In 1928, Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Mohamed al-Banna came up with an idea which he thought is going to change the world into a better place. Indeed, the world did change and revealed more about Banna’s intention of forming a group which claimed to seek comprehensive social reforms. This group is called the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Looking back at the historical circumstances in which the MB was formed, it becomes clear that everyone back then thought that the MB was Egypt’s salvation from everything, including the British invasion and the authoritarian rule of the monarchy which emerged during the Palestine war in 1948. Hassan al-Banna wanted to reform society based on his perspective of religion.
Hassan al-Banna said that Islamic life should be based on four main pillars, including “government, nation, individuals and family”. He began working within the Ismailia governorate where he was active as a teacher after he finished college. He then moved to Cairo where he continued spreading his idea.
Some people perceived Banna as a man of ambitions. He believed in an idea and worked hard on it. However, his idea of reforming society according to his principles created a lot of enemies along the way as it depended partly on secrecy, obedience and seclusion. The Muslim Brotherhood structure was not an ordinary political or religious group, but mostly a “separate state by itself within the country” with a general guide (murshid), leaders, members, supporters within the state’s unions and entities.
However, the principles that were announced publicly by the group were not the whole truth, as over time more details were revealed about their dark thoughts and assassination plans. New members joined, but also old members left, explaining that the group’s internal system was unbearable.
“I left them for many reasons. I refuse the restrictions and the principle of ‘hearing and obeying’ that they impose. They almost sanctify their leaders not just respect them. They prioritize the group’s interests over the country’s and believe in having a secrete organization. Moreover, the MB works to eliminate other currents, and don’t listen to anything other than their thoughts. I left them completely in 2009,” Islam al-Katatni, former MB leader told al-Watan newspaper in an interview in December 2015.
Despite accusations of destabilizing the society and toppling the regime and imprisonment of several members between 1928 and 2011, the MB managed to survive and witnessed the January revolution waiting for their opportunity to fulfill their dream of ruling the country.
The dark side of being organized: hearing and obedience
The leaders of the MB argue that the reason that enabled them to take over power after the January revolution 2011 was their ability to organize. They were the group that managed to quickly form a party with no dispute over their targets or principles.
Most of the young people who went to the streets at that time demanded Hosni Mubarak to step down but did not think of what will happen next. They just wanted what they said in their chants, “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice”.
Shortly after the end of the revolution, those young people who demanded their freedom were facing accusations of “being unorganized and with no chosen leaders” which was completely the opposite of the MB.
“After the revolution of January 2011, Egypt was suffering from distortion in its political structure,” Ahmed Ban, a researcher on political Islam groups told Egypt Today. He explained that the Muslim Brotherhood gained their strength from the Egyptians’ political unawareness and the absence of political parties in society.
Ban added that before the revolution, there was only the National Democratic Party headed by Mubarak himself. “MBs succeeded because Egyptians did not have a lot of political choices and because there was no other powerful groups,” according to Ban.
“The MB however failed for many reasons including their political behaviors and mixing between what should be done publicly and what should remain secret. They could not recognize the differences between the religious and political frame work,” Ban added.
The MB members furthermore amplified the principle of “hearing and obedience”; they stopped discussing important issues with all the group members which angered some of them, according to Ban.
“No one can say that they did not succeed in gaining the Egyptians’ support in the elections of 2012. However, there were other signs that indicated the MBs intentions,” Ban said.
Do they believe in violence, do they have a history with it?
After Banna’s death, a number of members and leaders of the MB were jailed and even sentenced to death or to life in prison for being involved in many crimes, including an attempt of assassinating former President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Hassan al-Hudaybi was the MB’s second general guide (Murshed) who succeeded Banna. Since 1949, the MB faced many problems as Abdel Nasser did not agree with most of their principles.
In October 26, 1954, there was a famous accident called (Al Manshia) in which members of the MB tried to assassinate Abdel Nasser as he was giving a speech in Alexandria. The members who were involved in the assassination attempt were sentenced to death.
Several assassination attempts followed over the years, the last one took place in 2015 with the killing of former Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat. The Ministry of Interior revealed in its investigations that members of the MB were involved in planning and carrying out the assassination.
Also, the MB’s tendency for violence is clearly evident in the videos that went viral on social media, showing leaders threatening civilians during the famous sit-ins of Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares.
Most of the MB leaders are now imprisoned because of their affiliation with violence and terrorism. In December 2013, the whole group was labeled as a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government and other countries all around the world, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The MB could be one of the most powerful groups that affected Egypt’s history; however, as the January 25 revolution took place, they learned the lesson about their “hearing and obedience” principle.