How the Muslim Brotherhood is organized
Different activities of the Muslim Brotherhood are guided by an organizational apparatus that is hierarchically composed by: 1) Supreme Guide; 2) A Deputy Supreme Guide; 3) A Guidance Bureau (13‒15 members) responsible for the policy formulation; 4) a larger Consultive Council; 5) and 25 specialized Committees. One of them, for instance, the Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) Committee is composed of trusted Muslim scholars and ensures that the policies of the Brotherhood are all the time in strict line with the Quran and Sunna. Other committees are guiding the area of teaching, preaching, welfare, and political activities of the organization. In addition, there is a huge legal staff that is defending the Brotherhood at the courts for different reasons.
Supreme Guides have been traditionally elected for life up to some 20 years ago when the situation changed. Incoming Supreme Guides will be limited to two six-year terms in office. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is controlled by a narrow circle of very old men. The Supreme Guide is, nonetheless, very charismatic (formally divinely guided) and, brooks no contradiction. Rather, he is serving as a source of imitation and emulation. Supreme Guide has the power to appoint “Commissioners” (for instance, Commissioner for International Political Affairs) and initiate policy according to his self-decision. The Commissioner for International Political Affairs was negotiating with the Mubarak government in Egypt, mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia following the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1978‒1979, or mediating between Iraq and Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait (former Iraqi territory). Without any doubt, the Muslim Brotherhood is carrying out considerable clout within the Islamic world.
It is evident that the authoritarian leadership style of the Muslim Brotherhood was/is typical of secret societies, organizations, or movements. However, such leadership style has and its negative feature as in this particular case, the authoritarian rule of the aged Brothers has led to accusations that the leadership of the organization simply lost connections with the basis and touch with the demands of the present. Some think that the Supreme Guide is too old to carry efficiently out his duties. In practice, the election of a new Supreme Guide often brings tensions with the younger, mid-level leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The younger midlevel leaders are those university activists who played a crucial role in reviving the Muslim Brotherhood in the post-Nasser era. Now, during the last two decades, they are claiming responsibility for the Brotherhood’s electoral successes in Egypt. In addition, they also feel that they are more in touch with the realities of the contemporary world than the old guard and that their time for power has come.
Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is, in fact, a secret organization, and, therefore, most of its activities are technically and legally illegal. However, there are many rich members of the Brotherhood, especially those from the Persian Gulf. It is known that the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization has its own businesses and its members have great influence in the Middle East’s large, benevolent associations that do collect huge amounts of money for religious (officially) and other (unofficially) purposes.
The Internationalization of the Muslim Brotherhood
There is only one Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he is residing in Cairo, Egypt. Cairo is, basically, the undeclared “capital” of the whole organization, while Egypt is its “motherland” where the Brotherhood was originally established in 1928. However, there are branches of the Brotherhood in many Muslim countries under different names headed by General-Secretary (a kind of the Minister of Foreign Affairs) and a local Consultive Council. The Muslim Brotherhood developed an international network in the 1970s whose regional representatives meet frequently for the reason to ensure that they are pursuing a common policy and to discuss common issues among all the most pressing and problematic is the accusation by the US administrations that the Muslim Brotherhood is, in essence, a terrorist organization but not a religious society. In the cases of a particular need, the country and regional representatives are organizing a common meeting on a broader continental basis. Nevertheless, according to the internal structure, the Supreme Guide and the Guidance Bureau are shaping the focal elements of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood from their offices in Cairo. Consequently, the central Brotherhood’s authorities are leaving it to the branches to work out the details following their particular needs and circumstances.
The security services of both Zionist Israel and the USA, successively are accusing the Muslim Brotherhood to be a successful ideological and financial sponsor of a broad network of pan-Islamic organizations in West Europe like the Islamic Society of Germany, the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, or the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy. These and their counterparts in other West European countries serve, in fact, as umbrella organizations in those countries for a variety of local Islamic centers. In turn, country networks are connected by different pan-European organizations like the Federation of Islamic Organizations, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, or Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations.
On the one hand, it is not formally known that such organizations are wholly owned subsidies of the Muslim Brotherhood, but from another hand, it is clearly known that both the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabian government are deeply involved in supporting them. The government of Saudi Arabia is founding its legitimacy on its role as the guardian of Islam and finances Islamic organizations across the globe, most of which have clear Wahhabi features. Compared to the Saudi case of the Wahhabis, however, the Brotherhood is moderate.
There are clear US and Israeli complaints in which they attribute the spread of Islamic organizations in West Europe to the naivety of the West European leaders and their governments. However, the West European leaders scoff at the accusation that they are naïve or soft on Muslim extremism. They claim that they are well understanding that the Muslim community in Europe is huge and important and, therefore, it has to be better and deeper integration into the European political life and society if violence and extremism are going to be avoided or minimized. As the current situation is, the growing European Muslim organizations forced West European leaders to take a far more moderate standpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical-moderate groups than the USA or Israel. In conclusion, the growing number of different organizations of West European Muslim societies are not adequate to break the cycle of poverty and fear that besets much of the Muslims but indeed the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of West Europe are growing farther apart.
The strengths of the Muslim Brotherhood
The moderate rather than radical approach of the Muslim Brotherhood surely enabled it to appeal to a broad range of Islamic believers who, while supporting a strong role for religion in political life, fear the violence and extremism of the jihadists and other radical fundamentalists. Additionally, the moderate face of the Muslim Brotherhood is making it less threatening to protest voters intent on registering their profound displeasure with the corruption and oppression of secular governments around the Muslim world. It has to be noticed that protest votes are for sure part of the reason for the dazzling success of Muslim parties during the last decades.
The numbers are as well as an important factor in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as Muslim governments are thinking hard and long before they challenge the Brotherhood or do something against the organization as they know the popular reaction is going to be politically unpredictable. Serious efforts to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan, or Sudan can result in an Algerian-style civil war – a possibility which is chilling even the boldest of Arab leaders in the Middle East like it was done with President Mubarak of Egypt. Arrests have been done but, however, most of them were, in fact, symbolic and temporary. As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood due to its popularity and popular support enjoys an important level of freedom in fighting for Islamic reforms at least as long as it is stopping short of challenging the power of the ruling political regime. In any case, the Muslim Brotherhood and its parallel organizations are claiming political victory for the growing strength of the Islamic movement in North Africa, the Middle East, and some other Muslim regions in Asia. On other hand, as a matter of fact, secular regimes still are in power in predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East regardless of the historic success of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1978‒1979, but the power of moderate Islamic organizations and groups is continuing to reach new successes in the Muslim world very much encouraged by the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It became true that patience is their reward.
The flexibility as well brought to the Muslim Brotherhood certain benefits. Different from the Islamic jihadists and other radical fundamentalists, the Muslim Brotherhood is not locked to all or nothing political-military strategy of violence that unnecessarily is provoking the animosity of secular governments in Muslim countries. Rather, the Muslim Brotherhood can adapt its policies to fit the needs of the situation, biding its time while it builds a foundation for eventual victory. Following the same manner of wide flexibility, all Muslims, Arabs or not, Sunni or Shi’a, are equally welcome to join the Muslim Brotherhood as long as they are willing to work toward the establishment of the Islamic State within the framework of the guidelines of the Brotherhood which fixed as well as that when the Islamic State is finally established, Allah will deal with the sinners and sort out the sectarian conflicts forever.
The critique by Islamic jihadists
It is evident that the Islamic jihadists, from their standpoint, are constantly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood for their flexibility and patience as both strategies are for the jihadists only excuse for, in fact, doing nothing. On the contrary, the Islamic jihadists are heavily condemning the strategy of the Islamic Brotherhood of cooperation for perpetuating secular regimes and making them appear Islamic in the eyes of the public. In the process, corruption and immorality have embedded themselves ever deeper in Islamic society.
Another attack on the Brotherhood by the Islamic jihadists is the Brotherhood’s claim that the Islamic radicals and radical fundamentalists are too weak to challenge the military power of the secular regimes in the Muslim societies. However, the jihadists are giving an example of, for instance of Iran/Persia when the Shah of Iran before the Islamic Revolution claimed to possess the 5th largest army in the world but his regime collapsed without a whimper in the face of Ayatollah Khomeini. That Shah’s army, btw, was trained by the US experts and armed with the latest American weaponry but it did not save the secular and pro-US regime. According to the jihadists, military power cannot save a corrupt regime that lost touch with its own population and, therefore, the Iranian soldiers did not want to fight to protect the Shah and save his regime, and, consequently, the soldiers of the Islamic world will not fight to save their corrupt and godless masters. For the Islamic jihadists, most soldiers in Muslim societies are good Muslims, and they will join the Islamic revolution when the time arrives.
The jihadist critique of the Muslim Brotherhood as well contains several practical issues:
1) Flexibility, according to the jihadist critique, equates with a lack of focus.
2) The Muslim Brotherhood is speaking of guidelines, however, the jihadists see only a few guidelines other than a commitment to cooperate with corrupt Muslim and Arab regimes in the Greater Middle East and North Africa (the MENA) in the vain hope to establish an Islamic State (Caliphate).
3) With everyone doing their own thing, from the jihadist point of view, the goal of the Islamic State gets lost in the practice.
4) The stress on its size by the Muslim Brotherhood, has had the same result as by attempting to gather the vast number of Islamic believers into a single organization, the Brotherhood at the same time is finding itself in the impossible position of trying to please every Muslim. The result is, according to the jihadist perspective, stagnation and the defection of the most dedicated members of the organization. Therefore, in practice, the Muslim Brotherhood as the organization became nothing more than a huge bureaucratic apparatus, the zeal of its members is being sapped by petty concerns of status and authority.
5) The most criticized issue by the jihadists is that the Muslim Brotherhood is soft on the Shi’a Muslims. In other words, by embracing the Shi’a Muslims with their teaching, the Brotherhood is, in fact, giving tacit approval of the Shi’a heretical teaching. According to the (Sunni) jihadists, both the Quran and the Sunna, say nothing of Hidden Imams or ayatollahs. These are all embellishments that have diverted Islam from its true course and cannot conceivably be part of an Islamic State which has to be founded on and to function according to the Quran and the Sunna.
Nevertheless, in addition to the jihadist critique of the Muslim Brotherhood, it has to be clearly stressed that the Brotherhood finds itself in heavy political and ideological competition with the Islamic jihadists for the hearts and minds of the Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. Continued moderation is threatening defection to the jihadists, while increased radicalism is threatening reprisals by the governments of the Muslim states in the region of the MENA. The fine line that the Muslim Brotherhood has pursued in recent decades is, in fact, becoming increasingly difficult to walk as the distance between the governments of the Muslim states and their populations continue to broaden.
Here, one can ask a focal question: What is the real truth? On one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is portrayed as a vast octopus that is gradually sapping the will of the secular governments of the Muslim states to resist the Islamic movement to create a pure Islamic State or better to say to re-establish the medieval Caliphate. On other hand, however, according to the jihadist accusations, the Muslim Brotherhood is a vast moribund bureaucracy that has lost its practical capacity and moral legitimacy for effective action in favor of the Muslim world. In addition, the question arises is the Muslim Brotherhood the militant revolutionary organization proclaimed by its credo, or does it undermine the Islamic movement with false hopes of finding a peaceful road to the Islamic State?
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas
Hamas is the largest of the Palestinian Islamic extremist groups which began its activities as an offshoot of the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood itself was established in Jerusalem and other major Palestinian cities by 1946 – two years before the proclamation of Israel as an independent state in May 1948 and the beginning of the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948‒1949. The Israeli Zionists with great help from outside especially by the USA won the war, but Jordanian and Iraqi forces occupied Jerusalem and the central regions of Palestine (the West Bank annexed by Jordan in 1952). Egypt retained the Gaza Strip, a narrow coastal plain linked to Egypt’s the Sinai Peninsula. However, the situation on the ground changed dramatically with the crushing Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War as Israel occupied West Bank, Gaza, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Height. For the matter of the liberation of Arab Palestine, it was established the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the PLO) – a loose confederation of leftist groups under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. For the Arabs, the PLO was, in fact, the legitimate Government of the Palestinians but for the Zionist Israel, it was public enemy No. 1 as Israel feared PLO terror and that the international community would forcibly establish a PLO-led Government in the Occupied Territories. As a matter of fact, at that time only a few Israelis worried much about the Muslim Brotherhood and its imitators in Palestine but on the contrary, the Israeli Government encouraged the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood as a counterweight to the PLO. However, in retrospect, it was a terrible mistake.
It was a real fear by the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that the ascendance of a very secular PLO would stifle the Islamic movement in Palestine, much as President Nasser had stifled the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, it was particularly disconcerting the military capacity of the PLO as the PLO had its own armed militias but the Palestinian Brotherhood did not. Therefore, it became such a political-military reality that led to the emergence of Hamas as the military wing of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 but in reality, the nucleus of Hamas was created much earlier simply called the “Military Wing” (raa el askary). It is important to notice that the original membership of Hamas was recruited exclusively from the Muslim Brotherhood. However, in the course of time, Hamas developed both its own membership and identity and membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was not a prerequisite – it was a zeal.
The line between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood all the time was vague. It can be seen from the statement in 1988 by Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (the official name of the Hamas) which referred to the organization as one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood makes no bones about its support for Hamas including funding or the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to Gaza. However, at least for the moment, Hamas is much more concentrated on the issue of the liberation of Palestine than it is doing with establishing the Caliphate in Palestine which has very secular traditions. Hamas was using several similar strategies as used by the Muslim Brotherhood like preaching, welfare, and politics in order to reach its political objectives. The political agenda of Hamas was traditionally focused on terrorist strikes against the Zionist targets in Israel but military politics has recently been joined by electoral politics as Palestine moves toward statehood. It is a sign that in the future Hamas can be transformed from a resistance movement into a democratic political organization once a viable Palestinian state has been established. That is giving hope to those arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots are, in fact, willing to operate within a democratic framework.