Profile: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun is the country’s oldest and largest Islamic organisation.

The Muslim Brotherhood holds a press conference with other political parties about combating electoral fraud
The Brotherhood is not allowed to field candidates in elections under a ban on parties with a religious agenda [EPA]

The Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, a revivalist Islamic movement, was formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt.

The Brotherhood is one of the oldest and most influential Islamic movements in the world.

The movement’s ideology revolves around cementing the Quran and Islamic teachings as a way of life, reviving the Caliphate and rejecting colonial rule.

It strives for an all-encompassing system of social justice through this Islamic base.

Following its foundation, the Brotherhood steadily grew as a popular movement, though it suffered continuous repression by the Egyptian government.

In 1938, the movement was said to have around 200,000 members, while by 1948, this figure became half a million.

By the early 1940s, the Brotherhood had established offices in a number of Arab countries, including Lebanon and Syria, and its headquarters in Cairo became the central node and meeting point.

It was during this period that the movement was blamed for a series of attacks in Egypt, including the assassination of Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha, the Egyptian prime minister, in 1948.

The movement also played an important role alongside secular groups fighting against Britain’s continued presence in the country.

Mainstream politics

The Brotherhood attempted to stay away from mainstream politics, but when it did participate, it rejected formal alignments with any other party.

In 1949, al-Banna was killed by government agents.

Later, Sayyid Qutb, an author and Islamic theologian, became one of the more influential members, calling for the restoration of sharia law.

Egyptian politics took a sharp authoritarian route in the 1950s and the Brotherhood became one of the key targets of state repression.

When Gamal Abdel Nasser took over Egypt in 1952, the Muslim Brotherhood is said to have welcomed the coup, but this budding relationship did not last.

An attempted assassination on Nasser in 1954, blamed by the authorities on elements of the Brotherhood, saw the movement face a crackdown that led to the imprisonment of Qutb and other members.

Qutb’s execution

In 1956, the organisation was repressed and banned and Qutb was executed in 1966. However, it continued to grow, albeit underground.

According to Mahjoub Zweiri from the Qatar University’s department of Contemporary Middle East History, the organisation developed under a particular political context.

“Their key ambition was to reform Egyptian government policy and the Palestine question also became a central priority,” he told Al Jazeera.

During the 1970s, Anwar Sadat, the president, gave more freedom to Islamic groups in his bid to combat pro-Nasser leftist groups.

The Brotherhood was able to re-emerge, though it was still not granted any legal status.

Though many strands of political thought developed, the Brotherhood attracted students which invigorated the movement and pushed it more towards political activism.

This ushered in participation in parliamentary elections.

In 1984, in alliance with the Wafd party, the Brotherhood managed to attain 58 seats. In 1990, the movement boycotted the elections, calling for a neutral electoral process.

“The Mubarak government used three strategies to repress the Brotherhood – economic, political and educational … students who showed interest in the movement were often kicked out of universities,” Zweiri said.

“This isolated but also strengthened them and did sharpen their ideas, for lack of a better word. So much so, that they are mostly uninterested in a discussion with government”.

Government denounced

The Brotherhood is not permitted to field candidate for elections because of a government ban on political parties with a stated religious agenda.

As a result, Brotherhood candidates stood as independents in the 2005 election and managed to win 88 out of the 444 contested seats in parliament.

Since 2005, the Mubarak government has adopted what has been described as the “modified Algerian” scenario, in which sharper limits were placed on democratic processes as a method to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence.

After failing to win any seats in last year’s election, the organisation accused the government of engaging in fraud, vote buying, illegal campaigning at polling stations, and the exclusion of opposition supporters, especially those supporting the Brotherhood.

Though looked upon with suspicion by many Western countries for its links with Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the Gaza Strip,many analysts say that the Brotherhood’s brand of “Islamism” remains largely misunderstood.

The Brotherhood has denounced acts of terrorism while they themselves have reportedly suffered criticism from extremist groups for being too moderate.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies