Since its establishment in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has set “mastery of the world” as its central goal. The group’s founder, Hasan Al-Banna, was convinced that it must go beyond the “local” sphere to a “global” one as it embraces a global mission and ambition. Hence, the group decided to make inroads into Arab and Islamic countries and Muslim communities in Western countries using tools that included da’wah (advocacy), charity, and political activities.
The creation of the group’s international organization in 1982 marked the beginning of an important stage in its advances, especially in the United States and Europe. The unit started playing the group’s external wing’s role to clarify and defend its points of view on several issues and broaden its funding sources. Today, the organization manages its financial and business networks and owns many media forums in Europe, which strengthen its influence and serve its political project.
The Muslim Brotherhood considers its international wing a vital tool to achieve its dream of “the mastery of the world” by creating a trans-continental state. The organization has created parallel societies in the United States and several European countries to pave the way for accepting the group and its ideologies, and its goals that appear advocacy (da’wah) and charity-driven, but are, in fact, political.
This study seeks to analyze the Muslim Brotherhood strategy to infiltrate Western societies, including the essential tools the group has used to build parallel communities in these countries. This analysis explores the group’s international wing’s role as one of the influential non-state actors, examining relevant documents related to Western societies’ infiltration and reviewing the reasons why the Western countries’ concerns related to the group’s activities have grown.
A model for influential non-state actors?
The nature of these organizations at the global level cannot be understood in isolation from the phenomenon of the so-called “neo non-state actors.” These actors can influence numerous countries’ political systems by mobilizing and employing available resources to promote their ideas and achieve their goals.
The following are the most important definitions of non-state actors:
- Any group or organization that enjoys a degree of independence and freedom when pursuing its goals and has influence and the ability to make a difference regarding a certain issue in a specific context compared to the influence of another actor on the same issue;
- Individuals who act outside the sovereignty of the state, whether within international non-government organizations, multinational companies, civil associations or media institutions whose activities penetrate and transcend the geographical borders of national entities;
- International relations experts agree that these actors represent entities that may carry out the same traditional functions and tasks of a state, whether in controlling its resources or in taking political decisions whose effects may exceed the state’s borders or cause regional and international repercussions;
Non-state actors share many characteristics. Perhaps most notably, they have become more influential in regional and international engagements. Some political organizations and extremist and terrorist groups are assuming roles exclusive to states, such as controlling the state’s territory and its resources. The most prominent example is the Lebanese Hezbollah, which now plays a role parallel to the Lebanese state. It possesses a weapons arsenal, adopts an independent foreign policy, and claims legitimacy for its policies and actions.
Also, many non-state actors possess high organizational capabilities and often adopt fait accompli to control states’ territories, as the Houthi militias are currently doing in Yemen. Some other players set up administrative structures parallel to those of the state. Indeed, the Brotherhood’s organizational and administrative institutions and structures usually correspond to those of the state. For instance, the group’s Guidance Bureau was set-up parallel to its executive authority (the Council of Ministers). The Shoura Council carries out the functions of the Parliament (the legislative authority). Moreover, the group’s administrative offices are the same as the governorates, and the boundaries of its regions fully apply to the state’s administrative and electoral districts.
Although new actors fall within the international community’s umbrella, many of them transcend the respective state borders in the sphere of foreign relations. Some even describe these types of groups as having become a critical variable in the interactions between members of the international community, especially when these groups are led by religious or political personalities capable of effectively influencing international public opinion.
Based on these observations, it can be said that the Brotherhood’s international organization is a model of influential non-state actors at the regional and international levels, given the following considerations:
- The organization is the outcome of a trans-national religious ideology that does not recognize the nation-state or the existing borders.
- The influence of this organization goes beyond the borders of many countries. It exerts a qualitative influence on the region’s interactions and in the future of its states, especially in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring” that enabled the group to assume power in Egypt (June 2012-June 2013). Given the power and influence it possesses in many European countries, the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization also sought to provide support for several Brotherhood organizations in some Arab countries in the hope of repeating the Egyptian experience.
- Its creation exposes the Muslim Brotherhood’s fundamental goal, “the mastery of the world,” whose foundations have been laid by Hassan Al-Banna. The organization has sought to expand its presence in the Arab and Islamic countries, adopting a soft infiltration strategy into Western societies through many cultural and media tools and building parallel communities in preparation for the revival of the “Caliphate.”
- The international organization dominates many academic institutions, charitable organizations, and international media forums in the United States and many European countries. It uses them to advance the group’s ideology further and incite the group’s followers against hostile regimes.
The strategy of infiltration into Western societies
In its early years of existence, specifically in the 1950s and 1960s, the Muslim Brotherhood focused on expansion in three European countries: France, Germany, and Britain. The decision was based on historical and geopolitical considerations. These three countries are the largest in the European Union in terms of area and population. They had polarized societies and Muslim communities coming from Arab and Islamic countries that were subject to their cultural and colonial influence.
The group has used its institutional presence in the three countries to build a network of alliances and interdependence agreements with entities representing the main Islamic blocs in the world. An example is opening up to the densely-populated Turkish Islamic community in Germany. When it was established in 1982, the international organization continued its efforts to enhance its presence and consolidate the group’s influence in the United States and Europe. About 95 percent of the international organization’s activities and structures are now concentrated in Europe, especially in the classic square of the group’s movements (i.e., Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium), besides the United States and Canada.
In implementing its strategy to infiltrate Western societies, the Brotherhood’s international organization employs various tools that can be illustrated as follows:
- Establishing “closed ghettos” for members of the Brotherhood and Muslim communities in general, within its endeavors to create an isolated Muslim community. The organization seeks to create parallel societies within Western societies, which may strengthen the group’s influence on these communities, thus enabling it to communicate with the authorities from a position of strength.
- Establishing control in Western countries over many cultural centers and charities that adopt the group’s ideology and serve its goals. The most prominent one, for example, is the Islamic Society of North America, which is the largest Muslim organization in North America and runs most of the mosques and Islamic centers. The international wing weaved a huge network of relationships within Europe by building mosques and establishing cultural centers and “charitable” associations. These centers were facades intended to implement the Brotherhood project’s goals in Europe, especially by using the potential and efforts of the Arab and Islamic communities in these countries.
- Employing media arms to draw an ideal picture of the Brotherhood and present it to Western societies as an organization that believes in democracy, respects human rights, and represents the ideal alternative model to ruling regimes in Arab and Islamic countries. This is evident in the Brotherhood’s English-language website, which it has initiated to address Western societies. Through material published on the site, the group seemingly upholds and respects the democratic and human rights values to falsely project the Muslim Brotherhood as a group that embraces Western democratic values. In contrast, the group’s site in Arabic addresses Arab people using vocabulary dominated by incitement to violence and rebellion against the ruling regimes.
- Enhancing communications with major western countries, especially the United States. The Brotherhood’s international organization has tried over the years to build ties with various American administrations. It took advantage of the Obama administration’s openness to the so-called “moderate Islamic movements” in the aftermath of the Arab Spring events in 2011.
Hillary Clinton, the then US Secretary of State, spoke of the need to deal with Islamist movements. Several US senior diplomats and Pentagon officials revealed that they had had encouraging discussions with opposition leaders, including those of the Muslim Brotherhood. The year 2012 witnessed the holding of many high-level meetings between Brotherhood leaders and American officials.
In April 2012, the White House hosted a delegation of Brotherhood representatives a few months after senior US representatives held meetings in Cairo (including William Burns, who was in charge of relations with the Brotherhood). The US officials provided their government with a favorable report. These contacts allowed the Brotherhood a wide margin of freedom of movement within these countries, which it used to boost its infiltration into Western societies and promoted the group’s ideologies and actions, and to attack many Arab ruling regimes, especially in the wake of the June 30, 2013, events.
However, the infiltration strategy has become a severe concern in Washington and many European capitals. The apprehension related to its activities aiming to Islamize or “Brotherhoodize” the United States and European countries escalated after the organization succeeded in reshaping public opinion in these countries. It attracted thousands of youths and adult members who tried to portray the group as a moderate movement.
These concerns were expressed in the warnings issued by many Western political institutions and intelligence agencies about the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to infiltrate Western societies and impose their culture. Voices were heard in the British Parliament in 2014 warning of the Brotherhood’s plans to establish a launch pad in London to implement the group’s plans in other countries, especially after several Egyptian leaders sought refuge in Britain in the wake of the June 30, 2013, events.
An internal Swiss report showed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s writings are characterized by “an attitude that is not only intolerant but also totally ignores Western values and ideas in general.” The report surmises that the group abhors the West in particular by claiming that “it afflicted the Islamic world with materialism and relativism, not to mention constant warnings about the danger of the group’s thought.”
A report by the Office of the Protection of the Constitution (the internal intelligence agency) in the German state of Bavaria also warned of the increasing threat of Brotherhood and its actions, which violate the constitution’s provisions. It also raised concern over the group’s support for entities parallel to the state institutions and programs and its efforts to establish a totalitarian government system that does not guarantee the people’s sovereignty or freedom and equality principles.
The same report drew attention to the fact that “the group is striving to “Brotherhoodize” the German society and change educational programs to be in line with its ideas.” A June 2020 French Senate report warned of the growth of “Islamic extremism” in an increasing number of French regions and a dangerously growing “separatist tendency” in some French cities supported by political Islam movements. This was a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Investigating documents related to the Brotherhood’s international organization
The Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to penetrate Western societies rest on clear visions and carefully considered strategies, as illustrated by many documents. Perhaps the most prominent is – “An Explanatory Note: The Group’s General Strategic Objective in North America” – prepared in 1991 by the Brotherhood leader Muhammad Akram.
An Explanatory Note: The Group’s General Strategic
Objective in North America
In essence, this Note is based on the group’s general strategic objective in America, approved by the group’s Shoura Council and the Organizational Conference in 1987. This goal stipulates the “empowering of Islam in North America; that is, creating an effective and stable Islamic movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood that adopts the causes of Muslims locally and globally; aims to broaden the committed Islamic base and unify and direct the efforts of Muslims; presents Islam as a civilized alternative movement; and supports the global state of Islam wherever it shall be established.”
The Explanatory Note indicates that the Brotherhood’s central goal is to implement Islamic law in the United States of America to prepare the ground for the establishment of a global “Islamic caliphate.” According to the Note, the first step of the plan is to strengthen its influence in American society, and make Islam an integral part. For the “localization” of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States and North America, we must evaluate the stages that the project went through in America. These stages were indicated as follows:
- Self-search and identification;
- Internal construction and provisions of the organization;
- Islamic mosques and centers;
- Establishment of Islamic institutions;
- Establishment of Islamic schools;
- Reflection on overt Islamic movement;
- Openness to other Islamic movements and the means to deal with them;
- Reviving and completing the process of establishing Islamic institutions.
The Note includes a list of 29 organizations and institutions friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood in North America under “a list of our institutions and those of our friends.” The most prominent and the largest of these organizations is the “Islamic Society of North America,” which seeks to attract all Muslims to join the organization. This organization controls no less than 80 percent of the mosques in the US and Canada. In 1980, it got its present name – the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
Figure No. (2)
A list of institutions affiliated to the Brotherhood’s international wing in North America as mentioned in the organization’s documents
ISNA embraces the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and the ideas of its founder, Hassan Al-Banna. In 1981, the International Institute for Islamic Thought was registered in the United States with its headquarters in Herndon, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Institute, which has set up branches and offices in several Arab, Islamic, and other capitals, is supervised by a board of trustees that elects its chairman periodically from among its members.
The institute is one of the Brotherhood’s international organization tools, keen to promote political Islam’s discourse, theories, and approaches. The institute is a platform to address the West from the Muslim Brotherhood perspective in particular and the political Islamic movements in general. This discourse was initiated by both Sa’eed Ramadan and his son Tariq Ramadan.
This document reveals the group’s goals in the United States, work methods, structures, and tools to infiltrate American society. An American study warned of the danger of the group’s activities, saying that at a time when some leaders of the Brotherhood are seen as leaders of the Islamic community in the United States and are treated as partners in the fight against terrorism, these leaders are planning to infiltrate the American government and civil society.
Swiss police found another secret document detailing the Brotherhood’s plans to infiltrate western societies after the September 11, 2001, events. These documents were uncovered during a night raid on a luxurious villa owned by Youssef Nada, one of the Brotherhood’s major tycoons and chairman of the Al-Taqwa Bank. The document – “The Great Project” – was confiscated from one of the villa’s armored safes, meaning the Brotherhood’s project to control Europe, the United States, and the whole world.
Figure No. (3)
A document dated December 1, 1981, on the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood that was found in Youssef Nada’s house
Investigations revealed that this scheme had been handed over to Youssef Nada 20 years beforehand. This document exposes the Brotherhood’s strategy to infiltrate and to Islamize European societies. Although the document states that the Brotherhood is well aware that Muslims are not subject to persecution in Western democracies, the group will work to divide Islamic societies in the West by reinforcing the feeling of persecution. In the group’s view, this will push these societies to confine and isolate themselves from local society, thus pushing them toward intolerance and gradually Islamizing society by preaching extremist values at the expense of tolerance and openness.
An example of this “deconstruction” strategy is the speech that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave in the German province of Cologne in February 2018 to hundreds of Muslims of Turkish-German origin in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for a greater integration of Turks into German culture. He said that assimilation or integration is a crime against humanity. This reveals one of the aspects of the strategy by which the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization intends to “invade” these societies based on instilling extremist ideologies in the minds of Muslims, creating an external appearance that distinguishes them from others, and pushing them ultimately to live separately from those they describe as “non-believers.”
These two documents cannot be viewed separately. They express the Brotherhood’s objective of softly infiltrating Western societies. In the countries in which they are active, the Brotherhood strengthens its presence by supporting universities and charitable, sports, and media organizations. As soon as they create a foothold in these societies, it starts building schools, clinics, and sports clubs, and provides microcredits without interest to Muslims who adopt their ideological principles as defined by the founder of the group, Hassan Al-Banna and developed by his son-in-law Sa’eed Ramadan. This is how they gradually infiltrated academic institutions such as the Islamic Institute in London, which was supervised by the late Kalim Siddiqui, a British citizen of Indian origin, who struggled to persuade Muslims in Britain to follow “Islamic” laws.
There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood’s focus on infiltrating Western societies is inseparable from the group’s main goal of “building the trans-continental Brotherhood state.” The Islamization of the United States and Europe by spreading the group’s ideology therein would pave the way to establish the “Trans-continental Brotherhood State.” This goal was present in the mind of Mustafa Mashhour, the fifth guide of the Brotherhood, who in 1982 set out to establish the group’s international organization to put into effect the ideas of the group founder, Hassan Al-Banna, regarding the creation of the global state and attain “the mastery of the world.”
Accordingly, the establishment of the international organization, after the widespread of Brotherhood thought in many countries, was an expression of the group “universality” that would facilitate the implementation of Al-Banna’s commandment, which says that the group should benefit from what he called the “era of formation.” In this way, it will be able to assert its presence in all countries and declare the Muslim Brotherhood state’s birth, that is to say, a “caliphate state” that would bring together various national organizations. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood’s endeavor to establish a “global Islamic state” under its control will probably necessitate in the long run the overthrowing of those Islamic governments that are not subject to the rule of the “Brotherhood.”
The past years’ experiences reveal that the Muslim Brotherhood adopts an unequivocally deliberate strategy to infiltrate Western societies using soft power tools, such as charitable, humanitarian, cultural, and media activities, to persuade Islamic communities to adopt the group’s intellectual and ideological model (manhaj). The group used the climate of openness in the United States and Europe to build a network of cultural, religious, and political centers that serve its goals.
However, the group’s activities provoked serious concerns, when the real goals behind building of parallel societies were revealed. These goals are meant to pave the way for building the group’s trans-continental state. Given its ideological thought and vague activities, many European countries have realized that this group represents an immense threat to security and stability and the nation-state’s foundations. Therefore, these countries are taking the necessary steps to limit the group’s influence and prevent it from threatening the established European values of openness, dialogue, and coexistence.
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 For more details on the mechanisms of Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization to penetrate the American society:
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 For more details on this Note, please see Figure (1). [In Arabic]
 The History and Structure of Islamic Organizations in the United States, European Eye on Radicalization, August 19, 2019: https://bit.ly/2Y809qX.
 For more details about the institute’s establishment and objectives, please refer to the institute’s official website on the Internet: https://bit.ly/2yLBoGa. [In Arabic]
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 Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. David Reaboi., An Explanatory Memorandum: From the Archives of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, Center for Security Policy, March 8, 2013: https://bit.ly/3klCiwa
 For more details on this document, please see Figure (3).
 Zidane Meriboute, International Development Policy, Revue Internationale de politique de développement, August 27, 2014: http://journals.openedition.org/poldev/1833.
 Doa’a Imam, Mustafa Mashhour: the author of the plan for a clash with the state, reference site: Studies and Forward-looking Studies on Dynamic Islam, July 20, 2018: https://bit.ly/2IksW29. [In Arabic]
 Eric Trager, The Muslim Brotherhood Is the Root of the Qatar Crisis, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 2, 2017: https://bit.ly/2yzNsuk.