Although the Muslim Brotherhood was founded decades ago by a now deceased Egyptian schoolteacher, it remains the world’s largest international Islamic organization. Beliefs of its founder have spread globally and the aspirations of its members continue to expand.
It took the Brotherhood eighty-five years to reach its highest level of power in Egypt, but only one year to go from its pinnacle of power, to protesting against oppression in the streets of Cairo. Despite this, the organization has continued to battle for its revival in the Islamic world.
But what are the beliefs and aspirations of the Brotherhood, and what impact is it having on an increasingly interconnected world?
Ideology and Beliefs of the Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt, in 1928, by schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, is the not only the largest Islamic organization in the world, but also the most important. It has achieved levels of influence in both the Islamic world, and also the West, while aiming to further extend its power. Members of the Brotherhood see Allah as their objective, the Prophet as their leader, and the Qur’an as their law.
When the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was suppressed under former President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960’s, members were exiled across Europe and the Arab world. This lead to the diffusion of the Brotherhood’s ideology across the Middle East and by the 1980’s, it sought to establish some degree of coordination in the countries it had impacted.
Although the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood remains the most influential, today, the organization has chapters in around 80 countries where it hopes to extend its goals, ideology and power. There are branches in countries such Jordan, Syria, Yemen, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Qatar, and Turkey, but how much supporters of the Brotherhood in these countries cooperate with one another is not clear.
Nonetheless, the brand of the Muslim Brotherhood has reached global status, and has influence in almost every state with a large Muslim population. But problems that impact cooperation between international supporters lie in the fact that every country has a different style of governance, a different relationship between state and religion, and also differences in societal characteristics. These levels of variation mean that in every individual county, the Brotherhood is subject to change by differing national environments.
Despite difficulties in global coordination and a statement made by leader of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Turabi, claiming that, “You cannot run the world from Cairo”, all of the Brotherhood’s international branches maintain their belief in an ideal Islamic State through their interpretation of the Qur’an. Founder of the Brotherhood, al-Banna, believed that the spread and creation of a genuine Islamic State could only occur through the banning of Western ideas and putting an end to its influence on Sharia doctrinal laws, with followers of the Brotherhood still believing this today.
Future and Aspirations
Despite its turbulent history, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the oldest, largest and best organized transnational Islamist movement in the world. But as a result of being forced to operate underground for decades, changes in political climates, and opposing goals of its changing leaders, the group has struggled with internal crises and difficulty in articulating a single and united stance on many key issues pertaining to their progress in society.
The Brotherhood’s rapid ascent after the Arab Spring brought unexpected challenges, and since the brutal military crackdown on thousands of Brotherhood members after the coup of Egypt’s first elected President and Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi in 2013, the organisation has been aiming towards figuring out a way to respond to, and counteract the oppression they have been facing in Egypt and elsewhere.
The groups original focus on identity, religious politics, Islamic roots, Sharia law and its criticisms of Western secular values is now, for the first time in the Brotherhood’s history, being blurred. Although oppression and persecution have been present in much of the Brotherhood’s history, it is now heightened, and has in many ways overshadowed the organization’s original goals.
With most of its first rank, second rank and third rank now in prison, exile or hiding, members of the fourth and fifth ranks have proclaimed that they will work on the overthrow of the regime that took over after the coup of their leader, Mohamed Morsi.
Yet, as the Brotherhood’s most influential leaders are absent, the management of the organization’s goals have been halted by its need for reformation and reconstruction. Goals are now being presented as a religious task and duty that should be carried out regardless of the high human and political costs, causing some to believe that their aspirations have become too unrealistic.
Their old game of cooperating with the regime is no longer an option, making it difficult for the Brotherhood to broaden their appeal to larger segments of society. To this end, it has been suggested that in order for the Brotherhood to achieve its goals, it would have to rebuild itself in a process that could take years, leading to a considerable loss of support from their traditional bases.
The Brotherhood’s global presence
As authoritarian rulers in the Arab world were threated during the Arab Spring, many state rulers attempted to halt the wave of change across the region. As the Brotherhood was a symbol of democracy and revolutionary change, it was seen as an enemy of state ruler’s counterrevolution, and since the coup of President Morsi, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have labelled the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Despite this, the state of Qatar has continued to be an active supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. Not only did the country support the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt, but it had also adopted a policy of financial and political backing for the organization’s regional affiliates, that had been in existence even before the years of the Arab Spring.
In April 2015, the Qatari Foreign Minister said, Qatar “does not consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation”, but rather “a political outfit that practices democracy”. However, Qatari Brotherhood members have not formed a local chapter in the country stating there is “little reason to form anti-government agitation in a country that has become host and home to some of the regions most famous Brotherhood figures, that has provided public platforms to these individuals, and whose foreign policy since 2011 has been anchored in support of Islamic groups”.
Turkey, one of Qatar’s regional and military allies, has also supported the Muslim Brotherhood and been critical of the coup of President Morsi. Turkey also gave refuge to thousands of Egyptians who fled the country in order to escape legal action because of their association with the organization. Similarly, both Turkey and Qatar’s foreign policy in regard to the Brotherhood has led to some isolation among their other traditional Arab allies. Nonetheless, both countries have continued to support the Brotherhood, condemned its subjection to military brutality, and provided a safe haven for the Brotherhood to continue its practices.