Watch: The History of the Muslim Brotherhood – Part 1

Historical Background

The Muslim Brotherhood, in Arabic al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, is a transnational Sunni religiopolitical organization founded by Ḥasan al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt. Al-Banna’s teachings spread far beyond Egypt, influencing today various Islamist movements all around the world.

The MB advocates a return to the Qurān and the Hadith as guidelines for a modern Islamic society. Ḥadith literally means “talk” or “discourse” and it refers to what Muslims believe to be a record of the words, actions, and the silent approval of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
During the first years of the MB, the group has focused on religious and educational programs and provided much needed social services to the poorest classes, therefore its membership grew swiftly in the 1930s.
However, after a few years, the MB politicized its outlook and presented itself as an opposition to Egypt’s ruling Wafd party during World War 2 and organized protests against the government.
It didn’t take long for the MB to resort to armed violence and the organization was subsequently linked to several terrorist acts, including bombings and political assassinations in the early 40s in Egypt.
Therefore, the government tried to dissolve the MB, but the organization responded by assassinating Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi in 1948.
Ḥasan al-Banna himself was assassinated shortly thereafter; many believe his death was at the behest of the Egyptian government.
While the MB retreated underground with the rise of the socialist pan Arabist government in Egypt in 1952, a failed attempt to assassinate late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, who enjoyed vast cross-national support among Arabic nations, led to the MB’s forcible suppression.
While one of the theorists of the MB Sayyid Qutb was imprisoned, he authored several books during his imprisonment, most famously the Signposts of the Road, which becomes later a template for modern Sunni militancy.
Qutb’s book is considered “the constitution of the group”, especially that it is used in educating young MB members, and the group never disavowed his ideas that justify terrorism, but on the contrary, they are keen to spread Qutb’s radical thoughts.
Qutb’s thoughts claim that society and the world live in “ignorance”, and insist on violence to change society and the world, and consider jihad an obligation regardless of time and place, and that conflict rules the relationship of Muslims to non-Muslims, and that the Muslim possesses the full truth about the universe and beyond, and other existing societies are simply infidels.
Although Qutb was released from prison in 1964, he was arrested again the following year and executed shortly thereafter.
In the 1980s the MB tried to renew itself by calling to reorganize society and government according to Islamic doctrines. Their first attempt to seize power was in Syria, where the MB revolted against late President Hafez al-Assad in 1982 from the city of Hama but the armed rebellion was crushed at a cost of perhaps thousands of lives.
In the same period, the MB revived in other Arabic countries, especially in Egypt and Jordan, which indicates the strength of the networks woven by the organization in the Middle East.
During the last decades, the MB developed itself and claimed at several occasions that it renounces violence, but if we want to summarize the organization’s ideology, we could refer to a study published in Harvard International Review in 1997.
In this study, the MB Deputy Chairman Mohammad Ma’mun El-Hudaibi said his organization was based on two key pillars:
-the introduction of the Islamic Sharia as the basis controlling the affairs of state and society
-and working “to achieve unification among the Islamic countries and states, mainly among the Arab states, and liberating them from foreign imperialism.”
But how true is the claim that the MB is hostile to foreign imperialism? We will find out the answer in part 2.

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