The Shattered Muslim (Brotherhood) International (Trans)

Xavier Ternisien | Oct 22

Le Monde - In the office of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo there is a map on the wall.  The Muslim countries are green, the rest yellow.

That's the case of Europe and the US.  Listening to Mohammed Mehdi Akef, the seventh guide of the Islamist organization founded in 1928 by Hassan Al Banna, one has the impression of dealing with a person who thinks of himself as the `pope' of  Islam: "Today, he declares, I am in charge of all the Muslims in the world'

After a pause he adds "Of all the Muslims who follow the ideas of the Brothers"

He is evasive about the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, the famous Tanzim Al Dawli. "We don't have an international organization.  We have a form of an organization, it is through our perception of things.  We are present in all countries: everywhere there are people who follow the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood. In France, the Union des organizations islamiques de France -UOIF - does not belong to the organization even if it follows its laws and rules.

The existence of the Tanzim Al Dawli is the best guarded secret of the Brothers.  Today, many pieces of the puzzle are known.  The first of these is that the supreme leader of the international framework is, since the beginning, the Egyptian guide.  Significantly, he is the only one to carry the title of  murchid (guide).  The leaders of the other branches are `secretary generals'.

The Brotherhood's expansion abroad has a long history: from its very first years the movement's ideology was spread by foreign students who were doing graduate work at Al Azhar or in other Cairo universities and who were seduced by the ideas of Hassan Al Banna.  Back in their country they transmitted that ideology.

After 1945 a Communications Bureau with the Islamic world was created.  It soon became a sort of `ministry of foreign affairs of the Brothers' according to the Egyptian journalist Husam Tammam who published the most thorough study of the international organization [...]  After Nasser dissolved  the Brotherhood in 1954 the persecutions and exile of many of its prominent members aided its spread abroad.

But the Tanzim Al Dawli's true birth came later, on July 29 1982 to be exact, under the influence of Mustafa Machhour.  After his release from prison in 1973, this leader of the Brotherhood worked to reestablish the web of the international movement through numerous foreign trips aided by Mohammed Mehdi Akef who has lived in Hamburg since 1981.

The Muslim Brothers' international is made up of member organizations and those allied with the movement, like the Jamaat e Islami in Pakistan or the Refah in Turkey.  Machhour named an envoy to represent him abroad: the Syrian Hassan Howeidi who lives in Amman, in Jordan.

translation to be continued later (tonight, tomorrow...?)

Marek October 26, 2004 - 1:10am

Another rift emerges

The eighties are the apogee of the movement.  Soon cracks appear.  The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq leads to the first crisis.  The Kuwaiti Brothers feel that the international organization is not condemning Saddam Hussein's regime strongly enough.  The Kuwaitis, the leading source of funds for the international organization, decide to leave the Tanzim.  Another rift emerges in 1994 when the Algerian Mahfoud Nahnah, founder of the Hamas party decides to run for President against the will of the Brotherhood.

In 1995, Mustafa Machhour is elected Supreme Guide at the age of seventy five.  It is the consecration of the creator of the international organization.  However the structure is crumbling.  The deputy guide, Maamoun Al Hudaybi, who succeeds Machhour after his death in November 2002 has terrible relations with the international branches.  When a journalist from Le Monde diplomatique, Wendy Kristianasen asks him about this issue, he gets angry and responds: "Why don't you talk about fashion while you're at it?" One of his first acts as Guide is to renounce Kamal AL Helbawi, an Egyptian living in London who was named spokesman for the West in 1995.

The election of Mohammed Mehdi Akef as new Supreme Guide in January 2004 can be seen as a desire to reestablish the links with the international organization.  The Syrian Howeidi has been reappointed to his post.  However, his influence is mostly symbolic.  Speaking of this the new Guide responds: "Howeidi is just a means of contact with the Brothers abroad."

If Akef has managed to pacify the relations with the foreign branches, his vision is less internationalist than it seems.  Hussam Tammam notes a revealing detail: the official site of the Brothers announced the death of Sheikh Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, killed in March, designating him as `Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine"  Until now the title `Guide' had always been reserved for the head of the Egyptian organization

Is this a sign of a growing autonomy?  This centrifugal tendency is illustrated by the participation of a minister close to the Brotherhood in the Iraqi Provisional Government.  This in spite of the vehement hostility of the movement towards the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition forces.

Another recent example is the attitude of the UOIF towards the headscarf ban.  Many branches of the Brotherhood, particularly those in Europe, would have wanted the UOIF to be more combative.  

The UOIF made the opposite choice of cautiously keeping itself out of the demonstrations against the law.  It  demonstratively boycotted the launching of a `pro-hijab campaign' organized in July in London by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) which is allied with the Brotherhood.

Marek October 26, 2004 - 1:48am

Two European Members

For their part the Egyptian Brothers realized that while the existence of an international organization brought them prestige, it could also attract enemies.

For security reasons it has become ever more difficult to bring together the Bureau of Guidance, [the Brotherhood's] executive organ.  We know that it is made up of about twenty-five members.  Among them a predetermined group of Egyptians, fixed at nine members. The other members represent the various nations. Europe is represented by two members, one of whom is Ahmed Al Rawi, president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) of which the UOIF is a member.  The meetings are held once or twice a year in various countries.

Can one speak of the break up of the international organization? Abu Elela Madi, founder of the Egyptian party Al Wasat who resigned from the Brotherhood, is very critical: "The organization has never been able to carry out a mission to its end.  As a school of thought it's a success.  But as an organization it is a failure."  Some Brothers in Egypt are considering a better adapted structure.  It could take the form of a federation of ideology, like the Socialist International which would combine groups with different views.  As a first step it would have to break with the cult of secrecy and renounce the dogma of Egyptian leadership

Marek October 27, 2004 - 1:11am

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