BBC Profile: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization.

Founded by Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s, the group has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work.

The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.

Today, though officially banned and subject to frequent repression, the Ikhwan lead public opposition to the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.

While the Ikhwan say that they support democratic principles, one of their stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Their most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution”.

Revolution
After Banna launched the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, branches were set up throughout the country – each running a mosque, a school and a sporting club – and its membership grew rapidly.

By the late 1940s, the group is believed to have had as many as two million followers in Egypt, and its ideas had spread across the Arab world.

At the same time, Banna created a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.

The Egyptian government dissolved the group in late 1948 for attacking British and Jewish interests. Soon afterwards, the group was accused of assassinating Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi.

Banna denounced the killing, but he was subsequently shot dead by an unknown gunman – believed to have been a member of the security forces.

In 1952, colonial rule came to an end following a military coup d’etat led by a group of young officers calling themselves the Free Officers.

The Ikhwan played a supporting role – Anwar al-Sadat, who became president in 1970, was once the Free Officers’ liaison with them – and initially co-operated with the new government, but relations soon soured.

After a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, the Ikhwan were blamed, banned, and thousands of members imprisoned and tortured. The group continued, however, to grow underground.

This clash with the authorities prompted an important shift in the ideology of the Ikhwan, evident in the writing of one prominent member, Sayyid Qutb.

Qutb’s work advocated the use of jihad (struggle) against jahili (ignorant) societies, both Western and so-called Islamic ones, which he argued were in need of radical transformation.

His writings – particularly the 1964 work Milestones – inspired the founders of many radical Islamist groups, including Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda.

In 1965, the government again cracked down on the Ikhwan, executing Sayyid Qutb in 1966 and making him a martyr throughout the region.

Crackdown
During the 1980s the Ikhwan attempted to rejoin the political mainstream.

Successive leaders formed alliances with the Wafd party in 1984, and with the Labour and Liberal parties in 1987, becoming the main opposition force in Egypt. In 2000, the Ikhwan won 17 seats in the People’s Assembly.

Five years later, the group achieved its best election result to date, with independent candidates allied to it winning 20% of the seats.

The result shocked President Mubarak. The government subsequently launched a crackdown on the Ikhwan, detaining hundreds of members, and instituted a number of legal “reforms” to counter their resurgence.

The constitution was rewritten to stipulate that “political activity or political parties shall not be based on any religious background or foundation”; independent candidates were banned from running for president; and anti-terrorism legislation was introduced that gave the security forces sweeping powers to detain suspects and restrict public gatherings.

Leaders of President Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) also worked hard to reduce the likelihood of further opposition gains in the November 2010 parliamentary elections.

But their efforts backfired somewhat – the failure of candidates allied to the Ikhwan to win a single seat in the first round was accompanied by allegations of widespread fraud.

The group subsequently joined other opposition parties in announcing a boycott of the second round, and the NDP was left in the embarrassing situation of taking more than 80% of the seats in the People’s Assembly.

The continued repression of the opposition was one of the main triggers for the mass anti-government protests by thousands of Egyptians in late January 2011, which saw the NDP’s headquarters in Cairo set on fire.

The Ikhwan were blamed for fomenting the unrest, but its deputy general guide, Mahmoud Izzat, insisted it was a popular uprising.

“We are part of the people. The people are demanding the basics – mainly the necessities of life – and they have the right to do so. The people also demand their freedom and the dissolution of the fake parliament,” he told al-Jazeera TV.

“The youths want the demonstrations to be peaceful but the regime uses excessive violence against the youths, such as rubber bullets.”

Complete article via BBC

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