Muslim Brotherhood on the Ropes

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East Policy Council

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) enjoyed a meteoric rise to power in Egypt in 2012, and MB members across the region thought that their time had come in their respective countries’ political arenas. However, the events of the last year have seen many Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members imprisoned, and the organization has now been banned in several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood members are finding it difficult even in Western Europe, with the UK being the most recent to shut down a number of MB-affiliated institutions and organizations. Worse still for the Muslim Brotherhood, there appears to be very little sympathy for the group, at least not among Middle Eastern media and commentators.

The British media has spent the last few days revealing details regarding a government decision to shut down a number of Islamic charity organizations. According to Al Arabiya’s Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the decision comes after a number of investigations in the UK, revealing the “threats posed by so-called charity organizations which are used to espouse terrorism and engage in organized fraud….In my opinion, the transferring of funds outside Britain to help ISIS buy weapons in Syria or to support al-Shabaab in Somalia does not pose a major threat. This could be controlled if financial and security monitoring improves. What’s more dangerous is when the money collected under the guise of helping orphans and the poor is spent on funding extremist organizations in Britain, France and other countries where Muslims live as an isolated minority.”

Others have been quick to point out that the MB does not speak for the whole Muslim community in the UK or elsewhere. In an op-ed for the Daily News Egypt, Nervana Mahmoud reiterates the argument that the Muslim community is not monolithic: “Many people are justifiably surprised by the sudden decision and the possibility that it is politically motivated by Saudi pressure. However, more alarming is the comment made by the Brotherhood’s most senior leader in the UK, Ibrahim Mounir, who said (according to the UK’s The Times) that banning the Brotherhood would leave Britain at greater risk of terrorist attacks. The problem with Mounir’s remarks is that they are based on a dichotomous and perilous view that holds “it is either the extremists or us”, which is wrong, dangerous and counter-productive….To claim that certain groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are the sole owners or sole representatives of Islam is a farce.”

The National’s staff suggest the UK government decision might have been part of a greater trend which started in Egypt and then, a month ago, in Saudi Arabia: “Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group…along with two extremist groups fighting in Syria. The move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudi extremists from Syria….Saudis fighting abroad were given a 15-day ultimatum to return home or face imprisonment. It also forbids ‘participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries.’”

The change in the MB fortunes has been nowhere more dramatic than in Egypt, where MB officials just over a year ago ran the parliament and ruled the presidential palace. That should never happen again, argues Khalaf Al Habtoor in an Arab Times editorial, and this time it should be the Arabs themselves who should finish what they started: “Almost all GCC member countries are ready to stand by Egypt in its effort to eradicate terrorism at its roots because our leaders know that our own homes are similarly threatened. The GCC in coordination with the Arab League should unite against the Brotherhood and eliminate subversives, fanatics and criminals from our region, such as al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIL as well as uniformed thugs in the pay of Tehran and its ally Baghdad carrying out a well-planned agenda to undermine Gulf States….We must come up with our own effective strategies instead of counting on the benevolence of big powers which history shows are not benevolent at all. The USA and its European allies won’t help us. They will side with the winner, whether it’s ISIL or some Shiite militia; they’ll applaud whoever has the upper hand.”

No wonder then that in an op-ed for Al Ahram, Amany Maged declares the Muslim Brotherhood ‘clinically dead’: “Inside Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has become publicly and legally anathema. The terrorist attacks carried out by jihadists on behalf of the Brotherhood since the declaration of the post-3 July roadmap have turned public anger against the Brotherhood into hatred. Because of the undeclared alliance between the Brotherhood and takfiri militants the Egyptian public has come to blame all terrorist crimes on the group….No one expects the forthcoming rounds of demonstrations to add anything new to the scene apart from more violence and more difficulties for the government as it prepares for the presidential elections that are set for 26 May. The Muslim Brotherhood appears clinically hooked up on the artificial support system of demonstrations which may prolong, but not restore, life.”

And there seems to be little sympathy for them, at least judging from the reactions and comments on the pages of the regional dailies. In one recent article for the Khaleej Times, Mustafa Al Zarooni examines the role played by social media in ‘unmasking’ the true intentions of many of the preachers around the world: “The Arab world has been socially and intellectually stunned by the statements made by some popular Muslim clerics recently. Many Arab Muslims look upon these clerics as their role models and own their audio CDs or books. These scholars have now been unmasked, largely due to the social media and the Arab Spring. Arab societies witnessed the true face of these clerics, who hold views very similar to those held by the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.”

Finally, Asharq Alawsat’s Mshari Al-Zaydi wonders whether the local populations and the new regimes that represent them can ever have an accommodation with the Brotherhood: “Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have all classified the Muslim Brotherhood as an illegal terrorist organization. However, even if we classify the group as being outside the law, can we truly implement this decision on the ground? This is a difficult question….If you have taken the decision to outlaw such a group, then you must be cautious. And you should not be surprised to find many responsible people, even some within your own government, sympathetic to their plight. Many people will not be looking forward to this battle, whether out of a mistaken view of the Brotherhood’s ideology, or out of fear of the repercussions of such a stand. However there is no room for reconciliation in such battles. This is not personal; it is a battle over the future of political culture. Losing it is unthinkable.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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