society
  • During this early period, the Brotherhood did not get much involved in politics
  • But things changed in1936

The Muslim Brotherhood Gets Political

  • In 1936 Arabs in Palestine revolted against British rule there. The UK had taken over the area now known as Israel and Palestine after the defeat of the Ottoman Kingdom in WWI
  • The British together with Palestinian government forces and Jewish paramilitary forces, suppressed the revolt in 1939
  • During this three-year revolt, Al-Banna mobilized the Muslim Brotherhood to build awareness, support, and raise funds for the Palestinian rebels
  • Even though the revolt was crushed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities helped to raise their profile as more than just another social institution
  • By 1948, ten years later, the Brotherhood was strong enough to send fighters to participate in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
  • However, their popularity, strength and influence became a concern for the Egyptian government
  • Their membership now numbered over a million people
  • By this time the Brotherhood had their own hospitals, factories, and schools; kind of like a state within a state
  • Egyptian police also discovered bombs and weapons belonging to the Brotherhood. Al-Banna said they were for use in Israel, but the government feared a coup
  • In December 1948, Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Pasha outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood after hearing rumors of a coup
    • Several of their members were jailed
    • Their assets were confiscated by the government
    • Torture of imprisoned members
  • Three weeks later, the Prime Minister was assassinated by a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Of course Al-Banna and the official Brotherhood leadership condemned the killing and stated they had nothing to do with it.
  • Less than two months later, Hassan Al-Banna himself was assassinated, some believe by agents for the Egyptian government.
  • The government continued its crackdown on Brotherhood members arresting many more in May 1949.
  • By July 1949, 4000 members were in prison and went on trial later that year
  • However, most of them were acquitted or received light sentences. The court agreed that those who acted violently did so independently of the Brotherhood’s leadership.
  • Even though the Brotherhood was outlawed, they continued to operate in secret.
  • Between 1951 and 1953 Egypt went through intense political turmoil as they began to demand full independence from the British.
  • In 1952 the military overthrew the Egyptian monarchy which was backed by the British
  • In 1953 a republic was established and at first the Muslim Brotherhood supported the new government hoping they would be legalized again
  • The new government needed the Muslim Brotherhood to help gain legitimacy with the people and they worked together on many things.
  • But by 1954 the honeymoon was over and the government declared the Brotherhood illegal and proceeded to arrest hundreds of members again
  • There was always a more extremist and violent branch of the Brotherhood known as the Secret Apparatus.
  • The Secret Apparatus often clashed with the official leadership of the Brotherhood. They saw this betrayal by the government as proof that politics could not be used to further their aims
  • The Muslim Brotherhood had to struggle with repression from the government and internal strife from its own members

The Muslim Brotherhood and Gamal Abdel Nasser

  • Meanwhile, the President of Egypt Muhammad Naguib and his Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser were struggling for control over Egypt
  • Hassan Ismail Hudaybi, the successor to Hassan Al-Banna, sided with Nasser during this struggle and Nasser rewarded him by releasing several Brotherhood members from jail
  • However, when Hudaybi criticized an agreement Nasser made with the British over control of the Suez Canal, relations broke down again.
  • While giving a speech in 1954, the Secret Apparatus attempted to assassinate Nasser while he was giving a speech, but it failed
  • This gave Nasser a popularity boost which he used to overthrow the President, take over Egypt, and once again institute harsh reprisals against the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Nasser implemented the most heavy-handed attempt to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood thus far
    • It was once again official outlawed
    • Its headquarters were burned
    • Thousands were arrested
    • Many of them were tortured and killed while in prison
    • Many members who were overseas were stripped of their citizenship
  • One of the men arrested during was Sayyid Qutb, a writer and philosopher, as well as editor of the Brotherhood’s newsletter
  • Qutb was imprisoned for almost ten years. During this time, he was tortured like many others
  • But he was allowed to write towards the end of his sentence in which he authored two popular works: Milestones, and “In the Shade of the Quran.”
  • Milestones is considered one of the greatest works in Arabic literature. However it is criticized for setting the tone for the Jihadist ideology.
  • Milestones conceptualized the legitimacy of using violence to achieve political aims as well as the idea that sometimes this included both Muslim and non-Muslim governments
  • It also helped to create the idea that any laws not based on Shariah were unjust and evil
  • The Brotherhood was mostly underground again and was in tatters after Nasser’s edicts
  • A woman named Zaynab Al-Ghazali, head of the Association of Muslim Women, worked to help those members who had lost everything in the crackdown.
  • She also distributed Qutb’s writings to others while he was in prison.
  • This helped members of the Secret Apparatus to formulate a clearer and more precise ideology and plan. Before this they just wanted the Brotherhood to be more aggressive. Now they had a framework.
  • By the time Qutb was released in 1964, he was a hero to members of the Secret Apparatus and others within the Muslim Brotherhood
  • But there must have been a mole because the next year, the government accused them of planning to overthrow the government
  • This time 18000 people were arrested, including Qutb and Zaynab Al-Ghazali. Both were tortured extensively while in jail
  • Many members were put on trial including Qutb and Al-Ghazali. Qutb as sentenced to death while Al-Ghazali was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. Qutb was executed in 1966

The Muslim Brotherhood and Anwar Sadat

  • In 1970, Gamal Abdel Nasser died of a heart attack and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat
  • Sadat tried to change many of Nasser’s policies, beginning with closing the concentration camps and releasing imprisoned members of the Brotherhood.
  • In 1971 Zaynab Al-Ghazali was released because of these changes and by 1975 all members were freed
  • Though Sadat did not legalize the Brotherhood, he did not criminalize them either. The government pretty much turned a blind eye
  • The Brotherhood now began to focus on making Shariah law more prominent in Egypt
  • Sadat’s government seemed to respond favorably by amending the constitution to state that the Shariah is the source of all legislation.
  • Sadat also ordered a review of the government’s laws to ensure they were in line with Shariah
  • Even though it seemed Sadat and the Brotherhood were going to get along, they disagreed on Egypt’s relationship with Israel
  • By 1977 Egypt had been in 4 official wars with Israel and countless unofficial conflicts
  • In 1978, US President Jimmy Carter facilitated a series of meetings between Anwar Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menechi Begin. These were known as the Camp David Accords and led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. This treaty still stands today
  • Most of the Arab and Muslim world disagreed with this treaty. Many were impressed by Nasser’s defiant battles against Israel and saw Sadat’s treaty as a betrayal.
  • The Brotherhood were among his biggest critics
  • Sadat’s popularity continued to suffer when some of this economic policies led to inflation and mass riots
  • Sadat responded by arresting many of his opponents and critics including members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • This all came to a head when Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by an extremist Islamic group known as Al-Jihad.
  • After Sadat’s assassination, his Vice-President Hosni Mubarak assumed office.

Show Notes

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Bonus: The Muslim Brotherhood

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