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Is the Muslim Brotherhood Linked to Violence?

Muslim Brotherhood Violence
A Muslim Brotherhood flag from Jordan, via the National Review. Credit: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty. Translation: It is a Holy Quran; God is Great, to God be Praise; Prepare [see Quran 8:60]; The Muslim Brotherhood.
The link between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ongoing terrorism in Egypt is a controversial question.

The government says yes, the MB leadership says no, and Western analysts appear split on the issue. Some see the Brotherhood as the fount of all Islamist violence, others note decades of proclaimed nonviolence in a gradualist strategy to transform Egypt.

But not many have done the exhaustive investigative work of Mokhtar Awad, writing here for the Small Arms Survey of the Security Assessment in North Africa Project.

His 16 page report details the emergence of two allegedly MB-linked violent actors, Liwaa al-Thawra and Hassm. Here are his conclusions:

Perhaps the most explicit and significant indication of a connection between the MB and Liwaa al-Thawra is found in the latter’s statement of responsibility for the assassination of Brigadier General Raga’i.

In it, the group says that the operation was in part revenge for the security forces’ killing of MB leader Mohamed Kamal (Liwaa al-Thawra, 2016c).

In the group’s follow-up video after claiming responsibility for the attack, it eulogized slain MB leaders by showing their pictures, including that of Kamal (Liwaa al-Thawra, 2016d).

Read Awad’s full report about Kamal, who served in the upper echelon of Brotherhood leadership and was responsible for mainland Egypt after many others fled abroad.

As for Hassm, there are also indications of connections between the group and the MB.

The one known leader of Hassm who was killed by the authorities, Mohamed Ashour Dashisha, was an Arabic teacher and graduate from the prestigious Dar al-Ulum college at Cairo University. An examination of Dashisha’s social media profiles indicates that he was at least a supporter of the MB and likely a member as well (Awad, 2017b).

More importantly, in November 2016 the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior released a video statement claiming the arrest of several Hassm members. The arrested members’ confessions alleged a direct operational link to the MB (Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, 2016).

Interestingly, the MB admitted that the persons arrested by the government were MB members, but said that they were simply ‘rights activists’ (MB, 2016a).

Notably, neither of the two rival MB factions has yet released any statement explicitly condemning Hassm or Liwaa al-Thawra, or any of their attacks.

Is this enough evidence to establish a Brotherhood connection? Is such establishment even possible?

Certainly, aside from evidence presented by the Egyptian government of such connections, there is little independent, verifiable, and open-source information that sheds light on potential operational connections.

This will likely continue to be the case unless and until an MB leader explicitly admits to a connection on the record. Such a scenario seems unlikely, however, because the violence allegedly used by the MB and Ikhwani jihadi groups serves a specific political purpose.

Unlike Salafi jihadi groups, the MB does not see violence as its sole tactic, nor does it see benefit in claiming responsibility for attacks that would diminish its international standing.

Without a leak or verified interception of official communications, open-source research cannot easily identify or provide definitive confirmation of any linkages between MB and Hassm or Liwaa al-Thawra, or penetrate a clandestine operation that would reveal such a connection.

Regardless of the degree of connection to the MB as an organization, there is little doubt that Hassm and Liwaa al-Thawra have in their ranks and among their supporters either current or former members of the MB and allied Islamist groups. The political context in which they operate makes this all but a certainty (Awad, 2017b).

For your evaluation. Any thoughts?

Postscript: Read also this investigative report from Mada Masr, on how the prosecutor-general was assassinated.

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New Developments in Brotherhood Rhetoric

Muslim Brotherhood Child
(from Getty Images; the picture is from Jordan)

The Muslim Brotherhood once had a militant wing. It then spent decades rejecting the use of violence, but continuing to embrace its most strident ideologues.

After the fall of Morsi the Brotherhood must again navigate this heritage, with an old guard that is cautious and concerned about international opinion, and a youth movement that is passionate and concerned about the situation on the ground.

In his recent article for Foreign Affairs, Mokhtar Awad describes the most recent developments with each.

The old guard has made some strides, however, by controlling the Brotherhood’s international financing, which became far more important following Sisi’s severe crackdown on the group’s domestic financial operations.

With the money inside Egypt reportedly dwindling, there were fewer resources available to finance violent operations. Indeed, since the fall of 2015, there has been a noticeable dip in violence perpetrated by these new violent groups in the Egyptian mainland, which is only starting to pick up again.

These new violent groups do need authorization, however, to be sharia-compliant.

Still, the seeds for a radicalized Muslim Brotherhood, a sort of Brotherhood jihadism, have been planted. During the height of the revolutionary wing’s influence in early 2015, some of its leaders, as it is believed, informally commissioned a group of Islamic scholars to write a sharia-based manual on the question of violence.

The result was a 93-page book titled The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup. It was an obvious attempt at ijtihad, or legal reasoning, by non-Salafi jihadist scholars to reconcile Brotherhood creed with a methodology of violence.

These scholars declared that neither Sisi nor his government were apostates but were instead ahl baghy, or seditionists,who had turned against the religiously legitimate leader: Mohamed Morsi.

And since Sisi and his government had used violence against Muslim believers, they were considered enemy combatants who should be slain, according to sharia law.

But even these radicals still feel compunction to stay within the mainstream Brotherhood heritage.

This theoretical dance around the issue of apostasy is an attempt by the authors to reconcile Brotherhood teachings with violence without inviting damaging comparisons to Salafi jihadism.

Egyptians, and most Islamists, in fact, hold very negative views toward those who declare other Muslims apostates, or takfiris. The authors of the book are so careful that the text does not once mention Sayyid Qutb, the infamous Brotherhood ideologue whose takfirist ideas helped inspire modern-day jihadism.

Instead, the authors reference the Brotherhood founder Imam Hassan al-Banna and use his selection of two swords in the group’s logo, as well as his talk of “strength,” as a justification for violence against the state.

Read the full article for greater context, but here is one anecdote that shows how convoluted this heritage can be. It is difficult to esteem both swords and non-violence.

It warns against kidnapping and sexual assault of the women and children of security officers, but says there is no harm in threatening to do such things to scare them.