Most observers are familiar with the pan-Islamic organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Founded in 1928 by Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan El-Banna, the Egyptian Brotherhood has been a wellspring of Islamism and political Islam since its inception. Its importance as a ‘springboard’ toward radicalization for individuals such as Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been widely discussed. Far less known is the existence of a global network of individuals and organizations that developed as Muslim Brotherhood members dispersed to other countries while fleeing the periodic crackdowns on the organization in Egypt.
Many of these Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) settled in Europe and the United States, where they went on to found what have become some of the most prominent Islamic organizations in their new home countries. Once established, these organizations began seeking legitimacy and have worked to influence and control the development of Islamic discourse and political activity in their respective countries. Less publicly, they are almost always associated with fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, and support for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and even Hezbollah. While claiming to disavow Al-Qaeda linked terrorism, the Ikhwan are at best lukewarm in their condemnation of Islamist violence and commonly issue statements justifying and supporting such violence. When compared to the Egyptian organization, there has been relatively little scrutiny of the network that is referred to as the Global Muslim Brotherhood. This network has become far more important to the Islamist movement worldwide than the Egyptian organization, which until recently had been largely confined to activities inside Egypt– where its members were under constant government surveillance and control until the fall of the Mubarak government in 2011.
The Global Muslim Brotherhood has been organized in the United States since 1963 when the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was established by Brotherhood members fleeing their home countries. Key figures in the MSA, as well as others linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, went on to form numerous other organizations, many of which have been recently identified by the US government in court documents as part of the U.S Brotherhood. The Global Muslim Brotherhood has been present in Europe since 1960 when Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of Hassan Al-Banna, founded a mosque in Munich. Since that time, Brotherhood organizations have been established in almost all of the EU countries as well as many non-EU countries such as Russia and Turkey. Many of these organizations have banded together into an EU-level lobbying group known as the Federation of Islamic Organizations of Europe (FIOE), based in Brussels and which includes some 26 European Muslim Brotherhood organizations as well as being the parent body for other pan-European Brotherhood bodies such as the European Council For Fatwa and Research (ECFR). The Global Muslim Brotherhood also includes important Saudi institutions, many of which were founded by Muslim Brothers who settled in the Kingdom. These include the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), both of which were created to propagate Saudi ‘Wahhabi’ Islam, a conservative version of Islam that teaches that the only true form of the religion is that which it is believed was practiced centuries ago. These US, European, and Saudi organizations, as well as Islamic organizations in other parts of the world, operate as a coherent network– sharing similar ideology, backgrounds, funding, and institutional links. They hold numerous conferences year after year, attended by the same core group of individuals.
While much remains to be learned about how the Global Muslim Brotherhood is coordinated and led, US court documents released during the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial indicate a degree of structure previously unknown. In addition, one individual holds a position of such esteem and influence within the Global Muslim Brotherhood that he is referred to here as the leader of the network. Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi is a highly influential theologian living in Qatar who also heads the European Council for Fatwa and Research and appears on a weekly Al Jazeera television program. Sheikh Qaradawi first rose to prominence through his participation on the editorial board of Al-Dawa magazine, an Egyptian publication that was allowed to circulate during the regime of Anwar Sadat and which was largely financed by money coming from Saudi Arabia. The Al-Dawa editorial board was composed largely of Muslim Brothers who had fallen out with the Brotherhood Supreme Guide over their willingness to cooperate with the Egyptian regime.
2. Is there any other evidence for the existence of a Global Muslim Brotherhood?
Several of the leaders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood itself have acknowledged the existence of a Global Muslim Brotherhood. In July 2007, the then Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood explained:
This blessed movement founded by our martyr Imam- Allah have mercy on him- ensued a huge movement which is present in more than seventy countries all over the world, and is still spreading and bearing fruits.
Also in July 2007, Kamal al Helbawi, the MB’s former official spokesman in the West, said in a newspaper interview:
Generally speaking, no country is devoid of the MB, whether large or small, Arab or international. In the West, there is an Islamic movement that follows al Banna, but there are also others that have different references.”
In June 2008, the first Deputy Chairman of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was asked about the “international Muslim Brotherhood and replied:
There are entities that exist in many countries all over the world. These entities have the same ideology, principle and objectives but they work in different circumstances and different contexts. So, it is reasonable to have decentralization in action so that every entity works according to its circumstances and according to the problems it is facing and in their framework.