The Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments says that the Islamic State terrorist group (also known as ISIS or ISIL) was birthed from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, according to an October 13 report in an Egyptian newspaper called the Seventh Day.
Other Egyptian leaders have made the case in recent days that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist terrorist groups belong in the same category as the Islamic State. The Egyptian government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian branch, Hamas, as terrorist groups.
According to the report, Dr. Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said that the Muslim Brotherhood is the progenitor of the Islamic State and similar terrorist groups. He accused the Brotherhood of disrupting education at Egyptian universities and said the group is harmful to Islam.
The Islamic State used to be Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s leaders are known to have been influenced by the Brotherhood, but the two groups sparred over the latter’s relative restraint and involvement in elections.
The Islamic State is publicly hostile to the Brotherhood, though the two have nearly identical goals. In a new Islamic State video, the group pledges to overthrow the Turkish government and derided it as the “Caliph of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“Islam should not be part of politics because the role of religion should only be about preaching a moral public life and for the betterment of society,” he was quoted as saying.
Last month, Gomaa warned that released Muslim Brotherhood leaders would instigate violence and instability and collaborate with terrorist groups.
“[Muslim Brotherhood will] incite from Qatar, conspire from Libya, mobilize the international organization in Turkey and ally with the Islamic State,” he said.
Egyptian President El-Sisi is forcefully arguing that the U.S. is erring in focusing only on the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, urging the Obama Administration to endorse his own “war on terrorism” that includes the Brotherhood and other Islamist terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.
In an official statement, El-Sisi said the coalition “should be comprehensive and not exclusively target a specific organization or eradicate a certain terrorist hotspot.”
“We can’t reduce the danger lurking in the region to ISIL [ISIS]. We have to bear in mind all the pieces of the puzzle,” he explained.
El-Sisi said the campaign should be broadened from Iraq and Syria to include the Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Sudan and Yemen.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri likewise said the focus must be on the ideology behind the Islamic State and like-minded terrorists.
“Ultimately this extremist ideology is shared by all terrorist groups. We detect ties of cooperation between them and see a danger as it crosses borders,” he said.
An Al-Qaeda affiliate in Sinai named the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is communicating with the Islamic State, according to Egyptian officials and a founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. A top leader of ABM confirmed that it is getting online guidance from Islamic State members. Brotherhood opponents refer to ABM as the Brotherhood’s military wing.
There are legitimate reasons to question El-Sisi’s commitment to Islamic reform and human rights, but his open hostility to the Islamist ideology is a valuable rarity in the region. He complained that Islamic religious discourse has been frozen for 800 years.
El-Sisi has said that Islam needs a reformation, framing the problems of the Muslim world as an intellectual and ideological one instead of blaming it all on Western imperialism. The Egyptian media bashed Hamas during the latest round of fighting with Israel and El-Sisi did not rally support for the group.
As a devout Muslim and leader of the largest Arab country, he is well-positioned to make an Islamic case against Islamism. Earlier this year, he implied opposition to Islamic blasphemy laws that prohibit criticism of the religion. He argued for a “civil state, not an Islamic one.”
When a woman was raped in Tahir Square, El-Sisi personally visited her to apologize. He said that sexual assaults on Egyptian women are a violation of “honor,” undermining the legitimacy of crimes committed in the name of “honor.”
El-Sisi is popular among Egypt’s oppressed Coptic Christians and is unafraid to recall growing up in a time when Jews and Christians could go to their religious services without fear.
Last month, El-Sisi reportedly suggested to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a plan for peace with Israel that would create a demilitarized Palestinian state in the Sinai Peninsula and not require that Israel put its existence on the line by giving up the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
According to the report, El-Sisi offered 625 square miles of land that would unite with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority would govern it, therefore requiring the toppling of Hamas. The state would absorb the Palestinian refugees and their descendants, solving the “right of return” dispute.
The West Bank would also be governed by the Palestinian Authority in an autonomous way like it is today. Abbas rejected the plan without mentioning El-Sisi by name.
The Palestinian Authority and Egyptian government subsequently denied that such a proposal was made by El-Sisi, but Abbas himself was quoted acknowledging it by the Palestinian newspaper Ma’an. The wording of El-Sisi’s denial left open the possibility that such a plan was at least discussed.
The Egyptian government’s stance on the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood is based in the fact there is no major difference between the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood or the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing, Hamas.
If the U.S. continues to base its strategy on specific Islamist terrorist groups and not the ideology, it will continue to alienate valuable partners and endlessly chase after each manifestation of Islamist terrorism without tackling the root of the threat.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on Fox News.