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What remains of the Muslim Brotherhood?

  • Georges Fahmi

    Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

    زميل مشارك، برنامج الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، تشاتام هاوس

The different leadership factions of the Muslim Brotherhood have been so preoccupied with power struggles that the movement itself has lost its way.

While the Arab Spring offered the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to rise to power in Egypt, it was also the beginning of the organization’s end. The Muslim Brotherhood won the presidential election in June 2012, but failed to manage its relationship with state institutions and other political forces, as well as religious institutions, both Christian and Muslim. These multiple failures paved the way for the military intervention that ended its rule in July 2013. Since being ousted from power, the Muslim Brotherhood has been through radical changes, both in terms of its leadership and membership.

In the post-2013 phase, the group has seen a series of leadership conflicts. The first significant dispute was in 2015 between those who advocated for the use of violence as a means of resistance against the Egyptian regime and those who opposed it. Mohammed Kamal, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau assumed a de facto leadership role in 2014-2015 and implemented a strategy of escalating violent attacks against the security forces, infrastructure, and the economic interests of the regime. However, part of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership rejected this violent approach. These opposing voices were led by Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary-general of the movement, based in Istanbul. In the last couple of years, yet another dispute has erupted regarding who has the right to lead the organization, this time between Hussein and Ibrahim Mounir, the UK-based acting leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. This crisis came to an end as Mounir passed away in November 2022.

Although these disputes among the Muslim Brotherhood leadership can be characterized in different ways, from the debate over the use of violence in 2015 to accusations of corruption in 2021, it all boils down to the issue of control: who controls the organization, its structure and financial resources.  

These leadership disputes have left many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth members disillusioned. Interviews show that most of them have been so disappointed by the different groups competing for leadership and the lack of strategy from the leadership itself, that many have decided to take a step back from the organization. There is a widespread feeling that not only has the leadership lacked vision, but many hold it responsible for the organization’s political defeat. Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood have gone as far as to accuse the leadership of corruption and treason. 

While leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to frame the political environment after 2013 as a struggle between their organization and the military, the popular anger with the Muslim Brotherhood took many of its youth by surprise, leading many of them to question the essence of their political project, and why it so quickly lost the popular support it enjoyed after 2011. When asked about his attitudes towards the use of violence, one member of the Muslim Brotherhood answered: ‘The question was not whether to use violence or not, but the real question was for which goal. We needed to start by first reforming our organization and deciding on our political project.’

This lack of an ideological framework left some of these youth vulnerable to other ideas, such as Salafi-jihadism. While a few of them have joined jihadi groups, the majority remain in search of a new political project.

The different leadership factions have been so preoccupied by fighting for control of the organization that they have paid little attention to the movement itself. This struggle between the different leaders has led to many youth members withdrawing from the organization as it lacks a clear project and direction for them to follow. While many of these youths still seek answers in the writings of influential Muslim Brotherhood figures, such as Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, the lack of a coherent ideological framework after 2013 has damaged their ability to identify with the Muslim Brotherhood. One might describe the case of the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization without a movement, and a movement without an ideological framework, thus causing it to lose its impetus. 

The Muslim Brotherhood as we know it has come to an end. But organizations do not disappear so much as they lose relevancy, as was the case of the Refah party in Turkey and various communist parties in Europe. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood youth are searching for a new political project, a new direction. Whether they find it, and what it might look like, remains to be seen.