By The Associated Press
July 1, 2013 (AP)
Soon after the February 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood opened its first public headquarters in a luxury villa in Cairo, with its symbol, two golden swords under the Quran with the slogan “Prepare,” displayed on giant sign on the front. It was a landmark moment: After decades as a banned organization, the Muslim fundamentalist group was declaring it was now legal, public and a powerhouse in the new Egypt. Symbolically, the headquarters was located on a plateau where many of the group’s early, executed leaders were buried decades ago.
Elections made it the strongest party in parliament and elevated one of its own, Mohammed Morsi, as the country’s first democratically chosen president. On Monday, that headquarters was overrun, burned and ransacked by protesters who demanded Morsi’s ouster.
A look at the Brotherhood:
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928, advocating rule by Shariah, or Islamic law, and grew into Egypt’s most organized, disciplined and widespread political group, with millions of members nationwide and branches across the Islamic world.
At the top is the “general guide,” currently Mohammed Badie. The group’s executive leadership body is the Guidance Council, made up of 16-19 members. The general guide and the guidance council are chosen by the Shoura Council, the group’s version of a legislature made up of 75-90 members chosen by regional councils nationwide.
The man believed to be the most powerful member is Badie’s deputy, Khairat el-Shater, a wealthy businessman who was initially the Brotherhood’s candidate for president until he was disqualified because of a previous prison term. Morsi ran in his place.
The Brotherhood’s members swear an oath to “listen and obey” the group’s leadership and are organized into a tight hierarchy. At the base is the “usra” or “family,” basically a study group small enough that its members can meet regularly, build personal bonds, and discuss the group’s teachings on Islam. Each of the thousands of “families” nationwide reports up a pyramid of authority and gets instructions from above.
Families in the blood-relative sense of the word also play a major role. Brotherhood members tend to marry within the organization, socialize together in its network of mosques, clubs and schools, and raise their children in the group. Its members include a wide range of professionals — doctors, engineers, teachers and, importantly, very successful businessmen whose profits along with required dues help fund the group.
The group also runs extensive charities, providing free or cheap medical care, food and other services to the poor.
That structure helped the group survive and even spread during its years of arrests and crackdowns, particularly under Mubarak. It also made it a powerful force in elections, able to bring out many highly organized volunteers to campaign for Brotherhood candidates.
“THE BANNED ORGANIZATION”
In its early decades, the Brotherhood was involved in assassinations of Egypt’s British colonial rulers and Egyptian officials. In 1954, President Gamal Abdel-Nasser banned the Brotherhood after blaming it for a failed assassination attempt against him. Leaders were executed and thousands of its members imprisoned, often subjected to torture.
In the next nearly 60 years, however, it grew, sometimes underground, sometimes semi-overt. It would test the limits of what the regimes would allow or would strike tacit deals with authorities, sometimes facing heavy crackdowns if it went too far.
Abdel-Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, initially gave it some room to maneuver, and the group formally renounced the use of violence in 1973. The Brotherhood and other Islamist movements established strong networks in the universities, although Sadat arrested many when student activists began to denounce his rule. They were later freed by Mubarak, who took power after Sadat’s 1981 assassination.
Under Mubarak, the group made forays into parliamentary elections, although the regime’s rigid control and vote-rigging ensured opposition victories were minimal. It was allowed to run candidates under recognized opposition political parties in the mid- 1980s. In the early 1990s, it performed strongly in union elections, winning control of the leadership of several. Mubarak lashed back, suspending union leaderships and arresting Brotherhood members.
In the 2000s, the group pushed back into politics, running candidates as independents in parliamentary elections. Moderates in the group argued that the Brotherhood accepted the principles of democracy, and that the only way Egypt could be truly democratic was if the group was legal and allowed to compete freely. Its biggest victory came in 2005, when its candidates won a fifth of parliament’s seats, despite clashes when Mubarak’s security forces tried to block opposition voters.
The stunning showing prompted a new backlash. Mubarak’s regime accused the group of plotting violence and money-laundering, jailing some of its top leaders, including al-Shater. Mubarak also rolled back promised political reforms, passing constitutional amendments that solidified his party’s grip on elections.
When mainly leftist and secular youth called for massive protests against Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011, the Brotherhood’s leadership declined to join. However, young members did, and after a few days the leadership backed the protests. Still, even during the height of the 18-day uprising, Brotherhood officials met with Mubarak’s intelligence chief, raising accusations they were willing to strike a deal if the ban on the group was lifted.
Soon after Mubarak fell on Feb. 11, 2011, the military rulers who took power lifted the ban. It quickly formed its first political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, initially led by Morsi.
The organization calls for rule by God’s law in Egypt, although it is often vague. Members say the group tolerates a range of opinion, but all on the conservative end of the scale.
Two figures hold a powerful sway over the Brotherhood’s thought: Hassan al-Banna and Sayed Outb.
Al-Banna, a former teacher, founded the Brotherhood to resist both Britain’s colonial rule and secularism in Egyptian society. Deeply conservative, he was a strong organizer and emphasized the idea that preaching and activism will spread the word of Islam. He was assassinated in 1949.
Qutb, a secular writer-turned-Islamist, rose in the Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. He advocated a hard-line view that Islam must transform society and that a society that did not follow its precepts was in the “Jahiliya,” or pre-Islamic pagan age. His ideology had a strong influence on modern-day jihadist groups. He was executed by Abdel-Nasser’s regime in 1966.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party’s platform calls for Egypt to be a “civil, democratic state with an Islamic basis,” saying it accepts the precepts of liberal democracy, such as free elections, the transfer of power and the will of elected bodies in establishing law. But the group, along with other Islamists, put clauses into the post-Mubarak constitution strengthening requirements that laws passed by parliament must not contradict Shariah.
At the same time, many in the top leadership are seen as religious hard-liners, and the ultraconservative Salafi ideology has made strong inroads into the group recently.
To better understand where the Muslim Brotherhood is coming from, let’s take a closer look at the two most influential leaders: Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.
Influential leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood
These two names belong to two of the most significant philosophizers of Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood has had many influential leading members; however, the voices of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb have become highly consequential in the way the world views the supporters of Islam and in they way they define themselves.
The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood
Hassan al-Banna is the Egyptian Islamic leader who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, initially as a youth club stressing moral and social reform. Al-Banna was born in 1906 into a traditional and pious lower middle-class family in the village of Mahmoudiyya in the northwest Cairo, Egypt. His father was a religious teacher and often led prayers at the local mosque where Al-Banna first received lessons in Islam. At age thirteen, in 1919, Banna actively participated in demonstrations against British rule . He demonstrated leadership abilities and religious inclination at a young age when at fourteen he memorized the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Within a short period he had begun to organize committees centered on Islamic principles and morals.
At the curious age of sixteen, Al-Banna witnessed the end of World War I and consequently the profound issuance throughout the Muslim world of Western ideas and practices, occurrences that eventually fostered the Muslim Brotherhood’s formation. While studying at the Al-Azhar, the foremost Islamic university, Al-Banna was disturbed by the effects Westernization had left: the rise of secularism and the devaluation of traditional Islamic morals. Al-Banna dedicated time outside of his studies to reading the writings of founders of Islamic reformists, such as the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh and Abduh’s disciple, Syrian Rashid Rida (Brown). Al-Manar, the magazine Rida published in Cairo from 1898 until 1935, greatly influenced Al-Banna’s vision of how the world ought to be. In Rida’s writing, Al-Banna found opinions that nearly mirrored his own: both men worried about where their culture and Islamic beliefs were headed regarding the expected and historic effects of Westernization. Similarly, both strongly felt that reviving Islamic beliefs and practices was the best and only means to secure their waning position throughout the Muslim civilization.
In his last year at Al-Azhar he made an occupational and effectual decision; and, in 1927 he became a grammar instructor in the city of Ismailliyya, the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company and the British troops in Egypt. Westerners’ growing presence throughout and following World War I in Ismailiyya made the city heavily western influenced – an influence al-Banna disapproved and could not blind himself from.
Following the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Caliphate, a symbolic system of government representative of Islamic power and unity, was abolished. Additional Western beliefs and traditions began to enter Egypt as the Islamic world modernized.
In March of 1928 Al-Banna, his younger brother and five others pledged to live and die for Islam and thus the Muslim Brotherhood was founded. Al-Banna introduced his organization to a welcoming audience and by 1936 the Muslim Brotherhood had expanded to every Egyptian province.
The Muslim Brotherhood skyrocketed from a small grassroots movement, into a mass movement as the political, cultural and religious atmosphere attracted individuals to the Brotherhood. Additionally, Al-Banna’s charisma and conviction inspired others to listen to him and understand his Islam centered ideals, while his teaching experience aided in his ability to speak clearly, efficiently and entertainingly.
In February of 1949, at 43 years of age, Al-Banna was assassinated by an Egyptian government agent near his office in Cairo(Swenson). Survived by Al-Banna were his many followers and the fast growing and far-reaching Brotherhood he had so loyally backed. After his death the Muslim Brotherhood further developed its political interests and involvement in society. Militant groups that considered the Brotherhood too moderate, broke off from the Brotherhood to follow their violent paths to Islamization.
Radical leader of the Muslim Brotherhood
Sayyid Qutb, an Islamic philosophizer and author, led the Muslim Brotherhood’s propagandist sector in the 1950s and 1960s. Through the discourse found in his books (notably Milestones) and his leadership, he embodied an Islamic fundamentalist whom current extremist terrorist groups proudly cite as their intellectual guide.
Born the same year as Hassan al-Banna, 1906, Sayyid Qutb entered the world in the village of Mush in Ayut province, Southern Egypt (“Birth of the”). He began his adulthood intent on a career in literary criticism; however, after living in the United States from 1948 to 1950 his outlook on political and religious thought guided him into a more political arena. In 1949, Qutb studied at Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley, where he first observed what he viewed as American materialistic greed, moral and spiritual degeneracy. During this three year study of American education programs Qutb came to view western culture as materialistic and barbarian. He would later write in a book entitled “The America I Have Seen”:
This primitiveness can be seen in the spectacle of the fans as they follow a game of football… or watch boxing matches or bloody, monstrous wrestling matches… This spectacle leaves no room for doubt as to the primitiveness of the feelings of those who are enamored with muscular strength and desire it
Every young man took the hand of a young woman. And these were the young men and women who had just been singing their hymns! Red and blue lights, with only a few white lamps, illuminated the dance floor. The room became a confusion of feet and legs: arms twisted around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together
From these experiences grew Qutb’s rejection of the West, namely democracy, nationalism and secularism. When Qutb returned to Egypt in 1951 the Egyptian government’s pro-Western position resulted in Qutb’s forced resignation. Shortly thereafter Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood and quickly developed into an eminent member, positioned as the head of the Brotherhood’s propaganda department in 1952. In his book Islam and the Problem of Civilization, Qutb questioned,
“What should be our verdict on this synthetic [Western] civilization? What should be done about America and the West, given their overwhelming danger to humanity…? Should we not issue a sentence of death? Is it not the verdict most appropriate to the nature of the crime?”
In more recent years these views have been reprised in the discourse of Osama bin Laden and his intellectual mentor, Ayman Zawahiri.
In prison following assassination attempts on Nasser’s life and the subsequent banning of the Brotherhood, Qutb wrote his most famous book, in 1954, Malim if al-Tariq (Milestones). Milestones outlined his plan for political jihad to lead to Islam’s global power and advocated the establishment of believers to lead a war against Jahiliyya, the state of ignorance that existed before Mohammed’s message that introduced Islam to the world. In his book he divided social systems into two categories: The Order of Islam and the Order of Jahiliyya. In 1966, Nasser responded to three assassination attempts on his life by hanging several of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders, including Qutb.
Qutb’s application of the Islamic Jahiliyya transformed its definition from simply “ignorance,” relative to Islam, to the “barbarism” due to the absence of Islamic principles. In the 1980s his ideas constituted the bases for the formation of radical groups, such as, Jihad and Jama at al-Muslimun. His followers believe he died as a martyr.