For nearly a century, the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Sheikh al-Banna in 1928, experienced fateful political setbacks that saw its presence wax and wane.

For nearly a century, the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Sheikh al-Banna in 1928, experienced fateful political setbacks that saw its presence wax and wane.

The Brotherhood’s first such setback was under the monarchy rule when the Military Order No. 63 was released in December 1948 to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of terrorist bombings in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members were arrested and in February 1949, its founder and supreme guide Hassan al-Banna was assassinated. Those who survived arrest resorted to covert action and the movement reappeared after the July 1951 coup.

In the beginning, the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed good relations with the July Revolution’s men; members of the Revolutionary Command Council visited Hassan al-Banna’s grave and praised his jihadist experience. However, the good relations between both parties were soon interrupted as, according to the Brotherhood’s leader Ibrahim Tayeb, “The origin of the dispute between the Muslim Brotherhood and Abdel-Nasser was that each party believed that it was more worthy and entitled to power and rule in Egypt. Abdel-Nasser and his supporters believed that they were the rightful revolutionaries who risked their lives for their country in addition to the fact that the British would not allow the Muslim Brotherhood to rule in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, believed that they were the initiators of the revolutionary idea and that Abdel Nasser, Amer and the other members of the July Revolution were originally Muslim Brotherhood members who pledged allegiance and are junior officers unfit to the rule. The dispute, hence, was not ideological but mainly a quarrel over governance. The political clash between the two sides erupted when the decision to dissolve the organization in 12 January 1954 was issued in accordance with the political parties’ dissolution law.

It is known that Anwar Sadat, the then Minister of State, issued a statement at a press conference about dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood reading, “A group from the first Muslim Brotherhood’s ranks wanted to exploit the organization for personal benefits and interests taking advantage of religion power over innocent and enthusiastic young Muslims. They, thus, betrayed their homeland as well as religion. The sequence of events proved that this manipulative group took advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideology to overthrow the current regime under the guise of religion.”

On 17 January, 1954, a few days after the dissolution decision, newspapers published that large amounts of weapons were found in the farm of Hasan Ashmawi, a prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. A few months later, a Muslim Brotherhood member attempted to assassinate Abdul Nasser in Alexandria, while he was delivering a speech. The eight random bullets that missed Abdul Nasser were considered a declaration of war against the regime which locked up numerous Brotherhood leaders and members and executed several others including Sayyid Qutb, a leading theorist of violent jihad.

Ironically, Sadat, who issued the aforementioned statement and was a member of the tribunal that ruled to imprison and execute the organization’s members, released the locked up Brotherhood members when he became president after the death of Abdel Nasser in 1970 and allowed them to exercise their missionary activity and maintained good relations with the Brotherhood’s supreme guide who used to join him for prayers at official religious occasions.

Sadat, however, did have a political aim behind his initiatives, which was to exploit the Muslim Brotherhood and dissident groups to eliminate the Nasserites and leftists, especially in universities and professional unions. Afterwards and through an agreement with the United States, Sadat used the Islamists in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Thus, mosques and university squares, at the time, turned into platforms to call for jihad in Afghanistan rather than in Palestine.

According to John Cooley’s book ‘Unholy Wars’, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and the master mind in using Muslims in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan under the pretext of rightful ‘Islamic Jihad’ against ‘materialist atheism’, conveyed a message from President Carter to persuade Sadat of the American plot saying, “The Islamic Jihad could bring together the Egyptian authority, Al-Azhar and the Muslim Brotherhood in a joint force against atheism. Egypt will incur no costs, as the United States will establish a special fund for jihad in Afghanistan financed by the Gulf States and most prominently Saudi Arabia. Thus, Egypt would benefit morally as well as financially since it will be rewarded with generous military contracts as Egypt has Soviet weapons needed in the fight against them.”

However, this turbulent jihadist force Sadat fostered soon turned against him and led to his assassination on 6 October 1981 in compliance with the Sharia law for his peace agreement with Israel.

Vice president Hosni Mubarak, successor of the assassinated president, found himself in the midst a volatile security and political crisis. Therefore, he immediately released about 1,500 figures affiliated with the political, intellectual and religious opposition (Islamists and Christians) who were jailed by Sadat less than a month before he was killed. At the same time, Mubarak declared an open security war against Islamist jihadist groups without giving up the support of the American jihadist plot in Afghanistan. Thus, security prosecution pushed them to escape to the ‘paradise’ of the Afghan jihad.

Mubarak dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood through a dual tactic (security/political) scheme. At the security level, he narrowed their activities and imprisoned their leaders for certain periods without resorting to dissolve the group while he, on the political level, continued to exploit them against the secular opposition including leftists and liberals. Additionally, the president’s National Democratic Party (NDP) concluded a deal with the Brotherhood in which they were granted 80 seats in the fraudulent parliamentary elections of 2005. The Brotherhood also allied themselves with the NDP to support the passing of the presidency to Mubarak’s son Jamal.

Surprised by the January 25 revolution which was unleashed by the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood organized themselves intelligently to lead it. Unlike other opposition forces, they met Major General Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice president, and supported the ruling of the Military Council headed by the Mubarak’s regime Defense Minister Marshal Tantawi. Finally, after 80 years, they achieved their aspiration to rule Egypt both presidentially and parliamentarily, through free and fair democratic elections. In the next article, we will analyze the crucial plight of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, their popular defeat in Libya and Ennahda’s abandonment of political Islam to ‘Muslim democracy’.