A November 18th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) featured Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum; Cynthia Farahat, fellow at the Middle East Forum and Egyptian-American author of the recent book, The Secret Apparatus: The Muslim Brotherhood's Industry of Death (2022); and Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). The webinar reviewed Farahat's book on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). In summarizing Farahat's book, Pipes offered an overview of the MB since its founding in 1928 by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna. Farahat addressed the "secret apparatus" of the MB, a group she calls an "existential threat to the U.S.," and Schanzer offered his recommendations on how the U.S. government should approach today's MB threat.
Pipes noted four aspects of the MB that Farahat described in her book: 1) The influence of both Shia Islam and "modern Western ideas," specifically Soviet Communism and Nazism, on Al-Banna's thinking and on the MB. Farahat contends that Al-Banna modeled the MB organization's governing apparatus after Stalin's system; 2) Al-Banna, who was himself assassinated in 1949, believed the MB, which has a "peculiar preoccupation" with death through jihad [holy war] and martyrdom, was the total answer for "life in this world and the hereafter" and should impose a caliphate and sharia law worldwide; 3) Although the MB embarked on extrajudicial assassinations of Egyptian leaders, Farahat argues that the group's lawful efforts to advance their cause is "more dangerous." Under Mohammed Morsi, who became Egypt's president and was an MB member, the movement "went too far," becoming "openly jihadist." In a 2013 coup d'état, Morsi was replaced by current Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who hails from an MB-associated family, and who designated MB as a terror group; and 4) The MB has "pulled the wool over American politicians' eyes," in that 2011's Arab Spring, which displaced millions and disrupted the Middle East, was a response to "lenient U.S. policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood."
Farahat said Washington "must criminalize" the MB as a terror organization. She elaborated on Stalin's model of a "secret apparatus" which she said has been adopted by the MB. The presence of this secret apparatus is accompanied by duplicity and double-speak, particularly when MB leaders address Western targets. This, Farahat said, was evident in the many MB speeches delivered in Arabic that she researched for her book.
Al-Turabi, an international MB leader who died in 2016, said the MB is governed by the "secret apparatus," and that the "public apparatus" was maintained for purposes of deception. The MB's Explanatory Memorandum, found in an FBI raid and used as evidence against the MB in the Holy Land Foundation trial, relied on code words such as "special work," which Farahat said refers to the "secret apparatus." Farahat said that she has "utilized predominantly the words of the Muslim Brotherhood and their writings and their public speeches to make the case that they are the incubator of modern Islamic terrorism." She said that the secret apparatus remains "intact and operational."
The leaders of Hamas and al-Qaeda (AQ) were MB members. Farahat noted the key role played by the "blind sheikh" Omar Abdul Rahman. Rahman earned his doctorate from Cairo's Al Azhar university. He "explicitly" wrote in his dissertation, completed in 1971, that the MB needed to found a group like AQ. Farahat as a consequence considers 9-11 to have been a "Muslim Brotherhood' operation.
Farahat said that "Under the secret apparatus, there is also an international apparatus, which the Muslim Brotherhood calls the vanguards of organized invasion." Each of the leaders of the varied MB groups are interconnected and strictly bound by the MB's by-laws. She said that an MB strategy, which is used before each new terror group is established, dictates that an MB leader has to "fake" severing his ties to the MB, allegedly becoming "former" MB members — a ploy she said was used by ISIS leader al-Baghdadi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Farahat said that she herself has been offered a bribe to lie and write that each MB chapter exists independently of each other, which is further evidence of the deceptive practices employed by the MB to maintain its façade.
When an MB-created organization in the U.S. is at risk of being exposed, Farahat said, the name of the new organization is changed to obscure the MB connection. She intercepted a speech in an Arabic video given by Baghat Saber, a man who she says has "activated Al-Qaeda cells internationally," in which he "boasted" that he can call for the decapitation of MB foes, while remaining "untouched" by U.S. law enforcement.
She noted that "We have a serious problem where they have been designated as a terror group in a lot of Arab and Islamic countries, and they are at the same time operating with impunity inside the United States of America."
Farahat said that the MB is highly effective in propaganda, citing the example of Amr Waked, an Egyptian actor who she described as "affiliated with the MB," who is critical of Egyptian president al-Sisi. Waked has co-starred in movies, such as in Luc Besson's popular film "Lucy," and with George Clooney in the film "Syriana." Farahat said that even though Waked was involved in an early video of "Muslim Brotherhood Slaughterhouses" where he filmed and conducted interrogations of a kidnapped and brutalized dissident in Egypt on behalf of the MB, he is still able to be employed by Hollywood. She said that academia has also been infiltrated by the MB, as exemplified by a Manhattan College professor affiliated with the MB "who is a self-professed murderer."
What Farahat finds "most disturbing" is the portion of the MB's memorandum which states as its aim "destroying the miserable house from within by their own hands and by the hands of the believers" in a "civilizational jihad." She said the West does not hesitate to condemn Nazi and Communist political ideologies, but by harnessing America's defense of religious freedom and claiming victimhood and religious persecution, the MB has succeeded in muzzling critics and weaponizing the religion of Islam. The MB's propaganda arm strategically harnesses cultural terms as a shield when the organization is under the spotlight. She said when MB groups are "marginalized," they become even more covert and activate jihad "under different banners."
While the MB is now "hated" in Egypt, Farahat added, it is undergoing a "resurrection" in the U.S. and found that adherence to the following five traits should raise suspicions of MB membership: 1) Attending MB protests and conferences; 2) Posing in photos with known MB leaders; 3) Taking a public stance in defense of the MB; 4) Marrying MB-affiliated partners sanctioned by the MB leadership; and 5) Donating to MB-affiliated charities. She said the MB is so effective in obscuring its connections to established Muslim charities, Muslims who donate to such charities are surprised to learn of the MB connection. Farahat is convinced of the necessity to designate the MB as a terror group, and she described it as the "most sophisticated criminal enterprise in the world."
Jonathan Schanzer said that the additional resources Farahat reveals and documents in her book add significantly to the body of research on the MB. He noted Washington's periodic and frustrating "binary discussions" about categorizing or not categorizing the MB as a terror organization.
He said a terror designation hinges on the following points: 1) If the group is engaged in terror activities; 2) If the group provides financial support for terror; 3) If the group provides technical support for terror groups; and 4) If the group provides material support for terrorism. Despite a group's connection by ideology and goals, whether overt or covert, to terror organizations, or its support for "financing ... or incubating individuals" to those organizations, absent proof, "ideology is not what determines designation."
Schanzer therefore suggested that "If we can't identify various Muslim Brotherhood groups or the entire organization as having engaged in this activity directly, or if the U.S. government refuses to look at the broader umbrella organization and insists upon some of these smaller groups, then I think we probably need to think again about how we approach this." He suggested that a "hate group designation of sorts" for the MB could provide an alternative goal under these circumstances.
MB lobbying has been effective in the political halls of power, and the MB has engaged successfully with governmental agencies tasked with national security. Schanzer said these include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI. The media is another area where the MB has been effective. "A full apparatus goes into action to shut media down" when MB-affiliated attacks occur, as was the case when the media remained silent after an MB affiliate, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), launched an attack against Israel.
Schanzer said that FDD looked into the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel which is active on campuses. FDD found that one such campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), was "incubated" by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). Schanzer noted that some, though not all, AMP leaders were found to have been involved in charities that were shut down by the U.S. government.
Although the U.S. government has designated violent groups such as HASM, an Egyptian group with "connections to the MB," and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as terror organizations, Schanzer said, it needs to be "looking deeper" at the financial support for charities connected to the MB.
Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, Iran, and Sudan have all been known to have provided support for the MB, and many of the MB members expelled from Egypt relocated to Turkey, which Schanzer said should be scrutinized more closely by the U.S. He said that after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) pressured Qatar over its MB support, Qatar became more "quietist," and Sudan, an MB government and state sponsor of terrorism, has "pulled away" from the MB in response to pressure applied by the KSA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Schanzer believes the U.S. government should designate the MB as a "hate group" because of its ideology. The same standard that post-January 6th designated the Proud Boys as a neo-Nazi group should be applied to the MB, whose individuals are active in establishing non-profit 501c3 organizations in Washington that are still receiving funding. While many policymakers have "balked" at designating the MB as a terror group out of fear that it will "provoke ... Islamists across the region," Schanzer believes that designating the MB as a hate group can serve to isolate MB groups.
Elaborating on this point, Schanzer said that "We have people right now on the Hill, who are trying to make sure that groups that were supportive of the January 6th insurrection are also outside of the norms, outside of the way that we operate here in Washington. I think there is probably a mechanism that could be created primarily by the State Department, maybe by the FBI, where we identify certain ideologies as being antithetical to the American ethos. And to make it clear that while people can, they can think what they want, it's a free country in that way, but that they're not welcomed in the system."
Schanzer said the MB issue should be prioritized at the departments of State and Treasury. Farahat commented that the State Department policy has been one of "dictatorship maintenance since FDR" that has extended to the support of "dictatorial, societal, and religious and cultural norms." She emphasized that this support needs to be "exposed and severed." Farahat's book contains extensive footnotes documenting the dangers of the MB and is a valuable resource for educating U.S. governmental staffers and lawmakers.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.