The European Union and numerous other government institutions in the continent are promoting Islamism by funding charities with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. In so doing, officials are supporting a movement that prominent leaders in the Middle East have abandoned. They are also supporting a movement that poses serious threats to civil society in Europe, including "the hindering of the integration of minorities, inciting conflict between ethnic groups, fostering hatred, and incubating terrorism," declares a report publicized in July by the Switzerland-based Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR).
GIOR investigates "non-transparent" attempts to influence public opinion in democracies by state actors such as Turkey, or transnational organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. GIOR's recent report, which focuses on organizations founded or led by activists from the Muslim Brotherhood, dubbed the "Global Muslim Brotherhood (GMB)," states that governmental entities have given approximately €80 million to such organizations since 2004.
The irony is that this money is going to a movement that governments in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are working to defeat. "In the years following the terror attacks of September 2001, increasing attention was paid to the networks of the GMB," GIOR states in its report. "It was generally believed that financing for such networks came from Gulf Sources — Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. Since that time however, both countries have engaged in a harsh crackdown on anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), raising the question of how these networks are currently being funded."
The answer, in part, is that they are being funded by European governments, with the EU being the worst offender, having given €50 million to GMB organizations in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom between 2004 and 2020.
Islamic Relief Worldwide, which was condemned by the U.S. State Department in 2017 for "horrifying anti-Semitism and glorification of violence" on the part of its leaders, is the largest recipient of EU largesse, having received almost €33.4 million from the organization between 2007 and 2020, despite its well-known connections to the MB.
In 2004, Hani El-Banna, one of IRW's founders, described Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood as "a phenomenon, just like Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali." IRW's director Heshmat Khalifa, who also served on the organizations board of trustees, was forced to resign in July 2020, after The Times of London revealed that, in 2014 he had "labelled Jews the 'grandchildren of monkeys and pigs' and called Egypt's president a "Zionist pimp'" on Facebook.
The following month, IRW's entire board resigned after it was discovered that Almoutaz Tayara, the man they chose to replace Khalifa, according to the Times of London, had described leaders of Hamas, as "'great men' who responded to the 'divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood.'"
The EU, which has not responded to a request for comment, also gave €15 million to the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) between 2007 and 2012, even though its director, Michael Privot, acknowledged in 2008 he was a one-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood and "has served in leading positions in several organizations tied to the GMB," GIOR states.
One of the organizations Privot led was the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO), which received almost €290,000 from the EU. One of FEMYSO's past leaders is Ibrahim Zayat, a prominent Muslim activist in Germany who has close ties to Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt.
In his 2010 book, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, Lorenzo Vidino reported that in 2005 Zayat had sued a member of the German Parliament who called him "'an official of the Muslim Brotherhoods,' but the court rejected his claim."
Benjamin Weinthal, a Middle East analyst based in Jerusalem, said that with this funding, the EU has helped legitimize Islamist ideology.
"The public funds pumped into Muslim Brotherhood entities or organizations showing great sympathy and tolerance for the MB creates, without question, an aura of respect," he said. "This is highly dangerous."
Philippe Karsenty, a former elected official and a prominent intellectual in France, says that Europeans need to pay more attention to the actions of public officials in the continent.
"This funding is discouraging moderate Muslims from expressing their views by increasing the visibility of Muslims defending the Muslim Brotherhood views," he said.
GIOR's report tells a familiar story of officials from Western democracies funding Islamist charities that promote anti-democratic agendas. The Middle East Forum has documented numerous instances in which Islamist organizations in the United States, many of them with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, have been able to obtain public funds from state and federal agencies. The GIOR report has gone a long way toward cracking this story open as it plays itself out in Europe, at least in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, but more work needs to be done, particularly in reference to Islamist influence operations run by organizations from South Asia, most notably Jamaat-e-Islami.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism.