Brotherhood’s raison d’etre is to Islamicise society from bottom up

A movement with a long memory of repression, and a long history of survival

Islamist protesters, one with a picture of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, show bloodied hands after troops opened fire in Nasr city, Cairo. Photograph: AP

Islamist protesters, one with a picture of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, show bloodied hands after troops opened fire in Nasr city, Cairo. Photograph: AP


What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
Known as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic, the Muslim Brotherhood is a movement that blends political activism with charitable work in an effort to “Islamicise” society from the bottom up.

Established by Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928, it originally focused on religious and educational efforts to rid the country of what it perceived to be “corrupting” western influence.

While the Brotherhood says it supports democratic principles, one of the movement’s stated goals is to create a state underpinned by sharia law. Its oldest and most famous slogan is: “Islam is the solution”.

What is its history?
In the 1940s, a paramilitary wing of the Brotherhood was blamed for a series of attacks, including the assassination of Egypt’s prime minister shortly after he ordered the movement be disbanded. Hassan al-Banna was later killed in apparent revenge.

The most severe repression experienced by the Brotherhood began in 1954 after it was accused of attempting to assassinate the then president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The movement was forced underground and thousands of its members were rounded up and tortured.

One of these was Sayyid Qutb who, radicalised by his time in prison, wrote several works that later inspired more radical groups including al-Qaeda. In the 1980s the Brotherhood attempted to join the political mainstream but it was later banned by the then president Hosni Mubarak.

In 2005, the movement won 20 per cent of the seats in Egypt’s parliament after its members contested the election as independents. Hundreds were jailed in a subsequent crackdown.

Why is it important in Egypt?
Not only is the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt’s oldest and largest political entity, it also boasts a powerful, organised and disciplined network of members across the country.

From the outset the movement concentrated on building support among Egypt’s masses through health, education and charity programmes. It also built up influence within the country’s professional unions – a large number of the Brotherhood’s leadership are academics, lawyers, engineers and doctors.

Morsi was a professor of engineering before he became the president of Egypt.

How did the Muslim Brotherhood fare after Mubarak’s fall?
Its political party – the Freedom and Justice Party – swept the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, winning about half of the seats. Despite the Brotherhood initially saying it would not put forward a candidate for presidential elections, Morsi ran and became Egypt’s first democratically- elected president.

He soon became a divisive figure, failing to stem Egypt’s economic freefall, overseeing the drafting of a controversial Islamist-tinged constitution, and awarding himself sweeping powers of decree. Critics accused Morsi of attempting a process of “Brotherhoodisation”.

Does Morsi’s ousting signal the end of the Muslim Brotherhood?
If anything it is likely to rally and energise the Brotherhood’s base. This is a movement with a long memory of repression, and a long history of survival.

Morsi’s removal at the hands of the Egyptian army has incensed its rank and file. They view the events of this week as a “coup” against a democratically elected leader.

Protests against Morsi’s overthrow are likely to continue for some time but behind the scenes the Brotherhood will also debate where they went wrong.

What about the Muslim Brotherhood outside Egypt?
The Muslim Brotherhood has branches or affiliates across the world. Political movements linked to or inspired by the Brotherhood are part of the political scene in countries including Tunisia – where the ruling Ennahda is a Brotherhood offshoot – Libya, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan. Hamas in Gaza is also a Brotherhood offshoot.

There is a strong Muslim Brotherhood network across several European countries, including Ireland.

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