The Muslim Brotherhood’s Possible Future

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The Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational Islamic organization that was recently deemed illegal in Egypt. In this article the development and decline of the Muslim Brotherhood and the potential options that they now face will be explored, as all legitimate and legal political processes are currently not viable.

To understand how the Muslim Brotherhood will transition, we must look at how it developed. The Muslim Brotherhood was originally founded by Hassan Al-Banna in 1928, in reaction to western cultural and social influences in the Middle East.[i] The Brotherhood, was founded on two principles; the integration of all aspects of Sharia Law into society and the state apparatus, as well as the unification of all Muslim states through the rejection of western influences.[ii] The Muslim Brotherhood first gained a following as a welfare group, aiming to assist the lower and middle classes with social and communal support. The group then transferred to a more politically based role, focused on opposing British power in the region, gaining support across Egypt and into surrounding countries.[iii] Then in 1948, the Egyptian government outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood following a series of assassinations and violent clashes between the government and the Brotherhood.[iv] By 1970 the Muslim Brotherhood renounced its use of violence and Egyptian President Anwar-al Sadat, granted amnesty to the group, whilst not lifting the official ban.[v]

Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated in 1981. This is commonly attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, however, the assassination was in fact committed by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, in accordance with Jamaat al- Islamiyya, an extremist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.[vi] Hosni Mubarak then assumed the Egyptian presidency, and the Muslim Brotherhood began entering into parliamentary elections as independent candidates. By 2005 the group had managed to take twenty percent of the parliament.[vii] Though its entry into government seems initially surprising due to its illegal status; the amnesty of 1970 allowed for the group to expand as the government had become more lenient with the Brotherhood. However President Mubarak was shocked by the results of the 2005 election and enacted a crackdown on the party by instituting a number of reforms to oppose their resurgence.[viii]The Constitution was revised to state that no political party can be based on or have affiliation to a religious background.

By 2011, anti-government protests began, believed to have been influenced by the Arab Spring, and by February 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down, handing the government over to the interim military authority. In 2012, Muslim Brotherhood member, Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected President and the Muslim Brotherhood became a legal organization.[ix] However by July 3, 2013 he was ousted by the Egyptian Military due to mass protests in reaction to Morsi’s authoritarian direction and the failure of the government to fix the broken economy.[x] The Egyptian military took over as the interim government, and officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood an illegal terrorist organization.[xi]

Now that it has again been deemed illegal, the Muslim Brotherhood is left with two options for progressing forward as a group. It can either continue as an underground movement as it has in the past, slowly progressing toward political prosperity, or radicalize toward Islamic extremism. By observing the subversive development the group followed in the past, we may be able to ascertain the direction it will take now. The Muslim Brotherhood initially developed in three stages; propaganda, organization, and political legitimacy. It started on a community level by offering support on an individual basis. The Brotherhood used group resources to give financial aid to those in need, and like any political party, financed its outreach programs by collecting donations from members.[xii] They continue this practice to this day, but on a much larger scale. This could potentially be repeated to regain popular support in Egypt, while pushing its agenda of integrating Islam into everyday life. This leads to the second stage of political advancement, reorganization.

As it cannot legally form as group, reorganization must be done underground as in the past. This will transition the Muslim Brotherhood from a communal outreach group into a political movement. Finally, it will reenter the third stage; taking political action and claiming legitimacy. This was clearly done before with members of the Muslim Brotherhood entering into Parliament as Independent candidates. This may prove to be difficult if the Egyptian government is aware of a candidate’s participation or shared beliefs with the Muslim Brotherhood. However, once this phase has commenced, it will only maintain its legitimacy by participating through the democratic process with a system of checks and balances.[xiii] This is to prevent actions of supreme leadership, as were conducted by Morsi in his self-granting power to legislate without judicial oversight.

The Muslim Brotherhood has existed for 85 years, it will not dissipate due to Egypt once again declaring it illegal. The Egyptian government may accidentally “create their own monster” with the recent act of illegalizing them.[xiv] The Muslim Brotherhood may not be willing to work through semi-legitimate means again, via regaining support on the community level, and the group may fraction, which takes us to the other possible course of action. We may see a rise in radicalization within the group.

Radicalization could mean extremist demands for attention through the means of force and terrorist activity. While a possible rise in terrorist activity may not represent the values and goals of the group in its entirety, it will catch the attention of the international community and further delegitimize its struggle. The current Egyptian government and the international community will not sympathize with terrorist activities as a way of gaining support and legitimacy.

The possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood experiencing both reactions is well within the realm of all likelihood. The radical followers will likely break from the more moderate believers, and take up arms with other Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers across the Middle East and North West Africa, such as Hamas in the Gaza strip and the Islamic Action Front in Jordan.[xv] In addition, a system of propaganda could permeate among nonviolent followers, thus changing the dynamic of the Muslim Brotherhood. The more moderate believers will likely remain in an underground movement. Using word of mouth and the ever growing social media phenomenon to spread their beliefs. We have seen this elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly with the Arab Spring. We will likely begin to see a stark separation in the ways that the Muslim Brotherhood followers associate with the group, and likely a shift in the group’s cores beliefs will occur. Currently they claim to denounce the use of violence, but for how long this will remain a value is unclear if they remain silenced by the military run government.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been forced into a difficult situation by the Egyptian government. In order to prevent the radicalization of terrorism and to support true democratic practices such as freedom of speech, the Muslim Brotherhood should not be illegal as a group. We can see that the Egyptian government believed that the best method for securing a stable democracy, was to completely outlaw the Brotherhood. However, in order to prevent the violent radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood and other fringe groups, they need to be allowed to participate in the democratic process.

The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to see a transition, whether that is through extremist measures or an underground movement, only time will tell. The international community will have to wait and see the direction that the Muslim Brotherhood decides to take, and its interaction with the Egyptian government.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra


[i]Laub, Z. (2014, January). Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/egypts-muslim-brotherhood/p23991.

[ii]The Principles of the Muslim Brotherhood. IKWANWEB, The Muslim Brotherhood’s Official English Website. (2010, February). http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=813.

[iii]The Muslim Brotherhood: A Timeline. The Global Post. (2013, September). http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130923/the-muslim-brotherhood-timeline.

[iv]The Muslim Brotherhood: A Timeline. The Global Post. (2013, September). http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130923/the-muslim-brotherhood-timeline.

[v]Laub, Z. (2014, January). Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Council on Foreign Relation. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/egypts-muslim-brotherhood/p23991.

[vi]Fletcher, H. (May 2008).Jamaat al-Islamiyya. Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/jamaat-al-islamiyya/p9156.

[vii]Otterman, S. (2005 December). Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections. Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/muslim-brotherhood-egypts-parliamentary-elections/p9319.

[viii]Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. (2013, December). BBC News, Middle East. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12313405.

[ix]Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. (2013, December). BBC News, Middle East. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12313405.

[x]Spark, L.S. (July 2013). The Rise and Rapid Fall of Mohamed Morsy. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/02/world/meast/egypt-morsy-profile/

[xi]Cunningham, E. (December 2013). Egypt’s Military Backed Government Declares Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-military-backed-government-declares-muslim-brotherhood-a-terrorist-organization/2013/12/25/7cf075ca-6da0-11e3-aecc-85cb037b7236_story.html

[xii]Laub, Z. (2014, January). Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Council on Foreign Relation. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/egypts-muslim-brotherhood/p23991.

[xiii]Wickham, C.R. (February 2011). The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak. Foreign Affairs. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67348/carrie-rosefsky-wickham/the-muslim-brotherhood-after-mubarak

[xiv]Wittes, T.C. & Byman, D. (January 2014). Now that the Muslim Botherhood is Declared a Terrorist Group, It Might Just Become One. The Washington Post, Opinions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/now-that-the-muslim-brotherhood-is-declared-a-terrorist-group-it-just-might-become-one/2014/01/10/268977d2-77d6-11e3-af7f-13bf0e9965f6_story.html

[xv]Crane, M. (April 2005). Does the Muslim Brotherhood have Ties to Terrorism? Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/egypt/does-muslim-brotherhood-have-ties-terrorism/p9248.

About Author

Caitlin McFall

Caitlin McFall is a contributor for the International Security Observer. She is a 2012 graduate from the University of Oregon, where she attained a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Political Science. Her concentration focused on Counter Terrorism in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Whilst in school she wrote for the international school newspaper, the “Yallah” where she developed her enthusiasm for research and analytical work. After graduating Caitlin worked for the United Nations Refugee Agency assisting with the promotion and awareness for refugees from Syria, Mali and South Sudan. She recently relocated to Washington DC and works for a Brokerage Firm. Caitlin has a strong interest in the understanding of terrorism and its effect on international security. She is a native English speaker and proficient in Italian.

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