10 Nov 2020

Muslim Brotherhood’s parallel state is all about religious power and supremacy

Dr. Huda Shaker Al-Nuaimi

 We can understand the parallel state that Muslim Brotherhood sought to build in Egypt as the outcome of a structure consisting of complex relations between the state and society. That structure represented a struggle between a pragmatic movement which adjusts its activities according to various changes and a state that faced difficulties in fulfilling its obligations towards society. This struggle allowed the Muslim Brotherhood movement to export and spread its social, political and economic philosophy.

Al-Banna and Brotherhood heritage

Many things can be said about the Muslim Brotherhood heritage, which enabled the group to capture power in Egypt and build its parallel state. Launching the group, Hassan Al-Banna described it as a movement seeking social change that would have nothing to do with politics. Yet, in May 1938, just ten years after its inception, the Brotherhood declared its involvement in politics, adopting hostile attitudes against the government and political elites. The shift in attitude was clear in Al-Banna’s statement:

“Until now, you Brothers had not antagonized any political party nor any authority; and you did join any of them … but today, you will antagonize all of them inside and outside the government. This rivalry will be harsh and severe if they did not respond to you and if they did not adopt the principles of Islam as a methodology to follow and implement. The issue is: either loyalty or hostility”.[1]

It was not a sudden transformation, but the result of a series of historical events:  the growing capabilities of the Brotherhood, the expansion of its social influence, adapting to government policies and its participation in the Palestine War, which granted the group popular acceptance and support. It also took important steps such as forming special groups inside the army, the police force and the judiciary, besides establishing “the Secret Apparatus” in May 1938.

The special Secret Apparatus was established as Muslim Brotherhood’s security, military and intelligence vehicle. It posed a threat to the government, after carrying out a series of assassinations that targeted political and judicial figures. Probably, the key question is: should a religious and social group form a military arm, an intelligence apparatus and an assassination squad unless it wants to change the political status and unless it aims to oust the ruling regime?

The idea of capturing power kept lingering in the mind of Hassan Al-Banna. He preferred the quiet gradual approach to achieve this goal. He employed the Brotherhood’s accumulated economic and political influence to mobilize popular support for his benefit. As the Brotherhood confronted the Egyptian government, Al-Banna attracted the educated and the most impoverished people and addressed them directly. He talked about their concerns and urgent desire to achieve the basic standards of welfare, implement real reforms and liberate their country from British colonization.

This mobilization campaign enabled Al-Banna to tap popular emotions. He urged people to accept the Brotherhood’s solutions to handle those crises. He aimed to transform the popular support into a strike force that he might leverage whenever the opportunity arose. He saw this as a temporary phase in moving towards the larger goal of building the Muslim Brotherhood parallel state. Al-Banna’s letters included the appeal, which considers it necessary to build this parallel structure through controlling the syllabuses and systems of education, media organs, charitable associations, to ultimately control the state and penetrate its official institutions.

Pursuing this plan, the companies owned by Brotherhood members contributed to finance building a huge network of charitable associations, hospitals and social services, which helped in building popular support. The group also built a wide network of civil society institutions, which established kindergartens, schools, intermediate institutes, universities, medical clinics, healthcare centers, newspapers, satellite TV channels and economic institutions. These were used to influence the orientations and decisions of people, and to magnify the social and political presence of the group.

Using the same formula, the Brotherhood parallel structures worked to enhance the social, political, economic and cultural status of the group, through a set of organizations and institutions that are similar to state institutions in terms of their structure and administration. Yet, these parallel structures were not an official part of the state or the legitimate government.

These initiatives support the Brotherhood claims that they uphold the truth in an environment plagued with crises. The Muslim Brotherhood believes in subjecting its members through a special breeding process, which forms their recognition and understanding of the world. That process works through a special system of ideas, symbols and rituals, which lead to create an ‘opponent society’ inside the Egyptian society.

This opponent society will have its special memory and awareness, which is based on a mixture of facts and illusions, and narrates a sacred story about the suffering inflicted by God “in order to achieve the victory of Muslim Brotherhood” later, as Muslim Brotherhood alone — and no one else — possess the legitimacy to assume power and ruling.

In this sense, Al-Banna’s parallel state is based on the principle of listening and obedience. The people belonging to the Brotherhood state will be merely obedient mass. They do not have the right to express any opinion contradicting the opinion of the Brotherhood elite and the Supreme Guide. They should implement decisions without any discussion. Obviously, by these rules, Muslim Brotherhood eliminates freedom of speech, and it becomes a group practicing the political paternity. Accordingly, this policy means that tyrannical dictatorship will continue in Egypt under the cover of religion.

Islam Al-Katatny, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, exposed this tyrannical approach and philosophy of submission in an interview with Al-Watan newspaper in December 2015. “I left them for many reasons. I refuse the restrictions and the principle of ‘listening and obedience’, which they impose on members. They almost venerate their leaders as sacred persons; it is not enough to respect them. They give priority to the interests of the group at the expense of the state. They believe that they should have a secret organization. Moreover, Muslim Brotherhood works hard to eradicate other currents, and never listens to anything other than its own ideas”.[2]

Building influence through infiltration  

Alluring the society through social and economic services that are capsulated in moral and religious slogans is nothing but the Brotherhood seeking to gain the sympathy of fragile and impoverished classes in the society. They want to deeply implant the feeling within these poor people that Muslim Brotherhood stands by their side to alleviate their burdens and sufferings. This trend allowed the group to grow and gain many votes in municipal and parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood’s plan to infiltrate the society and state adopted a number of approaches, the most important of which were:

  1. Controlling the education syllabus: They established a special educational system for various levels of schooling. They also penetrated the official education system, through education programs and syllabuses, with the aim to interfere in the formation of the orientations of young generations, and influencing their convictions.
  2. Working with people and staying very close to them: They provided services and extended help to people, and filled the gap that was neglected by the state, through charitable and service associations established. They helped individuals financially to launch small business projects.
  3. Penetrate civil society organizations: They penetrated civil organizations of various orientations and interests, including the official religious institutions, such as Al-Azhar and Awqaf (alms giving) societies.
  4. Penetrate media organs, satellite TV channels, and cultural authorities, which enjoy broad influence in society: They do that in order to broadcast and spread their intellectual and political project. They also established their own media organs, and focused on digital media, particularly websites, as these digital platforms offered limitless possibilities to spread Ikhwani ideas, without being exposed to the risks of being monitored by governments.

Hatred towards the state, a key pillar

Members of Muslim Brotherhood group are raised on hatred towards the state, as they consider it a Jahiliyyah (ignorant) state, and it should be changed by all means. According to the view of the author of “Milestones on the Road”, Sayyid Qutb, this Jahiliyyah “is based on the aggression against the rule of God on the Earth, i.e. against the most sublime feature of Divinity, which is Hakimyyiah (rule of God)”. Qutb says: “Our first mission is to change the status quo of society. We must eradicate the Jahiliyyah status from its roots, because it totally conflicts with the real Islamic methodology”.[3]

Probably the first step promoted by Qutb was to be superior and condescending towards the Jahiliyyah society, including its values and perceptions. According to Al-Banna’s saying: “We should not amend our values and perceptions, neither more nor less, to meet with that society in the middle of the road. Absolutely no! We are at crossroads with the Jahiliyyah society. If we make concession in one step, we shall lose the whole methodology, and we shall lose the right path”.[4]

Based on this philosophy, the dream of establishing an Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwani) state has dominated the thought of the group since its inception of as an organization in 1928. It can be said that this dream was born with the group itself, and they expressed it in many ways. One of the most obvious expressions was the logo “Islam Is a Religion and a State”, which was launched and adopted by the group throughout all its various historical stages. They found many justifications for this logo, under the pretext of seeking to restore the “Islamic State” (the Caliphate).

Organizational structure that emulates state institutions

The Brotherhood organizational structure manifests a political group with a pyramidal hierarchy, and the Supreme Guide stands at the top. He controls the process of policy-making and decision-making. He is followed by other leaders and active members, who offer total listening and obedience. This structure guarantees for the Supreme Guide in Egypt and the General Supervisor in other countries to enjoy broad and semi-totalitarian authorities and powers, with a trait of sacredness. It can be said that they have unlimited authority, which enables the Guide to impose a tight grip on policy-making and decision-making inside the group, without any objection from the followers.

The Guidance Bureau performs the tasks of the executive ministry, while the Shura Council plays the role of the Parliament. The Brotherhood branches in various districts play the role of local municipal authorities. The organization’s departments are similar to the state ministries in terms of their tasks and duties. It has special departments for students, laborers, military personnel, politicians and social affairs. Inside the Brotherhood parallel state, one can find a parallel for every institution in a non-Brotherhood state.

When we talk about the Brotherhood’s parallel state, we should point to its methodology that it calls “mastery of the world”. The roots of this methodology go back to the founder of the group Hassan Al-Banna, who said: “We must achieve mastery of the world, the nation-state is a tool and not the end”. The former Brotherhood supreme guide Mehdi Akif also said: “Damn Egypt, Ikhwan are above all”.[5] This phrase by Akif proves beyond doubt that the nation-state is unimportant for Brotherhood when compared with the dream of achieving mastery of the world. Therefore, Brotherhood followers seek to achieve what they believe to be the only legitimate form of society in Islam, which is represented by the cross-border intercontinental Caliphate State.

The Brotherhood parallel state holds a common feature with the normal state, which is the adoption of a pragmatic approach. Resilience and adaptability are key features of Brotherhood activities, and this flexibility enables the group to accept compromises and concessions. For example, they have to accept the government policies and deal with them. The Brotherhood embraces the idea of “Hakimyyiah”, which does not accept the earthly man-made rules, because government should be ruled by the religious creed. Accordingly, the claims of Muslim Brotherhood about adopting rotational democracy, expose their ideological compromise. That ‘pragmatism’ allows them to engage in the political process, but it does not reveal their real target and orientation.

The success of the Brotherhood in  exploiting popular discontentment helped the group to capture power in the elections that followed the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2011. Soon after gain power, the group revealed its totalitarian approach when it excluded other opposition parties from major political decisions. The Brotherhood attempted to monopolize the political process and to impose new balances in the political system. Its efforts to “Ikhawanize the state” by empowering its members in state institutions and ministries remind us of a secret document that was prepared by Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater in 1992.

That document was intended as a comprehensive plan that would guide Muslim Brotherhood members to prepare themselves to undertake administrative and political tasks in future. It takes into consideration the necessity to infiltrate effective institutions, along with a commitment to a defined strategy to deal with issues at the local and foreign arenas. The document also notes the necessity to infiltrate organizations of students, laborers, professionals and businessmen, and engage with and influence impoverished categories of people. This approach makes confronting Brotherhood group more difficult, and it imposes more complicated calculations on the state. Simultaneously, it enhances the Brotherhood’s political prospects and its ability to achieve the “empowerment” of its members on diverse fronts.

The Brotherhood’s attempt to follow this plan and “Ikhawanize the state” after the 2011 revolution ultimately led to the collapse of its rule in Egypt. The Brotherhood government tried to establish a new legitimacy negating the existing government practices that were based on diversity and multiplicity in the policies of employment and awarding of government jobs.

Probably answering the question “Why did the Muslim Brotherhood work hard to form a parallel state in Egypt?” requires more insights from analysts following the political course of the Brotherhood group. It is obvious that its success in Egypt can be traced to the organization’s deep social roots, its ability to mobilize people and to achieve the social progress as a fruit of their charitable and developmental programs.

In conclusion, we can say that political pragmatism, manipulation, providing services for the needy classes, penetrating the society in all its various structures and rallying people under the name of religion resulted in building the parallel Ikhwani state. Therefore, the main challenge for Egypt’s post-Brotherhood phase is to achieve real economic development and serious religious reform while ensuring that the country sustains an atmosphere in which democratic partnerships can thrive.


[1]  Hassan Al-Banna, “Memoirs of the Call and the Preacher” Ikhwan Wikipedia, at the link: https://bit.ly/3eKqqBO

[2]  Aya Samir, MB’s hard lesson since 2011: Blind obedience does not work, Egypt Today, 24 Jan 2018, the link: https://bit.ly/2J1NrED

[3]  Quotes from Sayyid Qutb book, “Milestones on the Road” (Cairo, Wehbeh bookstore, no publishing date mentioned), p. 19.

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Khalid Mohamed Ali, the journalist Saeed Shuaib: The dialogue “Fuck Egypt” exposed Muslim Brotherhood hostility towards the civil state. UAE Today newspaper, (emaratalyoum), July 3, 2020, at the link: https://bit.ly/3mrxtC8

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