An exclusive in the privately owned daily Al-Shorouk last week announced that seven groups within the Muslim Brotherhood have paid allegiance to the Islamic State, raising concerns that the group is abandoning its official non-violent approach.
Al-Shorouk’s report quotes “Brotherhood members” saying that seven groups, referred to as “operations groups,” decided to leave the Brotherhood and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State after growing frustrated with the organization’s mismanagement and internal rifts.
Abdullah al-Haddad, a London-based spokesperson for the group, told Mada Masr that the allegations in the report are completely untrue. Haddad asserts the leadership’s insistence to uphold its historical belief in peaceful resistance, while he concedes that the leadership’s ability to impose its decisions have diminished.
The movement has been forced to decentralize, due to the security crackdown that has paralyzed its leadership, Haddad says. He adds that the leadership is struggling to “maintain its strategic framework” as the continued crackdown is feared to push more people to despair and turn to other organizations.
“Like any organization going through exceptional circumstances of repression, different opinions arise to try to cope with this stage but in the end, the leadership is united on the necessity and importance of maintaining the non-violence approach,” he asserts, adding that turning to violence is not only against the group’s core values, but is also strategically faulty as it would lead to a blood bath where everyone loses.
But as the leadership of the group has been disintegrating during the last two years with the death and arrest of many members, it has become unclear who speaks for the Brotherhood. Individuals making statements have been directly attributed to the Brotherhood as a whole, with no consolidated media strategy put forth by a strong leadership.
The group’s violent rhetoric is divided at the leadership level. Following the arrest of most leaders in the aftermath of President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, a “crisis management committee” was elected to run the group’s affairs.
As the committee started adopting a rhetoric that denounced the non-violence approach, some of the group’s more traditional elites decided to take over. Under the leadership of Mahmoud Ezzat and Mahmoud Hussein, a group of leading members of the older generation, referred to as “the historical leadership group” which had control over the financial resources of the organization, decided to take over and propagate more peaceful rhetoric. This sparked an ongoing fight over the leadership of the group.
Ahmed Ban, a former leading member in the group and a researcher specializing in Islamist groups, says that the disintegration within the group goes beyond the power struggle between the two contesting leaderships. He expects that those who have pledged allegiance to IS, if the reports are true, represent a third current, which is unhappy with theother two.
Ban suggests that the current severe crackdown on the group may have led some youths to reinterpret the Brotherhood’s literature to espouse violence in these circumstances. The group’s founding imam Hassan al-Banna has a saying that goes, “we will use violence when nothing else works.”
As the historical leadership of the group currently cuts off the funding to any groups who promote violence, Ban says this could be an additional motivation for youth to join IS with its abundant resources and training.
But this scenario is questionable for others.
Ahmed Abdel Hameed, a researcher of social movements believes that for someone to take the leap from the Muslim Brotherhood to IS is very unlikely due to the extreme difference in ideologies.
While being recruited to the group, Brotherhood members go through several stages during which they are considered supporters or “general associates” before being admitted as members, he explains.
Abdel Hameed says that it is possible that this shift occurs with people from these circles who have not finished the recruitment process, but not from members.
“In the recruitment and filtering [process,] which takes years, the Brotherhood excludes anyone who has a hint of a jihadi inclination and the people they recruit are socially and psychologically unlikely to turn to IS,” Hameed argues.
He doesn’t deny that the current crackdown might push members toward violence. He says, however, that the individuals who make this shift might resort to a limited version of violence like kidnappings or attacks on police.
Even if one wing makes this decision they would have difficulty mobilizing fellow members in this direction as it would entail a complete reversal of the principles they were committed to for years, and decades in some cases, he continues.
A statement by an affiliate to the Brotherhood called “Al-hay’a al-shar’eya” has increased speculation that the group is institutionally turning to violence. The group which focuses on research on Islamic matters released a statement concluding that the current regime is worse than those who fought against Islam during the prophet’s time and hence, resisting them “through all means” is permissible.
Haddad clarifies that the Brotherhood is not to be held accountable for such statements.
“Like any Islamic organization, there’s a group of scholars and preachers within the group. They have their own doctrinal opinions which don’t necessarily represent the position or decision of the group’s leadership,” he says.
Both Hussein and Ban say that the Brotherhood is known for creating bodies such as “Al-hay’a al-shar’eya” and using them to create the illusion of external support to the group while distancing themselves from them when they make moves that do not match with the group’s ideology.
Ban adds that the Brotherhood sometimes uses these bodies to propagate a message, like an implicit support for violence, without being held accountable for it.