The Muslim Brotherhood is an international Islamist movement with branches around the world.
But what does it actually do?
Muslim-Brotherhood-linked groups perform a variety of activities. These include missionary work (dawah), social justice oriented activities (such as running soup kitchens), running political activism campaigns, organizing conferences to spread their ideology and even running fully-fledged political parties themselves. The most famous of these is the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt.
In more violent zones, most notably Syria and the Gaza strip, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates have formed terrorist groups and waged jihad. In 1982, an uprising in Hama was brutally crushed by the Syrian Arab Army of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father.
How Does it Operate?
It is important to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood is not one centrally-controlled organization. Although different groups within the movement retain loose ties of affiliation and share similar ideologies and goals, they seemingly do not answer to a coordinated central command structure. Nor are they obligated to take the same positions on issues, coordinate financial and political resources or work towards the same goals.
Rather, the Muslim Brotherhood in each country more or less does what it wants, leading to very different ideological streams developing. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Tunisia, Ennahda, voluntarily stepped down after losing an election. It then went on to moderate its platform to oppose the fusion of religion and state. This shift, if genuine and not merely temporary and tactical, was a radical departure from traditional Muslim Brotherhood ideology which seeks the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate.
By contrast, when the Muslim Brotherhood gained power in Egypt, it refused to make any concessions even when millions of people came out to the streets demanding that President Mohammed Morsi step down. This resulted in a military coup to depose the Brotherhood and enforce the popular will.
Is it in the West?
In the West, the Muslim Brotherhood does not run fully-fledged political parties in the way it does in Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries.
The main goal of Muslim-Brotherhood-linked organizations in the West has been to position themselves as the representatives of the Muslim community.
For example, one of the major organizations in Germany, the Islamische Gemeinschaft Deutschland (Islamic Society of Germany, IGD), was founded by a former personal secretary to Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Sa’id Ramadan. He also co-founded the Muslim World League.
The president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, Ahmet al-Rawi, told the Wall Street Journal when asked about his organization’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood “We are interlinked with them with a common point of view. We have a good close relationship.” In 2012 Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, invited the secretary-general of the FIOE to serve on his advisory board.
In the United States, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) have all been linked to the international Muslim Brotherhood network. These organizations present themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of Islam in the United States. CAIR in particular runs public campaigns doing things like attempting to persuade Muslims not to speak to the FBI (a poster they pulled after a heavy backlash) or attempting to shut down Clarion Project’s film Honor Diaries, which speaks about women’s rights abuses perpetrated in the name of honor.
This is not to say that every individual involved in any of these organizations is a member of the international Muslim Brotherhood dedicated to carrying out its ideological program. The Muslim Brotherhood is much more disparate than that. Many people who work for or with any given group may not have even heard of the Muslim Brotherhood. Structurally, it is more similar to socialist or communist international affiliations whereby they are many groups with a similar ideology but which do not take orders from each other, even though they may cooperate at times.
The Muslim Brotherhood strategy is patient. It should not be considered as a single cohesive organization, but rather as a toxic supremacist political ideology which can manifest in many different groups.