This resource was published on 10/11/2011 and is not updated to reflect changing circumstances.

With the founding of the Freedom and Justice party (FJP), the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood finally attained the goal of separating the organization’s political activity from its proselytizing and welfare mission, something Muslim Brothers in other countries, including Morocco, Jordan and Palestine, had long accomplished. Nevertheless, even after the launching of the FJP the Muslim Brotherhood remains a significant political factor in Egypt.

Leadership

The Muslim Brotherhood is led by the General Guide (al-Amin al-‘Amm) and the Guidance Bureau of sixteen members. Below are a few of the most prominent of figures.

Mohammed Badie: General Guide
Khairat al-Shater: Deputy General Guide
Rashad al-Bayoumi: Deputy General Guide
Mahmoud Hussein: Secretary General
Mahmoud Ghazalan: Spokesperson

Background

The Society of Muslim Brothers, more commonly known as the Muslim Brotherhood, is an Islamist organization established in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928 out of a perceived need for an Islamic renewal. Throughout the 1930s, it evolved into a movement of the lower and middle classes that promulgated Islam as a basis for political, economic, and social reform.

The Muslim Brotherhood played a supporting role in the 1952 revolution, but initially cordial relations between the Free Officers Corps and the Brotherhood quickly soured. Following an assassination attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser by the secret apparatus (or military wing) of the Brotherhood in 1954, the organization was officially dissolved, its headquarters burned, and thousands of members were arrested.

When Anwar Sadat initiated an opening of the political system in 1971, the Brotherhood took advantage of the opportunity to reorganize. During this period, although the Brotherhood remained illegal, Sadat gradually began to release imprisoned members of the organization and allowed it to resume publishing its newspaper al-Dawa in 1976. Islamic student groups also became more prevalent on university campuses and the Brotherhood officially renounced violence and distanced itself from more militant Islamist groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

The Brotherhood began contesting parliamentary elections in 1979 as its members began to acquire a heightened political awareness through their interaction with professional and student associations. It generally adopted a pragmatic political strategy that minimizes confrontation with the regime.

Under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was illegal but was permitted to support independent candidates in elections and developed an impressive organizing capacity. The organization wielded considerable influence over professional associations and a vast network of Islamic charitable institutions, and exerted leverage in the formal political arena through its parliamentary representatives in the People’s Assembly. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, during which opposition forces were allowed to campaign relatively freely, the Brotherhood won an unprecedented 20 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly. During this time, the Brotherhood’s conservative and reformist leaders differed on whether the Brotherhood should try to form an actual political party, the extent to which it should coordinate with other opposition parties, and aspects of the group’s political program, including the role of clerics in the legislative process as well as the political rights of women and non-Muslims. The Mubarak government exerted significant pressure on the Brotherhood from 2006 on, including arresting hundreds of members, trying senior leaders in military courts, and attacking the group’s financial base.

Prior to the November 2010 parliamentary vote, the Brotherhood activated its vast network and, in an impressive show of organizational capacity, collected hundreds of thousands of signatures for Mohammed ElBaradei’s petition for change in just over a month. In their electoral campaigns, however, they were not as successful. The Brotherhood had hoped to field upward of 145 candidates for the 508 seats in the 2010 elections. Electoral authorities, however, disqualified nearly 20 percent of its candidates, who ran as independents, and only 104 Brotherhood candidates ran. In the run-up to the election, members of the movement faced severe repression from the Mubarak regime: hundreds were imprisoned, assets were seized, and businesses were forced to close.

In the first round of the elections, no Brotherhood member won his election outright and only 27 candidates won enough of the vote to participate in the second round. Following accusations of voter fraud and rigging by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which won 95 percent of the 211 seats in the first round, the Brotherhood announced that it would boycott the second round.

After the formation of the Freedom and Justice Party in April 2011, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood decided that there should be a clear divide between the political wing and the proselytizing and welfare wings of the organization. It was decided that no member would have a leadership position within both organizations, and, as a result, a number of prominent members left their positions within the Guidance Bureau in order to take leadership roles within the party, including Mohamed Morsy, Saad al-Katatni, and ‘Esam al-’Aryan. On August 6, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood held its first public internal elections to fill these newly-vacated positions.

The Brotherhood’s role in the January 25 uprising

The Muslim Brotherhood was not among the organizers of the January 25, 2011 “Day of Rage” protest, although it did publicize the protest in advance on its website. Secular youth groups organized the event, and although some Brotherhood members participated in demonstrations on January 25-27, it was not until the protest on Friday, January 28 that the Muslim Brotherhood joined in an official capacity.

Once the Brotherhood did join, it played an important role in maintaining the momentum of the protests by supplying logistical support, organization, and participants. Members provided water and food for protesters, the first microphone and speaker tower, and a number of times during the protest, established security checkpoints to prevent pro-government forces from entering Tahrir Square. They also posted information about the protests to their websites. After a couple weeks of protests, the Brotherhood agreed—along with other opposition groups—to meet with the newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman.

Not long after Mubarak’s departure, tensions began to emerge between the liberal opposition groups and the Muslim Brotherhood. One disagreement focused on the constitutional referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. The Muslim Brotherhood supported the referendum and campaigned for its passage, while most liberal opposition called for its defeat. They argued that rushed legislative elections would benefit the established groups, such as the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood, and would make it difficult for groups established following the revolution to sufficiently prepare. Moreover, secular opposition groups objected to the use of religion in the campaign by the Brotherhood and Salafi activists, who tried to persuade voters that good Muslims should approve the referendum. The referendum passed on March 19, 2011 with over 77 percent of the vote.

The Brotherhood has experienced a degree of political fragmentation since the revolution.  Young Brotherhood members who coordinated closely with other youth activists during and after the protests have balked at Badie’s injunction not to form or join other parties, and several prominent reformist leaders such as presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Ibrahim al-Za’afarani and Mohamed Habib have left the Brotherhood. Al-Za’afarani and Habib have announced their intention to form another party. A group of activists led by Abul ‘Ila al-Madi who left the Brotherhood in the mid-1990s and have battled legal restrictions in their effort to form a party finally gained legal approval for the al-Wasat party in March 2011. Reformist Muslim Brotherhood youth have also split off and formed both the Egyptian Current (al-Tayyar al-Masry) and the Leadership (al-Reyada) parties.

Organizational capacity

The Brotherhood is distinguished by its impressive organizational capacity, which allows it to administer social services and mobilize supporters more effectively than any other group on the Egyptian political scene. The Brotherhood has generated considerable grassroots support by providing vital public services and resources to impoverished communities and maintaining an image of incorruptibility. The Brotherhood also reaches out to the public through missionary activities and da’wa (religious proselytizing). Through its charitable activities, the Brotherhood has developed a reputation as a benevolent ally of Egypt’s economically marginalized classes and a strong advocate for the public interest.

Crisis of participation

After decades of peaceful political participation with minimal effect upon policy and continued repression by the regime, many Brotherhood members and leaders had begun to question the strategic value of political participation. Prior to the revolution, the Brotherhood’s internal dynamics were shaped largely by a series of debates between those who advocated formal political participation and an opposing camp that recommended withdrawal from the political sphere in favor of intensified social organizing activities and missionary work. After the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood resolved quickly to form a political party separate from the original movement, but controversy has continued within the organization about whether members who want to be politically active should join the official Brotherhood party or be free to join or form other parties.

The role of clerics

While the Brotherhood maintains that its religious agenda is fully compatible with Egypt’s existing legal environment and democratic institutions, its 2007 platform proposed a council of religious scholars that would advise the legislative and executive branches on matters of religious law in an authoritative and binding manner.

Women and Copts

Liberal critics of the Brotherhood point to a controversial clause in its 2007 draft party platform as evidence that the group has not yet embraced the concept of equal citizenship for women and Copts. The clause in question states that women and non-Muslims should be excluded from senior positions in any state governed according to Islamic principles. While the Brotherhood is internally divided on this issue and has since hinted that the position may not be binding, the 2007 platform continues to raise concerns about the Brotherhood’s views on women and religious minorities. The Brotherhood has said that its new Freedom and Justice Party would be open to all Egyptians who agree with its platform, including Copts, but has also said that it would be inappropriate for a woman or a Copt to lead the party. Notably, in May 2011, Rafiq Habib, a Christian thinker and member of the Coptic Evangelical Church, was appointed as a vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Ties to other opposition forces

The Brotherhood’s relations with other opposition actors are loose, due to the organization’s characteristically cautious approach to joining alliances that might suggest an intention to destabilize the political status quo. Furthermore, mutual mistrust between the Brotherhood and secular opposition actors has hindered cooperation; leftist and liberal parties in particular are deeply suspicious of the Brotherhood’s views.

The Brotherhood has entered into temporary alliances with other political forces several times. In the 1984 parliamentary elections, which were run under a party list system, the Brotherhood allied with the New Wafd Party and the two groups collectively won 58 seats.  In 1987, the Brotherhood joined the Socialist Labor and Socialist Liberal parties in an alliance that won a total of 78 seats, with 36 of those belonging to Brotherhood representatives. The Brotherhood and many other opposition groups boycotted the 1990 elections, and since 1995 the Brotherhood has run its candidates as independents.

The Brotherhood has cooperated with other parties in informal electoral alliances (such as the United National Front for Change, a coalition formed to contest the 2005 parliamentary elections with a joint list drawn from the al-Tagammu’, Wafd, Nasserist, al-Wasat, and al-Karama parties). In 2010, the Brotherhood publicly endorsed Mohamed ElBaradei and the National Association for Change’s petition for constitutional reform and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. The Brotherhood, however, was careful to qualify its support for ElBaradei, emphasizing that the Brotherhood’s participation in the petition campaign should not be interpreted as an endorsement of his presidential candidacy.

Since the revolution, the Brotherhood has proposed the idea of forming a single country-wide list with other opposition groups in order to prevent any single group from dominating the first parliament.