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by Patrick Poole


The victory of Democrats in the recent elections has launched a silly season in Washington DC, where absurd ideas that would have been scoffed at this time last year now float on the Potomac breeze like so many cherry blossoms filling the Beltway air with their fragrance.

No better example could be offered for this phenomenon than the recent flurry of articles from foreign policy "realists" urging the Bush Administration to shift its policy and begin to dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is headquartered in Egypt but has affiliates in more than 70 countries, including the US. This position is best represented in an article in the current issue[1] (March/April 2007) of Foreign Affairs by Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke of the Nixon Center, "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood".[2] They summarize their argument thus:

Even as Western commentators condemn the Muslim Brotherhood for its Islamism, radicals in the Middle East condemn it for rejecting jihad and embracing democracy. Such relative moderation offers Washington a notable opportunity for engagement -- as long as policymakers recognize the considerable variation between the group's different branches and tendencies.

Admittedly, this is hardly the first time that so-called "progressives" have tried to shift the post-9/11 sentiment in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. A September 2004 article in the Washington Post, "In Search of Friends Among Foes",[3] described the last major attempt at a policy shift led by State Department diplocrats while noting the Brotherhood's public relations problems of being tied to extremist activity in the Middle East and the United States.

As the worldwide jihad has grown in intensity in recent years, the Brotherhood's supporters in the US are trying to capitalize on the upward trend of Islamic radicalization to paint the organization as "moderate" on this shifting scale. This is precisely the methodology employed by Leiken and Brooke, who attempt the Herculean task of cleaning out the Augean Stables of the Muslim Brotherhood's long involvement in terrorist activity through misrepresentation and outright fabrication.

The Muslim Brotherhood's past use of violence and terrorism as a means of accomplishing the organization's stated mission of installing "Islamic" governments in the Muslim world through the establishment of shari'a as the legal system of these new governments. This mission has been repeated and restated by Brotherhood officials up to the present day.

But Leiken and Brooke try to qualify that mission by assuring us of two things: 1) that the Muslim Brotherhood has "rejected jihad"; and, 2) it has "embraced democracy".

Rejecting Jihad

Let's examine the first claim. I take their terminology of the Brotherhood "rejecting jihad" as a general renunciation of violence and terrorism. Again, this is where the organization's long history of supporting the use of violence makes a defense of the organization a Herculean task for its defenders. From the Brotherhood's earliest days when its "special apparatus" incited violence and engaged in assassinations, to its recent support of terrorism by affiliates and associates in Israel, Algeria, Sudan and elsewhere, any claim by the Brotherhood that they have "rejected jihad" should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Some of the sounder minds in counterterrorism and diplomatic circles in Washington on both sides of the political spectrum are still awaiting substantive evidence of this newfound rejection of violence by the Brotherhood. One skeptic is the current White House counterterrorism czar, Juan Zarate, who says

The Muslim Brotherhood is a group that worries us not because it deals with philosophical or ideological ideas but because it defends the use of violence against civilians. (Sylvain Besson, La Conquête De L'Occident: Le Projet Secret Des Islamistes, p. 39 -- my translation)

Nor are some long-time Middle East diplomats associated with the Democrats eager to take Leiken and Brooke's word that Brotherhood has removed violence from its menu of options. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat[4] last week, Dennis Ross, former President Clinton's Middle East envoy, joined with those who aren't convinced that the Brotherhood had renounced their violent ways:

He (Ross -- ed.) added that he would not talk to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and that despite its assertion that it wants to engage in the political process in Egypt, the movement supports the use of violence in other areas and this is the main problem. He firmly stated that as long as the movement supported violence as a means to achieve political objectives, then dialogue could not be established with such an organization.

Again, this is not some ancient quote dug out of the archives, but represents Ross' current assessment of the Brotherhood's stance on the use of violence.

Recent history backs up Zarate and Ross that the Brotherhood has yet to adequately demonstrate their renunciation of violence. At present in Egypt many of the organization's leaders are in jail following an incident this past December where student cadres of the Brotherhood engaged in a military-style demonstration at Al-Ahzar University, which prompted the Mubarak regime's current crackdown on the Brotherhood. One observer, Jameel Theyabi, described the scene and its possible message in an op-ed for Dar Al-Hayat:[5]

The military parade, the wearing of uniforms, displaying the phrase, 'We Will be Steadfast', and the drills involving combative sports, betray the group's intent to plan for the creation of militia structures, and a return by the group to the era of 'secret cells'...this development comes as a clear Brotherhood announcement that the group is capable of acting and reacting to developments, and by these demonstrations, it is seeking to deliver a news flash that says: "The group is still out there, and is capable of military action, recruitment of new elements, military training and mobilization...I believe that the group's public power display represents a kind of coded message to awaken sleeper cells within Egypt and abroad.

Failing to anticipate the government's heavy response to their military parade, the leadership of the Brotherhood quickly backed away from it and apologized, but most Egyptians were not convinced. (I treated this incident in more detail in a recent article, "The Militarization of the Muslim Brotherhood".[6]) One reason that the Egyptian government, press and public have not been ready to believe the Brotherhood is that they have been witness to the campaigns of intimidation and riots led by the student cadres and the Brotherhood's militia. A frequent victim of this military apparatus has been the Christian Coptic community.

Another recent piece of evidence against the contention that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has given up violence and terrorism were comments made by the organization's Supreme Guide, Mohammed Akef, last summer during the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict. Not only was Akef one of the first leaders in the Middle East to offer his congratulations to Hezbollah for their illegal crossborder raid to capture of two Israeli soldiers, but he said that he was prepared to send 10,000 jihadists[7] to fight alongside Hezbollah against Israeli forces. When the rest of the Arab Muslim leadership in the Middle East didn't follow his lead with similar offers of military assistance to Hezbollah, he said:

If they weren't Muslims, we would have killed them, because they are a bigger threat to the nation than Israel itself.

It would be interesting to hear how Leiken and Brooke would explain how this scenario jibes with their contention that the Muslim Brotherhood -- whose Supreme Guide was promising 10,000 jihadist fighters to support the Hezbollah terrorist organization and hinting at the assassination of those who didn't offer support in kind -- is "rejecting jihad".

The simple fact is that Leiken and Brooke rely on the reader's ignorance of the Brotherhood to try to make their point here. In the fifteen pages of their argument, there is only one oblique reference to the Brotherhood's affiliate in the Palestinian territories, the terrorist group HAMAS. The HAMAS charter self-identifies itself as the Brotherhood chapter for that area, and the international organization has lent the terrorist group considerable financial and material support. This Brotherhood affiliate is the primary terrorist actor against Israel and its citizens on one of the most active fronts of the global jihad. No wonder, then, that Leiken and Brooke are hesitant to raise the issue of HAMAS as they argue that the "Moderate" Muslim Brotherhood has rejected jihad.

Also receiving the silent treatment from Leiken and Brooke is the genocidal Brotherhood Islamic Salvation Front government of Sudan, who for years has waged jihad against Christians in the south of the country, and more recently, against non-Arab Muslims in Darfur. Millions of Sudanese have been slaughtered and displaced at the hands of the government in a country where the Brotherhood actually has established political control.

One Brotherhood affiliate that pair mentions as an example of moderation is the Jordanian Islamic Action Front. And yet last year several IAF members of the Jordanian Parliament paid a condolence visit to the family of murderous Iraqi Al-Qaeda thug-in-chief, Abu Musab Al-Zaraqawi, following his "martyrdom" at the hands of two US laser-guided bombs. This is who Leiken and Brooke present us with to convince us of the Brotherhood's policy of "rejecting jihad". It should be clear at this point that the two are not only misrepresenting the organization's statements and actions, but are manufacturing whole-cloth their "moderate" image of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Embracing Democracy

Which bring us to the second assurance offered in the Foreign Affairs article, that the Brotherhood is committed to democracy. Historically and ideologically, however, this has not been the case. The Brotherhood's prime theorist, Sayyid Qutb's, in calling the Muslim Brotherhood masses to revolution and jihad in his profoundly influential book, Milestones (1964), he offers this assessment of democracy:

Whoever says that legislation is the right of the people is not a Muslim.

But Leiken and Brooke are prepared for their critics to invoke the specter of Qutb, and tell us that the Brotherhood has forsaken the legacy of Qutb after his execution in 1966 under Gamal Abdel Nasser's orders and that they have returned to their democratic founding principles. But someone forgot to tell that to Mustafa Mashhour, the Brotherhood's late Supreme Guide, who said in an official Brotherhood magazine in 1981:

Democracy contradicts and wages war on Islam. Whoever calls for democracy means they are raising banners contradicting God's plan and fighting Islam.

If it is the case that the Brotherhood has actually embraced democracy, it must be admitted that it has constricted the notion so much so that it would be unrecognizable to anyone in the West. One of the Brotherhood's most influential clerics, Yousef Al-Qaradawi, made this clear in his statements on the subject during his weekly television program on Al-Jaeera TV in June 2004:

The democracy I call for is the democracy of Muslim society. It has fixed principles it does not violate, and red lines it cannot violate, and some principles that are not up for discussion.

Qaradawi's statement came just months after the Brotherhood released an official document outlining their vision of "democracy", the "Muslim Brotherhood Initiatives for Reform in Egypt",[8] which was published in March 2004. Not only does the "Initiative for Reform" restates its commitment to "to establish an Islamic state that executes the laws and teachings of Islam (shari'a) in practice", but reaffirms its intent to wage jihad and engage in "resistance against the Anglo-American and Zionist occupiers of Arab and Muslim lands" -- clearly meaning Israel and Iraq.

As for this Golden era of Democracy that Leiken and Brooke want us to believe the Muslim Brotherhood intends to usher in, the Initiative assures that "each citizen is entitled to be a member of parliament, as long as he/she enjoys the general conditions set by the law to do so." On its face this might seem to be innocuous, but the longstanding "general conditions" the Brotherhood has in mind are laws that would exclude non-Muslims from holding any office. The Brotherhood's founder, Hassan Al-Banna, has stated from the organization's beginnings that with reference to non-Muslims and their relation to the form of Islamic government they hope to install, that "it will not entrust them with such an office that would give them general authority."

Thus, the model of democracy that the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to follow would much more closely resemble Khomeini's Islamic Republic in Iran than Ataturk's secular democracy in Turkey.

We already have in operation working models of how the Brotherhood would run the government in Egypt by looking at the professional syndicates that the Brotherhood has steadily taken over in the past two decades. In each of these cases, the Brotherhood has operated within the democratic structures of these organizations in order to come to power; but once they have attained power, they have rewritten the rules such that challenging their authority would be difficult, if not impossible.

From their experience governing the professional syndicates, we can see the Brotherhood's willingness to use "democratic" means for the transfer of power; but there is nothing to indicate their willingness to commit themselves to democratic principles fundamentally. Instead, democracy is perceived to be one of just many potential options. And when that "democracy" is exercised, it's hard to see how it is much of an improvement on the existing totalitarian "democracies" that already exist in the Muslim world (as renowned Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, has characterized it, "one man, one vote, one time"). Recall that when Leiken and Brooke talk about the Muslim Brotherhood "embracing democracy", this is what they have in mind.


I would contend that when the advocates of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood make their case, they never do so as honest brokers. As we can see in the current Foreign Affairs piece, any evidence that would immediately contradict their thesis is not only excluded, but intentionally obscured. Their message is clearly directed at an audience unfamiliar with the Brotherhood's history, message and program, and insults the intelligence of anyone somewhat familiar with such.

In arguing that the Brotherhood is presently "rejecting jihad", even the limited examples they cite don't hold up under scrutiny; and in claiming that the organization is "embracing democracy", they are clearly equivocating in their use of the term.

To make a case for the "Moderate Muslim Brotherhood" requires nothing short of blind faith. No amount of spin offered by the "progressive" policy wonks or media pundits can account for the fact that not only has the Muslim Brotherhood spawned virtually ever single Islamic terrorist organization in the world, but they have used the financial network established by the Brotherhood to conduct their bloody business (an excellent and concise treatment of this subject is available: Douglas Farah, "The Little Explored Offshore Empire of the International Muslim Brotherhood"[9]). This direct support for terrorism is not just past, but present, policy on their part.

Policymakers in Washington should not be fooled by the carefully manicured, but entirely misleading, presentation of the Muslim Brotherhood offered by their US defenders. If any policy change is needed, it isn't to engage them as a force for moderation and positive change in the Middle East, but to finally designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization and make any exceptions from that point.

If there is a time when sane voices must prevail inside the Beltway, it must be during the silly season.


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Patrick Poole is an author and public policy researcher. He also maintains a blog, "Existential Space," where he writes on a number of cultural, political and religious issues.

This article was published Mar 26, 2007 in


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