'Political Islam' and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Contents

5Violence and political Islam

Involvement in violence and terrorism

82.The Muslim Brotherhood Review’s Main Findings said that “the Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to terrorist-related activity in and against the UK”.147 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Syria, and Egypt have designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, 148 but the UK has not. Nevertheless, the Main Findings did say that the Brotherhood held “views about terrorism which, in reality, were quite different from our own”,149 and that it had been willing to consider violence:

For the most part, the Muslim Brotherhood have preferred non-violent incremental change on the grounds of expediency, often on the basis that political opposition will disappear when the process of Islamisation is complete. But they are prepared to countenance violence—including, from time to time, terrorism—where gradualism is ineffective.150

83.Mokhtar Awad, a Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told us that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had turned to violence. He argued that this violence started in late 2013, after the group’s removal from power, and escalated with the support of Brotherhood-backed television stations.151 Mr Awad told us that, by mid-2014, this violence included:

New groups calling themselves “Popular Resistance Movement” and “Revolutionary Punishment” that used IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and engaged in armed assaults.152

Mr Awad said that the need for Brotherhood members to leave the group in order to pursue violence had declined, as the group formed its own theological justifications for violent acts.153

84.Guney Yildiz, a Turkish and Kurdish affairs analyst, emphasised to us that the embrace of democracy by some Islamist groups did not necessarily mean that these groups were entirely committed to peaceful means. Using examples from Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, he told us that:

Militant Islamist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas also engage with democratic processes but could resort to violence and other anti-democratic means at the same time.154

85.Michael Marcusa, a PhD candidate at Brown University who has focused on dynamics of youth radicalisation in Tunisia, told us that the willingness or unwillingness of ‘Islamists’ to use violence may amount to a generational divide. He drew a distinction between ‘radical Islamists’, which he described as being willing to use violence to impose a largely literal interpretation of ‘Islamic law’, and ‘political Islamists’, which he described as being non-violent and focused on the symbolism of Islamic renewal:

The paradigmatic Political Islamist is not necessarily young and not necessarily poor…He or she may well come from the “pious middle class—doctors, lawyers, and engineers…Radical Islamists on the other hand come from a very different social demographic: they are usually young, have feelings of despair, and express a desire to rage against the system.

Radical Islamism is very much an ideology tied to the experience of frustration and marginalization during the emotionally-volatile youth years. When these one-time radical Islamist activists marry, have children, and settle into routine middle-aged lives, they simply no longer have the anger, rage, and desire to see society wiped clean that they did as single young men.155

86.The UK has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, and we agree with this decision. The Muslim Brotherhood states that it does not aspire to achieve its goals through violence. But we note the Government believes that the group might be willing to consider violence where gradualism is ineffective. However, the evidence so far in Egypt is that if the Muslim Brotherhood supported or condoned violence, then Egypt would be a far more violent place today.

Association with terrorists

87.Some of the evidence to our inquiry has argued that, even if political Islamist groups have not undertaken terrorism or violence themselves, they have been willing to associate with terrorist groups or support them. Some witnesses accused the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, of forming pragmatic alliances with Islamist militant and extremist groups during regional civil wars. Alastair Crooke, the Director of the Conflicts Forum think-tank, told us that:

In some places such as Yemen and Syria, the Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda are already co-joined in armed conflict against a shared ‘enemy’.156

Speaking about the Libyan conflict, Alison Pargeter told us that:

The Libyan Brotherhood has allied itself with some of the most extreme elements in the name of fighting what it believes are the counter-revolutionary forces of the past.157

88.However, the FCO—in responding to our question on whether Muslim-Brotherhood factions fought in the wars that followed the Arab Spring: in Libya or Syria or Yemen—said:

In Syria, some elements linked to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood have taken part in armed resistance to the Assad regime (as many other groups have done). In Libya, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood has not participated directly in the conflict, though many of its members are likely to have links to armed groups. In Yemen, the Islah party (which includes the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood as well as salafi and tribal elements) has not participated directly in the conflict. But Islah is part of the Government of Yemen and Islah-aligned fighters have taken part in military action against Huthi and Salih-aligned forces.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas

89.The Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas has also been regarded as an association with terrorism. The Main Findings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review described the group as having “deliberately, wittingly and openly incubated and sustained an organisation—Hamas—whose military wing has been proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation (and which has been proscribed in its entirety by other countries)”.158 In terms of the support that the Brotherhood offered to Hamas, the Main Findings said that:

The Muslim Brotherhood at all levels have repeatedly defended Hamas attacks against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians. The Muslim Brotherhood facilitate funding for Hamas.159

90.The Main Findings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review said that “the Hamas founding charter claims they are the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood treat them as such”.160 But Ibrahim Mounir, the Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and Head of its International Section, described a more ambiguous relationship:

Although Hamas does indeed espouse the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood which has been present throughout Palestine since the 40s of the last century, it does not have any shared operational or administrative functions therewith.161

91.When asked “Do you condemn the violence used by Hamas?”, Ibrahim Mounir replied that he condemned violent attacks that took place outside certain “laws and charters”, particularly the four Geneva Conventions and “numerous United Nations Resolutions”.162 Mr Mounir also said that:

The Muslim Brotherhood has constantly and consistently rejected any and all acts of violence which target civilians, places of religious significance and whatever causes damage and harm to the environment.163

92.Several witnesses have emphasised that, given the prominence and sensitivity of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the Muslim Brotherhood is not alone in the region in supporting Hamas.164 In addition, Dr Anas Al-Tikriti told us that Hamas was not alone in its use of violence in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that associating this violence with the group’s Islamist character was therefore erroneous.165 We asked the FCO whether it assessed Hamas’ use of violence as being rooted more in its Islamist character as opposed to its nationalist objectives of opposing Israel. Neil Crompton, Director of the Middle East and North Africa at the FCO, told us:

There probably is a slightly nationalist element to Palestinian violence, against what they see as the existence of the state of Israel, but there is also a religious, Islamist dimension to that. Opposition to the state of Israel is a strongly held and shared view by many political Islamic groups.

We would suggest that the Palestinian perspective in the Israel-Palestinian conflict contains rather more than a “slightly” nationalist element. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also has a profound religious aspect. This conflict deserves full and thorough analysis, and it is our intention to undertake this analysis in the near future.

EnNahda and Jihadist Salafists in Tunisia

93.EnNahda has also been accused of tolerating extremist Islamist groups during its time in power, in 2012 and 2013. Michael Marcusa told us that:

When al-Nahda was in power, extremists were allowed to operate openly and recruit followers from the street. Jihadist Salafists operating under the banner of the now-banned group Ansar al-Shari’a erected preaching tents and held conferences calling for the imposition of shari’a law and inciting youth to jihad in places like Syria.166

Mr Marcusa argued that, even if it did not support them ideologically, EnNahda had held a “permissive attitude towards the Salafists” due to “a desire not to antagonize them and lose their potential political support”.167

94.When defending EnNahda’s policy towards extremist groups, Dr Radwan Masmoudi, an advisor to the party’s leader Rached Ghannouchi, told us that several factors had impeded the party’s efforts. He listed an amnesty in March 2011 (before EnNahda came to power) that released “about 1,200 prisoners accused of belonging to radical and extremists groups”,168 and also described disarray in Tunisia’s security forces after the 2011 revolution.169 EnNahda only took its most decisive steps to counter Ansar Al-Sharia, an extremist group, after nine months in power and following an attack against the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012.170

‘Conveyor belt’ to extremism

95.Some witnesses have told us that, even if they do not commit violence themselves or associate with groups that do, political Islamist groups still act as a ‘conveyor’ belt to extremism. This argument describes political Islamists as laying the foundation of ideologies that their individual members may later use to join extreme or violent groups. The Counter Extremism Project UK told us that the ideology of political Islam is “the thin edge of the radicalisation wedge”,171 and the former Prime Minister David Cameron said that:

Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism […]

The main findings of the review support the conclusion that membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.172

96.Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have accused the group of inspiring its members to violence and extremism, have often focused on the writings of the Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The Main Findings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review, for example, argued that Qutb’s theories of Islamic resistance in particular (written during the 1950s and 1960s) had ultimately contributed to the ideology of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.173 Mokhtar Awad argued that, in Egypt following the Brotherhood’s removal of power in 2013, the ideas of Qutb had been used by some Brotherhood members to justify violence:

The Egyptian Brotherhood was and continues to be ideologically rigid, and as a result, at the first sign of crisis and adversity, radical ideas like those found in the writings of early Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb or the use of violence by the Secret Apparatus under the command of the founder Imam Hassan al-Banna, easily seep back into the body of the membership […].

The organization is not immune to radicalization; it is indeed the Brotherhood’s leadership and its underlying ideology that are among the key drivers in facilitating radicalization which justifies responding to state repression with violence on religious grounds.174

97.But Sayyid Qutb wrote on a wide array of subjects, and he is held in high esteem by some Islamists for other aspects of his broad work that do not necessarily relate to violence. Ibrahim Mounir, for example, praised Qutb’s opposition to the influence of Marxism in the Middle East,175 and said that Qutb was “using his religious thoughts to fight against Marxism on behalf of all countries of the region”.176

98.The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has formally repudiated Sayyid Qutb’s writings where they are associated with violence, principally through the publication of the book ‘Preachers not Judges’ by Hassan Al Hudaibi, the then-Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, in 1969.177 In their submission to this inquiry, the Muslim Brotherhood said of ‘Preachers not Judges’ that it:

Reasserted the central peaceful teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood. The book stresses that the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in society is to encourage people to reform and promote social justice, rather than acting as judges who condemn them. To date, this book remains central to the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood.178

99.The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, an initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, told us that there was not an “inevitable ‘conveyor belt’ from non-violent political Islam to militancy. Indeed, many Islamists travel ‘the other way’ to become democrats”.179 Nevertheless, its submission reported that:

Our research has identified a notable connection between the aims of Islamism and violent militancy…This relationship goes beyond the objectives of groups to the individual’s route to violence. Our research has found that 51 per cent of a sample of prominent jihadis from the Middle East and Africa had clear links to non-violent Islamist organisations, before joining militant groups. Half of these had links to the Muslim Brotherhood.180

Ambiguities in the Muslim Brotherhood’s rejections of violence

100.Ibrahim Mounir, the Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, told us that:

The position of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding using violence and/or arms in national resistance is unequivocal, unambiguous and unconditional; No violence shall be used or approved in the national effort for change. The position has been stated, re-stated and reiterated time and again by the Muslim Brotherhood; stemming from their understanding and appreciation of the true values, principles and teachings of Islam, violence is condemned and rejected in whatever form or method it occurs, whoever the perpetrators and whatever the motives.181

101.In the same letter, Mr Mounir nevertheless seemed to introduce a number of caveats:

102.With regard to Sayyid Qutb, the Main Findings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review said that:

The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has never condoned or legitimised any interpretation of Syed Qutb’s views which supports the use of violence.186

But Ibrahim Mounir told us that “the report [the Main Findings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review] referred to Sayyid Qutb as one who was calling for violence. Anyone who reads Qutb’s books realises that this was not true.”187 As we argue above, there are violent elements within Qutb’s philosophy, and these must be clearly identified and countered.

‘Firewall’ against extremism

103.Political-Islamists and their sympathisers argued that their emphasis on non-violence and democracy meant that, far from being a ‘conveyor belt’, political-Islamist groups acted as a ‘firewall’ against extremism.188 Repressing them, they argued, was the true driver of extremism. Dr Rifai Sulaiman Lebbe told us that:

Isolation of democratic forces of political Islamic groups by successive British governments will give golden opportunities for the forces of extremist Islamic groups to indoctrinate youth and public in Muslim countries with their radical ideologies and staunch criticism of western social values and way of life. Extremism grows in Muslim world rapidly due to the fact that moderate voices have been suppressed in Muslim countries by both national and international political establishments.189

Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, said:

Some Islamists have been locked out of the political process or subject to repression and that has caused a risk of previously peaceful individuals resorting to violence for political ends.190

104.Dr Anas Al-Tikriti rejected the ‘conveyor belt’ concept, arguing that those who want to commit violence cannot do so within the Muslim Brotherhood and are therefore forced to leave. He said that this should be taken as an indicator of the group’s peacefulness.191

105.Basheer Nafi, a Senior Research Fellow at the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, told us that few Brotherhood members had left the organisation to join jihadist groups, and that authoritarian government in the region was to blame for terrorism:

If Al-Qaeda and ISIS are the ones that are meant by the word “extremism”, it is highly probable that neither of the two organizations managed to recruit any number worth mentioning from amongst the affiliates of the MB, whether from within the countries of the Muslim world or elsewhere.

The truth is that Jihadi-Salafism, and all the violent organizations that came out of its womb, were mainly the off-springs of the coup in Algeria, of the police state of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s Nuri al-Maliki.192

106.Based on the experience of Tunisia, political Islam could in some countries be a way of providing a democratic alternative for political, social, and economic development and a counter-narrative against more extremist ideologies. However, there are cases where political Islamist groups have inspired individuals to commit violent acts; the fact that such individuals left the groups to do so does not excuse the groups from some responsibility for inspiring the individual in the first place. Nonetheless, the vast majority of political Islamists are involved in no violence whatsoever. Because of this, and because of their broader status as a ‘firewall’ against extremism, political Islamists have suffered criticism and attack from ISIL and other extremist organisations. No political movement can entirely control its individual members or supporters, particularly under extreme provocation. Incarceration of political activists without fair trial and the shutting down of political avenues to address grievances is likely to lead some to extremism. Political Islam is far from the only firewall, but in the Muslim World it is a vehicle through which a significant element of citizens can and should be able to address their grievances. The nature of Islam makes it more likely that religion and politics will remain overlapping for the foreseeable future, and emerging democratically accountable systems will need to accommodate this.

Victims of violence

107.Political Islamist parties have historically been repressed in the Middle East, and some continue to be today. The leader of the EnNahda party from Tunisia, Rached Ghannouchi, has written about how members of the movement had been imprisoned, tortured, discriminated against, and forced into exile prior to 2011.193

108.This treatment could be said to have included heavy-handed media intrusion during Mr Ghannouchi’s exile in London, particularly by Independent Television News, for which the correspondent involved, now the honourable Member for Gravesham, took the opportunity to apologise to Mr Ghannouchi in person during our visit to Tunis in March 2016.

109.When responding to allegations of involvement with violence, the Muslim Brotherhood in particular emphasises that its members have been the victims of violence. Anas Altikriti told us that Islamist militant and extremist groups had targeted the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq and across the region.194 The Brotherhood emphasises in particular that it has been intensively repressed in Egypt following its removal from power in Egypt in 2013. One aspect that the group highlights is that of mass detentions, trails, and death sentences against its members and perceived sympathisers. The Muslim Brotherhood told us (via its lawyers, ITN Solicitors) that 20,000 of its members were held in “illegal detention in Egypt, many of whom had been sentenced to death”.195 The group said that:

Disappearances, kidnappings and torture are routine and many hundreds of prisoners have been sentenced to death, without representation, in mass trials lacking any conventional norms of justice. President Morsi himself has been sentenced to death.196

Dr Gemal Heshmat, who was an FJP member of the Egyptian parliament that was elected in 2012, told us that 180 members who were elected to that parliament are now in prison in Egypt.197 There is evidence that the violent victimization of the Brotherhood in Egypt continues in custody, both at the hands of prison officers and extremist fellow prisoners.198

110.The Muslim Brotherhood also emphasises the death toll among those who demonstrated against the removal of the group from power in 2013, as the Egyptian security forces dispersed their protests. The group’s submission to the Muslim Brotherhood Review describes the clearing of the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp by the Egyptian security forces, on 14 August 2013, as “the worst incident of unlawful killing in Egypt’s modern history”199 and argues that “this single incident resulted in the death of over 1,000 civilians”.200 The submission also describes other incidents of protesters being killed by the Egyptian security forces.201

111.The death toll figures from Rabaa al-Adawiya are disputed. Dr John Esposito, from Georgetown University, told us that:

According to the post-coup interim government’s statistics, 638 people were killed, 595 civilians and 43 police officers, and some 3,994 injured at Rabaa Square. However, other more independent estimates ranged from 2600 upwards dead and more than 4500 injured in what came to be called the Massacre at Rabaa Square.202

112.The Egyptian authorities say that the clearing of the protest camps was necessary to restore order, that the security forces attempted to do so peacefully, and that they were attacked by armed elements among the protesters.203 This version of events is unsupported by independent analysis, and evidence of active preparations for mass casualties in advance of the clearance, as well as being refuted by the Muslim Brotherhood.

113.The FCO provided us with an account of the dialogue that it held, during the summer of 2013, to urge non-violence from all sides in Egypt and to try to avoid the violent dispersal of protests.204 After the protests were violently dispersed, the FCO told us that it had urged the Egyptian Government to release the full report of the “Egyptian National Fact Finding Committee set up to investigate the events following Morsi’s removal”. The FCO said that it had “stressed the importance of accountability for the deaths that took place during the clearances at Rabaa”, and Tobias Ellwood MP told us that he “personally raised this issue with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on 9 September 2015”.

114.While some political-Islamist groups have failed to unequivocally condemn political violence in the region, they are notable among its historic and current victims. The FCO should highlight and condemn all human rights abuses, including those against political Islamists. The scale of political and civil turmoil in Egypt in recent years is unprecedented. The FCO must continue to do all it can to encourage the application of basic human and political rights in the country.

147 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 6

148 Q186

149 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 36

150 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 17

151 ISL0035, para 14

152 ISL0035, paras 14 and 15

153 ISL0035, Executive Summary

154 ISL0044, para 1

155 Written evidence from Michael Marcusa, Doctoral Candidate in Political Science, Brown University, Notes on Political Islam for UK FAC, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

158 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 17

159 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 16

160 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 14

161 ISL0051, Second Question

162 ISL0051, Third Question

163 ISL0051, Third Question

164 See, for example, Usaama Al-Azami, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, ISL0048, para 24.

165 ISL0049, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood

166 Written evidence from Michael Marcusa, Doctoral Candidate in Political Science, Brown University, Notes on Political Islam for UK FAC, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

167 Written evidence from Michael Marcusa, Doctoral Candidate in Political Science, Brown University, Notes on Political Islam for UK FAC, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

168 ISL0052, para 1

169 ISL0052, para 2

170 ISL0052, para 3

171 ISL0011, para 4

173 Muslim Brotherhood Review, Main Findings, para 16

174 ISL0035, para 4

175 Q60, ISL0058

176 Q59, ISL0058

177 Dr Courtney Freer, for example, told us that “Preachers not Judges, made clear that “Sayyid Qutb represented himself alone and not the Muslim Brethren””, ISL0005, para 20.

178 ISL0016, para 37

179 ISL0046, para 15

180 ISL0046, Executive Summary

181 ISL0051, First Question

182 ISL0051, First Question

183 ISL0057, Q4

184 ISL0051, Second Question

185 ISL0051, Third Questions

186 Submission from ITN Solicitors, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, para 41, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

187 Q59, ISL0058

188 The word “Firewall” has been used to characterise a concept that political-Islam plays an important role in counter-extremism and counter-terrorism. Although some political Islamists emphasised this concept, the word “firewall” itself has only been used in our evidence by those who are sceptical about the concept. See, for example, the use of the word by Mokhtar Awad in ISL0035 and Steven Merley in ISL0006. We use the word in our title neutrally, to discuss the concept.

190 Q159

191 ISL0012, para 18

192 ISL0007, paras 4 and 5

194 ISL0012, para 13

195 ISL0016, para 46

196 ISL0016, para 5

198 See for instance https://www.facebook.com/mohamed.aboelgheit/posts/10154352410678674; https://www.facebook.com/tigara.azhar/posts/913642512081497. Reports of clashes between ISIL-supporting prisoners and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated prisoners in the Tora prison have been challenged by the prison authorities: https://goo.gl/EPTvHP.

199 Submission from ITN Solicitors, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, para 138, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

200 Submission from ITN Solicitors, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, para 138, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

201 Submission from ITN Solicitors, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, para 139, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

202 ISL0001, para 19

203 See, for example, the report ‘The Egyptian Revolution Against the Muslim Brotherhood’, paras 283-303. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

204 ISL0057, Q6

3 November 2016