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Does the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Have Ties to Terrorism?
It’s unclear. A widespread Islamist organization founded in 1928, the Brotherhood seeks to Islamize societies from the ground up and compel governments in Muslim countries to adhere to sharia, or Islamic law. At various times in its history, the group has used or supported violence and has been repeatedly banned in Egypt for attempting to overthrow Cairo’s secular government. Since the 1970s, however, the Egyptian Brotherhood has disavowed violence and sought to participate in Egyptian politics. The U.S. State Department does not include the group on its list of terrorist organizations. The Brotherhood denounced the April 7 bombing in Cairo by a previously unknown militant group, the Al-Ezz Islamic Brigades, calling it a “cowardly act,” The Associated Press reported. Still, the Egyptian government mistrusts the Brotherhood’s pledge of nonviolence and continues to ban the organization.
One reason the Brotherhood’s commitment to nonviolence is unclear: The original Egyptian organization has spawned branches in 70 countries. These organizations bear the Brotherhood name, but their connections to the founding group vary and some of them may provide financial, logistical, or other support to terrorist organizations. Some terrorist groups—including Hamas, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, and al-Qaeda—have historic and ideological affiliations with the Egyptian Brotherhood. In addition, some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden’s top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The organization is like “stepping stone,” says Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant. “[For] someone who is interested in dedicating their lives to a radical Islamist cause, it can be a pathway up…to a more serious dealing with Islam.”
Despite these links, many experts view the Brotherhood as more moderate than other Islamist organizations operating in the Middle East. “The bulk of the group is peaceful,” says Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst for the Congressional Research Service. In Egypt, the banned Brotherhood has significant political influence, forging alliances over the last twenty years with legal Egyptian political groups including New Wafd, Liberal, and Socialist Labor parties. Its supporters lead many Egyptian professional unions, are active on university campuses, and have pioneered popular social welfare programs. Muslim Brotherhood members ran as independents in the 2000 Egyptian parliamentary elections and won 17 of the 454 seats, making the group the nation’s largest opposition faction. On March 30, the group rallied 3,000 protestors in Cairo to demand the repeal of Egypt’s decades-old Emergency Law. Scores of Brotherhood members have been arrested and tried under the law, which critics claim restricts personal freedoms and impedes fair elections.
Some U.S. officials say legalizing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is dangerous, given the group’s potential terror links and its long history of opposition to Israel. Others say legalization could draw moderate Muslims who identify with the Brotherhood’s ideology to participate in electoral politics, thereby isolating violent jihadis. For its part, the Brotherhood is eager to play a larger role in local and national politics. Brotherhood officials told the Associated Press in March they would consider running a candidate in Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, planned for September, if the government ban on their participation is lifted. Many experts say that’s unlikely, as such a move would directly threaten President Hosni Mubarak’s 24-year hold on power.