Muslim Brotherhood poses challenge to Indian security apparatus
Even as the intelligence community is focusing on home grown organisations like Popular Front of India (PFI) and similar relatively smaller organisations for their alleged involvement in spreading disturbance, experts say the focus needs to be on the proverbial “mother ship” behind these organisations, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
The MB has been present in India, as it has been in at least 70 countries, for some time now. Its India specific activities have grown exponentially in the last few years. However, conclusive, documented evidence of it influencing internal issues in India has come to light only recently. The MB, which has been banned in at least six countries till now, has managed to escape any such action in other countries for multiple reasons, primarily due to its ability to work under the radar, which has made the job of the intelligence community worldwide of tying it up with its activities difficult, despite sleuths being aware of MB influence behind particular acts.
Official sources, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian said that the MB works unobtrusively, efficiently and with immense sophistication. This has made it hard for agencies worldwide, not just the Indian intelligence apparatus, to link events happening in India with MB in a manner that can stand judicial scrutiny.
Since its activities in India are being carried out by different organisations at multiple levels—that include social groups, small NGOs, legal groups, news entities—with no visible connection of their being connected to the MB or with each other, the intelligence community is still some distance away from mapping the extent of penetration of MB in India.
On Thursday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), raided six places in Jammu & Kashmir that are associated with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) regarding a case that the agency had registered in February 2021. The JeI, as has been the modus operandi of the MB, is accused of collecting funds from domestic and international donors in the form of Zakat. However, the said funds, rather than being used for the purpose for which they were being collected, were allegedly being used to carry out disruptive activities in India.
One of the biggest problems in making policy decisions with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood is the fact that it frequently creates front groups—civil rights organisation, community groups, charity organisation—which while ostensibly are independent, in reality have close ties to the “mother ship” in Egypt. And it is these fronts through which they bring in money needed to expand their organisation.
While anti-minority statements made by some political leaders from the ruling BJP in the recent past have helped the MB in expanding its reach, the MB’s activities, as its past global record shows, in India will not stop even if there is a change in such messaging, a change that intelligence agencies would welcome.
In July 2018, during a Congressional hearing in Washington on the “global threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood”, experts in counter terrorism, Islamic terrorism and people familiar with the rise of the MB at the global level, brought to public details about the Brotherhood that were not known before, primarily how much of the MB affiliated organisations work for their stated common objective, without being directly connected to MB, which gives them protection from legal enforcements.
US Senators, who were a part of the hearing, unanimously called it a “militant Islamist organisation”, which was treated as an ally by the Obama administration, a policy that was later discarded when Trump took over. During the depositions, the members and the witnesses said that the “Muslim Brotherhood has been militant from its very beginning. Its founder, Hassan al-Banna, who started the group in 1928, said that Jihad is an obligation from Allah and every Muslim and cannot be ignored nor evaded.’’
In his book, titled “The Way of Jihad”, Hassan-al-Banna wrote: “Jihad means the fighting of the unbelievers and involves all possible efforts that are necessary to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam, including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship, and smashing their idols.”
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, too, in his testimony before Congress, had categorically stated that the Brotherhood, both in US and overseas, has supported terrorism. The Brotherhood mourned the death of Osama Bin Laden. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, its most eminent cleric and its de facto leader, and issued a fatwa legitimising terrorist attacks against American troops in Iraq. He has also called the holocaust, “punishment for Jews” while stating that he hoped that another Holocaust would someday be carried out by his fellow Islamists.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, has said that the organisation’s goal is to establish a new Islamist caliphate, including the imposition of sharia law. According to officials, the MB is perhaps the most dangerous fundamentalist Islamic organisation that the world has ever seen simply because it is very difficult to identify entities and individuals which are working to achieve its objectives. And more importantly, their network is spread across offices and organisations which can act as pressure groups.
“It was able to create a positive image about it so much that when the uprising started in Egypt, everyone started rooting for its leaders and did their part in ensuring that they came to power. However, once they assumed power from 2012-2013 post the Arab Spring, they did more harm than good for their perception as under President Morsi, it became a dictatorial government, atrocities of which are well documented, including implementation of sharia, using government agencies to promote Islamic radicalism, curbing freedom of the press and launching a series of blasphemy related prosecutions,” an official who was tracking the developments in West Asia during those time recalled.
When it was founded more than 90 years ago by Hassan al-Banna, he had quoted five tenets of MB: “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our constitution, jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.’” He had made it clear from day one that even though MB emerged from Egypt, it would be a global entity.
Officials, who have been following the MB, say that such is MB’s mastery over adaptability that even if the government of India puts a blanket ban on them, they will reduce the ban to a piece of paper by reconfiguring themselves and roll out a new group which will come under the radar only after many months.
One of the Muslim Brotherhood’s branches is Hamas. Another of its supporters was the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, which was found to be the primary fundraising arm for Hamas. The US government in February 2018 designated two offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, HASM and Liwa al-Thawra, as terrorist organisations. Intelligence officials, including of the United Kingdom, from where the official website of MB is run, have found that one of the challenges of tackling Muslim Brotherhood is its adaptability to the local politics in a given country, their pursuit of individual organisational goals and their complete operational independence.
It is due to this adaptability that it has become a significant political force in countries like Jordan (Islamic Action Front), Morocco (Islamist Justice and Development Party) and Tunisia (Ennahda). The same template, of organising itself politically, through different names, can easily be replicated in India, if it has not been done so far. “Since it has become a major political force in countries like Malaysia, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, even a country like the US is finding it difficult to stop them as that would lead to internal reactions in these countries and complicate the bilateral ties,” the official noted.
Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (February 2017-March 2018), spoke about this problem while stating that, “I think you can appreciate the complexities this enters into our relations with governments where the Muslim Brotherhood has matriculated to become participants, and in those elements they have done so by renouncing violence and terrorism.”
The extent of the MB’s penetration can be gauged from the fact that Qatar and Turkey, despite being publicly called out for supporting MB, have continued to stand steadfast with the group. Turkey’s ruling AKP party is the Turkish arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly sent experts to Egypt to help Mohamed Morsi win the election, apart from the billions of dollars that he released to nurture the Morsi regime. Qatar, too, did the same by sending in billions of dollars to help Morsi.
After Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, Turkey and Qatar became homes for exiled Brotherhood and members of Hamas. One of the most significant tools of MB is the news channel group, Al Jazeera that is owned by the Qatar state. “The coverage of Al Jazeera when it comes to India and the list of speakers and issues they pick up show a clear pattern. So you see, we know the editorial policy of Al Jazeera (in the context of India), we know the speakers who, sitting in India, strengthen the narrative that the news channel wants to build and we also know why Al Jazeera is following a particular editorial policy which is on the face ‘anti-India’, biased and far from independent, but still we cannot take any formal action against any of the parties to this whole drama as we have to first tie them to MB, which is not easy,” the official said.
A thesis presented at the University of Bedfordshire, in 2015, on the topic “Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Satellite Television: A Platform for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt”, had found that the channel was sympathetic to the cause of MB. “The MB’s ideology was positively framed in AJA’s two TV programmes. The principal ideas of victimisation, democracy and Islamic were emphasised in favour of the MB (positive). The Mubarak regime, the Military Council and Al-Sisi were equally represented through distance framing in which they were depicted as villains, dictators and secular (negative). It was evident from the analysis of the findings in this research that AJA’s language (verbal selection), according to the texts and interviews examined, was indeed in favour of the MB, especially during four key electoral moments, before and after the ‘revolution’,” the study found.
“The AJA presenters, who were supposed to stand as balanced moderators, advocated principal ideas that the Islamic movement and the MB were the victims ‘of all time’, although they proposed a grand political vision and a willingness to work together with other political parties, ethnic groups and women. The MB’s political incompetence during its one year rule led to the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in a military ‘coup’ in July 2013. This was de-emphasised in the two TV programmes (Without Borders and Opposite Direction) by blaming the Mubarak regime, its ‘remnants’ and the military coup as ‘persecutors’,” it said.
The study further found that “The structure of the questions posed to the guest(s) by AJA presenters may have seemed challenging on the surface, but in substance, it was largely indicative that he was aiming to promote and protect the MB’s political position, while denouncing opposition parties, the military, Al-Sisi, and Mubarak’s regime. The narrative of the presenter’s introductions and the set of his questions, furthermore, showed evidence of both his overt and covert empathy towards the MB, ‘the all-time victim’. The presenter repeatedly allowed the MB leaders’ views to be expressed with minimal or no interruption. The technique of moving between different times in the programmes often involved travelling back in history to emphasize the anguish it had been through since the establishment of the movement.”
Groups that are seen as the front of MB include the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, earlier known as the Council of European Muslims (CEM). It is considered as one of the most important Brotherhood networks in Europe. Another is Islamic Relief, an international aid charity, which used Islamic Relief moneys to fund Muslim Brotherhood terrorism in Egypt. Then there is USCM, or the US Consortium of Muslim Organisations, which is basically the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in America.
Zuhdi Jasser, a renowned doctor and commentator, who was asked to appear as a witness by the US senate, had stated that Muslim Brotherhood, or in Arabic, Ikhwan al-Muslimin was a terrorist organisation that was trying to influence the modern-minded, secular, liberal Muslims.
“Their symbol talks about death for the sake of God as their highest aspiration. We need to stop engaging Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups in government, media, and NGOs, and recognize their Islamist terrorist sympathies,” said Jaseer. It was pointed out by several authorities that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, especially in India, are moderate and peace-loving and have no links with the MB. Only a few have been persuaded to follow such a path, and experts warn that even these few could cause incalculable damage to the economy and societal resilience of India if allowed to operate without check.
Daniel Benjamin, who is with the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and someone who has served as Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department, has highlighted how there is no central administration linking the many different groups which are often said to have Brotherhood links, or of ideology or origins. According to him there has been no serious research to substantiate durable links between the various MB groups that could be described as ones of command and control.
Ryan Clark Crocker, an American retired diplomat who served as a career ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon, had stated that MB is not an organisation at all in the conventional sense of the term. “It has no international headquarters, nor an identifiable global leadership. Individual country franchises vary dramatically in their ideology and politics, and especially in their attitudes towards political violence,” Crocker noted.
Last month, the Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Allam gave a presentation to the British House of Commons on 17 May on the danger posed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood on British soil, highlighting its association with jihadi organisations such as the Islamic State (IS). In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood is known to be opposed to the policies pursued by the reformist Crown Prince of the Kingdom, Mohammad bin Salman, as it is to most other Royals in the Gulf Cooperation Council who seek to ensure a peaceful and prosperous path for their people.