Term Paper: Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

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Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, many observers in the West were heard to lament the passing of the "good old days" of the Cold War when the enemy was clearly known and its geographic borders clearly delineated. By sharp contrast, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the threats against the United States from within and without are largely from non-state actors that can wreak havoc against America and its allies with apparently virtual impunity. One group that has received a growing amount of attention from policymakers and analysts in recent years is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which is suspected of sponsoring such terrorist activities. This paper provides a review of the relevant literature to determine why or what conditions in Egypt allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to be successful in Egypt, a history of the organization and its founder, Hasan al Banna, and an assessment of whether the Muslim Brotherhood is in reality a terrorist organization. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Despite what many Western observers might believe today, the fundamentalist Islamic ideology against the West and its culture did not first emerge in February 1998 when Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri articulated what they termed "the global Islamic front against Jews and Crusaders" (quoted in Baruch 2005 at 8). According to this author, "This one-sided conflict has deep roots that go back to 1928 when Hassan al Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in order to fight against Western influence in the Islamic community" (Baruch 8). In this regard, Sharp (2006), an analyst with the U.S. Department of State (2006), the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 to shift Egypt from its secularism and toward an Islamic government based on Sharia (religious) law and fundamental Muslim principles. Today, Sharp advises, "The Muslim Brotherhood operates as a religious charitable and educational institution, having been banned as a political party in 1954; however, many Muslim Brotherhood members run for parliament as independents" (10). During the parliamentary elections in Egypt in 2000, for example, 17 independent candidates, widely regarded as being Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, were elected and in 2005, Brotherhood-affiliated candidates won 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament (Sharp 10).

Over the years, the Egyptian government has alternated between tolerating and suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood; in some cases, its members have been arrested and imprisoned while during other periods, the government has allowed the group to operate with virtual impunity (Sharp 10). The formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the late 1920s (various authorities cite 1927, 1928 and 1929 as the founding date) represented the beginnings of the radical Islamic movements that are being witnessed in the Middle East and elsewhere today (Hovsepian 5). For instance, Chickering and Haley (2007) report that, "Most of the new threats to U.S. And international security are arising in countries with weak or illegitimate governments and strong societies, presenting very different challenges from those of the strong states that were adversaries in the past" (59).

As noted in the introduction, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt represents a nebulous threat to the United States and its interests abroad because of its non-state status. As these authors emphasize, "The United States and its allies face growing hostility and instability in a region in which the U.S. has few strong relationships or none at all with many of the principal actors. Some of these are states and leaders of states (Iran, Hamas, Syria); others are nonstate actors (Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt)" (Chickering and Haley 59). For the most part, the absence of U.S. recognition of such groups is a direct consequence of foreign policy decisions; in some cases, though, it is a response to opposition to such groups by a friendly government (for example, the Egyptian government's previous outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood) (Chickering and Haley 60).

According to Moussalli, the group's founder, Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949), provided a framework that would be followed by other Islamic groups in the decades to come. "In Egypt in 1927," Moussalli advises, "Hasan al-Banna founded the first full-fledged Islamic fundamentalist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Arab world; it spread throughout the Muslim world and became the prototype that most Islamic movements tried to imitate" (21). In his book, Islamic Fundamentalism, Davidson (1998) reports that Hasan al-Banna was born in 1906 in the town of Mahmudiyya, situated approximately 90 miles northwest of Cairo. This author adds that, "Hasan was the oldest of five children. His father, a teacher at the local mosque school, passed on to his eldest son his piety and love of learning. Hasan chose the teaching profession and at the age of sixteen entered the teacher training school at Dar al-Ulum in Cairo. He attended to his studies diligently and was active in the many religious clubs and societies affiliated with the institution" (Davidson 20).

During his tenure as a teacher in the Suez Canal Zone, al-Banna sought to associate political and economic issues to religion and maintained that Islam was a complete moral, economic, social, political, and philosophical system that would provide a superior approach. These beliefs were further reinforced by the significant British colonialist influence in the region at the time as well as the corruption and inefficiencies that characterized the Egyptian government at the time. For instance, Davidson reports that:

Working within this atmosphere, al-Banna, increasingly aware of the eroding social and religious values he so treasured, rejected the passive posture of the Egyptian ulama of his day and instead, in March 1928, organized the Society of the Muslim Brothers. This action was motivated by his conviction that Muslims were called upon to be socially, economically, and politically aware and active in ways prescribed by Islam. Although the organization had only six members at its founding, it would grow quickly. (20)

The rapid growth enjoyed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been attributed to both the message itself as well as the untiring efforts of its founding members, especially al-Banna himself. In this regard, Moussalli advises, "Al-Banna called for active commitment to Islam through political actions that seek the establishment of the Islamic state. The assassination of al-Banna in 1949 led to splits within the movement" (21). These splits in ideological approaches notwithstanding, the fact remains that when people are convinced that they are doing God's will and are willing to die to further this will, they represent a powerful and deadly force and this is precisely what is taking place with those drawn to the Muslim Brotherhood today. According to Nusse (2002), "The appeal to the personal consciousness and responsibility of Muslims indicates an activist Islam in mind. This is a very important feature of modern Islamic thought. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had been one of the first mass movements in the Islamic world and this popular nature is still a characteristic of the fundamentalist movement today" (84).

Moreover, as Hovsepian emphasizes, radical Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have adopted a more practical approach to their recruiting and political activities by appealing to the day-to-day realities being experienced by the citizens of Arab nations. For instance, Kaplan (1994) advises, "Many Egyptians see the Brotherhood as a benevolent neighborhood force, operating clinics, welfare organizations, schools, and hospitals" (26). Likewise, according to Hovsepian, "The new wave of Islamists has developed a pragmatic link between ideology and the daily concerns and fears of ordinary citizens who are alienated and marginalized by the process of modernization" (20).

From the perspective of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, it would seem plausible to assert that no matter what type of political and social system existed at the time, if it was not fundamentally Islamist, it was not appropriate and must be replaced. As Usman (2002) points out, "The Muslim Brotherhood grew under the founder's fiery oratory and positive approach to a personal and social religion. He exhorted his followers to return to the Islam of the prophet Muhammad, which meant an acceptance of the Quran as the basic law of society. He desired to make Egypt, as well as other Muslim lands, an Islamic theocracy and to stop the trend toward a secular state" (1679). Likewise, Sullivan and Abed-Kotob (1999) point out that, "Al-Banna also found that he shared one goal with the secular nationalists: to end British rule in Egypt. Yet that was virtually the only shared goal. Al-Banna called for the return to shari'a and the establishment of an Islamic government" (10). According to Pires-O'Brien (2002), "Al-Banna was assassinated in 1950 by the intelligence services in retaliation for the murder of the Prime Minister, Nuqrashi Pasha, in December 1949 by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood" (243).

While the message being communicated by al-Banna was enormously compelling for the downtrodden of the day, it was the relentless actions on the part of the group's founder and his like-minded cohorts that were the actual… [END OF PREVIEW]

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