US embassy cable - 01CAIRO3303 (original version)

EGYPT'S MUSLIM BROTHERS - PART I: HISTORY AND STRUCTURE (original version)

Identifier: 01CAIRO3303
Wikileaks: View 01CAIRO3303 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 2001-05-31 09:04:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KISL PGOV PTER EG
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
P 310904Z MAY 01
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1478
INFO ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 003303 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/12/2005 
TAGS: KISL, PGOV, PTER, EG 
SUBJECT: EGYPT'S MUSLIM BROTHERS - PART I: HISTORY AND 
STRUCTURE 
 
REF: A. 2000 CAIRO 2785 
     B. 2000 CAIRO 3178 
 
CLASSIFIED BY A/DCM RICHARD LEBARON FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) AND 
(D). 
 
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SUMMARY 
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1.  (C) THIS IS THE FIRST IN A TWO PART MESSAGE DISCUSSING 
EGYPT'S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD.  PART 1 OUTLINES ITS HISTORY AND 
STRUCTURE, PART 2 OF THE MESSAGE WILL DISCUSS THE BASES FOR 
THE MB'S POPULARITY AS A POLITICAL FORCE IN EGYPT TODAY. 
EGYPT'S (ILLEGAL) MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, FOUNDED IN 1928, IS A 
PART OF THE COUNTRY'S HISTORY AND ITS PRESENT POLITICAL LIFE. 
 THE ORGANIZATION'S HISTORY IS CHECKERED WITH ATTEMPTS TO 
PARTICIPATE IN THE GOVERNMENT AS WELL AS VIOLENT ATTEMPTS TO 
OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT.  THE MB IS THE ORGANIZATION FROM 
WHICH THE VIOLENT ELEMENTS, THE GAMA'A ISLAMIYYA, THE 
EGYPTIAN ISLAMIC JIHAD AND THE VANGUARDS OF CONQUEST 
SPLINTERED. 
 
2.  (C) DESPITE GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS TO STIFLE THEIR POLITICAL 
ASPIRATIONS, 17 MUSLIM BROTHERS WERE ELECTED IN FALL 2000 AS 
INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES TO THE NATIONAL PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY AND 
IN FEBRUARY THEY CAPTURED ONE-THIRD OF THE SEATS ON THE BOARD 
OF EGYPT'S LAWYERS SYNDICATE.  TODAY, THE AGING MB LEADERSHIP 
IS HESITANT TO TURN OVER THE REINS TO YOUNGER MEMBERS, 
CAUSING WHAT SOME VIEW AS AN INTERNAL RIFT.  YOUNGER LEADERS 
ARE THOUGHT TO REPRESENT A MORE CONTEMPORARY AND LIBERAL 
TREND, REFERRED TO AS "DOVES" WHILE THE OLDER LEADERS ARE 
THOUGHT TO BE SOMEWHAT SCLEROTIC "HAWKS."  DUE TO THE SECRET 
NATURE OF THE DELIBERATIONS OF THE MB SHURA (CONSULTATIVE) 
COUNCIL, WE CANNOT PREDICT WHO WILL SUCCEED THE CURRENT AGED 
SUPREME GUIDE MUSTAFA MESHHOUR.  END SUMMARY. 
 
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AN HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE 
----------------------- 
 
3.  (U) THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (MB) IS PART OF EGYPT'S 
HISTORIC AND CURRENT POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.  DESPITE ITS 
ILLEGAL STATUS THE MB IS A SIGNIFICANT FORCE IN CURRENT 
EGYPTIAN POLITICAL LIFE.  FOUNDED BY SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHER 
SHIEKH HASSAN AL BANNA IN ISMAILIA IN 1928, THE ASSOCIATION 
OF MUSLIM BROTHERS WAS THE FIRST WIDE-SCALE, ORGANIZED, 
INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIST MOVEMENT.  SINCE ITS FOUNDING IT HAS 
REMAINED A SEMISECRET ORGANIZATION, WITH A CELLULAR 
ORGANIZATION AND A FOCUS ON ATTRACTING YOUTH.  SOME YOUTH 
GROUPS WERE KNOWN TO BE PARAMILITARY.  THE MB HAS A NETWORK 
OF SOCIAL, EDUCATIONAL AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES AND 
ENTERPRISES.  TITHING ("ZAKAT") OF MEMBERS ALSO HELPS TO 
FINANCE THE ORGANIZATION. 
 
4.  (U) IN ADDITION TO PLAYING A PART IN RESISTING AND 
FINALLY ENDING THE BRITISH OCCUPATION OF EGYPT, IN 1948 THE 
MB DEFINED TWO ORGANIZATIONAL OBJECTIVES: IMPLEMENTING AN 
ISLAMIC SOCIAL SYSTEM AND CONTRIBUTING TO SOCIAL SERVICE IN 
EGYPT.  FOR A PERIOD IN BETWEEN WWII AND CONSOLIDATION OF THE 
MILITARY REGIME IN 1952, KING FAROUQ PERMITTED THE MB TO 
FUNCTION AS A POLITICAL PARTY TO COUNTER THE POWER OF THE 
WAFD PARTY.  IN 1948, MB VOLUNTEERS PARTICIPATED IN THE WAR 
FOR PALESTINE.  UPON THEIR RETURN TO CAIRO, THEY WERE ACCUSED 
OF PLOTTING AGAINST THE MONARCHY WITH THE INTENT OF 
ESTABLISHING A THEOCRATIC REPUBLIC.  PRIME MINISTER MAHMOUD 
EL NOQRASHI STRUCK FIRST, ISSUING A DECREE DISSOLVING THE MB, 
IMPOUNDING ITS ASSETS AND ARRESTING ITS MEMBERS.  TWENTY DAYS 
LATER, A YOUNG MB MEMBER ASSASSINATED NOQRASHI.  IN EARLY 
1949, THE MB SUPREME GUIDE EL BANNA WAS MURDERED, IT WAS 
RUMORED, BY GOVERNMENT AGENTS. 
 
5.  (U) AN INTENSE PERIOD OF UNDERGROUND ACTIVITY FOLLOWED. 
A NEW SUPREME GUIDE, HASAN EL HODEIBY TOOK OVER AS HEAD OF 
THE ORGANIZATION.  IN 1951, THE COURT LIFTED THE BAN AND THE 
MB WAS PERMITTED TO RECOVER SOME OF ITS ASSETS AND RESUME 
OVERT ACTIVITIES AFTER THE WAFD PARTY WON THE ELECTIONS AND 
FORMED A NEW GOVERNMENT.  SHORTLY AFTER THE REVOLUTION, A 
1953 DECREE BANNING POLITICAL PARTIES WAS DEEMED NOT TO APPLY 
TO THE MB ON THE GROUNDS THAT IT WAS NOT A POLITICAL PARTY. 
NONETHELESS, IN 1954, NASSER INVOKED THE DECREE, DISSOLVING 
THE MB, WHICH WAS PLOTTING HIS OVERTHROW AND ROUNDED UP 
THOUSANDS OF MBS.  SIX MB LEADERS WERE TRIED, CONVICTED AND 
EXECUTED; 7 WERE SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON. 
 
6.  (C) IN 1960, MB DISSENTERS, LEAD BY SAYYED QUTUB, OPENLY 
ADVOCATED THE USE OF VIOLENCE TO OVERTHROW NASSER'S "APOSTATE 
REGIME."  ONCE AGAIN, MASSIVE ARRESTS OF MB LEADERS AND 
MEMBERS TOOK PLACE.  AFTER NASSER'S DEATH IN 1970, SADAT 
RELEASED A NUMBER OF JAILED MBS AND THE MAINSTREAM 
ORGANIZATION RENOUNCED VIOLENCE AS A TACTIC.  BOLSTERED BY 
ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH SADAT, THE MB IN 1977 ASKED THE 
ADMINISTRATIVE COURT TO LIFT THE 1954 MILITARY DECREE BANNING 
IT.  THE COURT REFUSED TO OVERTURN THE BAN AND IN 1992 AN 
APPEAL (STILL UNRESOLVED) WAS FILED WITH A HIGHER COURT. 
 
7.  (C) THE MB CARRIED WITH IT TRADITIONS OF IDEALISM AND 
VIOLENCE, PIETY AND TERROR, WHICH HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT TO 
DISENTANGLE AND SEVER.  AS THE ORGANIZATION TRIED TO MODERATE 
ITS POSTURE IN THE 1970'S, MILITANT ISLAMIC FACTIONS 
INCLUDING THE GAMA'A ISLAMIYYA, EGYPTIAN ISLAMIC JIHAD AND 
VANGUARDS OF CONQUEST SPRANG FROM ITS RANKS.  SINCE THE 
ATTACKS UPON TOURISTS IN CAIRO AND LUXOR IN 1997, EXTREMIST 
ISLAMIST GROUPS HAVE BEEN SEVERELY CRIPPLED BY THE SECURITY 
SERVICES AND POPULARLY DISCREDITED.  LUXOR SEEMED TO DEEPEN 
THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE MB AND ITS EXTREMIST OFFSPRING.  AL 
HAYAT REPORTED THAT FOLLOWING THE ATTACK IN LUXOR, THE MB 
LEADERSHIP WARNED ITS MEMBERS TO HAVE NO CONTACT WITH THE 
ATTACKERS WHO HAVE "NO RELIGION AND NO CONSCIENCE." 
 
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THE MB TODAY 
------------ 
 
8.  (C) FOR FIFTY YEARS, SUCCESSIVE EGYPTIAN REGIMES HAVE 
ATTEMPTED TO SUPPRESS OR ELIMINATE THE MB, YET THE MOVEMENT 
SURVIVES.  AN ILLEGAL ORGANIZATION SINCE 1954, MB LEADERS ARE 
PERPETUALLY IN AND OUT OF JAIL AS THE GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS TO 
CONTROL OR SHUT DOWN MB ACTIVITIES, THE MOST OBVIOUS OF WHICH 
CONTINUE TO BE APPLYING AN ISLAMIC SOCIAL SYSTEM AND 
DELIVERING SOCIAL SERVICES.  THEY PARTICIPATED IN THE 
PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY AS SOCIALIST LABOR PARTY MEMBERS IN THE 
1980S.  IN COORDINATION WITH THE SLP, THE MB WON 37 SEATS IN 
THE 1987 LEGISLATURE.  THEIR PROMINENCE CALLED INTO DOUBT 
THEIR COMPETENCE, WITH ONLY DR. ESSAM EL ARIAN RECOGNIZED AS 
A SERIOUS PARLIAMENTARIAN.  THE MB BOYCOTTED THE FOLLOWING 
ELECTIONS UNTIL THE FALL 2000 ELECTIONS.  IN SEPTEMBER 2000, 
DURING A RARE SHOW OF STRENGTH AT THE FUNERAL OF MB SECRETARY 
GENERAL IBRAHIM SHARAF, SUPREME GUIDE MUSTAFA MESHHOUR 
PREDICTED THAT THE MB WOULD ESTABLISH AN ISLAMIC STATE IN 
EGYPT BY THE YEAR 2030. 
 
9.  (C) THE ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM BROTHERS IS HEADED BY A 
SUPREME GUIDE, ASSISTED BY A GENERAL GUIDANCE COUNCIL, 
RESPONSIBLE FOR FORMULATING POLICIES AND RUNNING THE GROUP'S 
ACTIVITIES, AND BY A SHURA OR CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL.  WE KNOW 
LITTLE ABOUT THE DECISION-MAKING BY THE MB LEADERSHIP WHOSE 
MEETINGS ARE CLANDESTINE.  LIKE A NUMBER OF EGYPTIAN 
POLITICAL PARTIES, THE MB IS TODAY HEADED BY ELDERLY 
LEADERSHIP.  THE ORGANIZATION FACES THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING 
WAY FOR THE YOUNGER GENERATION, REPRESENTED BY LEADERS IN 
THEIR 40'S AND EARLY 50'S LIKE DR. ESSAM EL ARIAN AND DR. 
IBRAHIM ZAAFARANI OF THE DOCTORS' SYNDICATE, AND JOURNALIST 
SYNDICATE LEADER SALAH ABDEL MAQSOUD. 
 
10.  (C) THE MB SUPPORTED ABOUT 40 CANDIDATES WHO RAN AS 
INDEPENDENTS IN THE 2000 ELECTIONS FOR THE PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY 
(LOWER HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT).  OF THE 444 ELECTED SEATS, 17 
WENT TO MUSLIM BROTHER INDEPENDENTS.  EIGHTY PERCENT OF THE 
MBS ELECTED ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 45.  THE VAST DIVIDE BETWEEN 
AGED AND YOUTH MEMBERS WAS PERHAPS MOST PRONOUNCED IN 1996 
WHEN YOUNG MB LEADERS JOINED WITH OTHER NON-MB POLITICAL 
CENTRISTS TO SEEK APPROVAL FOR A WASSAT (CENTER) PARTY. 
WASSAT WAS NOT APPROVED BY THE GOVERNMENT'S POLITICAL PARTIES 
COMMITTEE, BUT THE YOUNG MB'S REBELLIOUS ACTIONS LED TO A 
RIFT WITHIN THE MB STRUCTURE.  ACCORDING TO ONE ISLAMIST 
EXPERT, "FOR THE FIRST TIME IN RECOLLECTION, MB LEADERSHIP 
AND ITS CENTRALIZED ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE CAME UNDER FIRE 
FROM RANK AND FILE MEMBERS."  THE PRAGMATIC, DYNAMIC YOUNG 
MBS INCLUDING EL ARIAN, MAQSOUD AND ZAAFARANI, IMPRISONED 
FROM 1995-2000 WERE INCAPABLE OF PULLING THE ORGANIZATION 
BACK FROM THE BRINK OF DISCORD AND DEMORALIZATION.  WASAT 
SYMPATHIZERS REMAIN OUTSIDE THE MB MAINSTREAM TODAY.  THE 
GOVERNMENT'S METHOD OF COPING WITH THE POPULARITY OF YOUNGER 
MB LEADERSHIP CONTINUES TO BE DETENTION, TRIAL, AND 
IMPRISONMENT.  IN NOVEMBER 2000, 15 MBS, MOST OF THEM 
PROFESSIONALS ACTIVE IN THE SYNDICATES AND POTENTIAL 
CANDIDATES FOR THE PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY, WERE SENTENCED TO 3-5 
YEARS IN PRISON FOR MEMBERSHIP IN AN ILLEGAL ORGANIZATION AND 
RELATED CHARGES. 
 
----------------------------------- 
HAWKS AND DOVES -- A GENERATION GAP 
----------------------------------- 
 
11.  (C) MOST LEADERS OF THE MB TODAY APPEAR TO FALL INTO 
EITHER "HAWK" OR "DOVE" CAMPS.  SUPREME GUIDE MESHHOUR 
REPRESENTS THE OLD GUARD, THE MORE "HAWKISH" LEADERSHIP, 
REVOLUTIONARIES REARED DURING THE COLONIAL PERIOD, SOME 
ACCUSED OF VIOLENT ACTS.  TODAY, HE CLAIMS, THE GOVERNMENT 
FEARS THE FACT THAT THE MB IS A "WELL-ORGANIZED ENTITY" 
RATHER THAN AN ADVOCATE OF VIOLENCE.  SOME OBSERVERS BELIEVE 
BOTH THE GENERATION GAP AND THE DIFFERENCE IN VIEWS AND 
TACTICS HAVE BEEN SOURCES OF CONTENTION BETWEEN THE HAWKS AND 
THE DOVES WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION.  ACCORDING TO AL AHRAM 
WRITER OMAYMA ABDEL-LATIF, THE HAWKS INCLUDE MESHHOUR, MB 
SPOKESMAN MAHMOUN EL HODEIBI, ABBAS EL SISSI AND MAHMOUD 
EZZAT IBRAHIM, SOMETIMES MENTIONED AS A POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO 
MESHHOUR.  OTHER HARD LINERS INCLUDE ABDEL MONEIM ABDUL 
FUTUH, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PHYSICIANS' SYNDICATE; 
MOHAMED EL SAYED HABIB, FORMER MP AND PROFESSOR AT ASSIYUT 
UNIVERSITY; AND MOHAMED MAHDI AKEF, FORMER HEAD OF THE 
ISLAMIC CENTER IN MUNICH. 
 
12.  (C)  DR. ESSAM EL ARIAN, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL OF 
THE PHYSICIANS' SYNDICATE REPRESENTS THE YOUNGER, DOVE 
GENERATION OF LEADERS.  ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP ARE SEIF 
EL ISLAM EL BANNA, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE LAWYERS' 
SYNDICATE AND SON OF THE MB FOUNDER;  IBRAHIM EL ZAAFARANI 
SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PHYSICIANS' SYNDICATE IN ALEXANDRIA 
AND SALAH ABDEL MAQSOUD OF THE JOURNALISTS SYNDICATE. 
POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR IMED SHAHEEN BELIEVES THE YOUNGER 
GENERATION HAS A "NEW VISION."  BRED ON THE CAMPUSES, THEY 
ARE "POLITICIANS" RATHER THAN "REVOLUTIONARIES."   ZAAFARANI 
TOLD POLOFF LAST FALL THAT THE MB DOES NOT CONDONE VIOLENCE 
AND HE INDICATED HE WANTED TO OPEN A DIALOGUE WITH THE U.S. 
ESSAM EL ARIAN EXPLAINED TO AL AHRAM IN OCTOBER 2000, "... 
THE BROTHERHOOD WAS NEVER INVOLVED IN ANY ACT OF VIOLENCE 
(NOTE: PRESUMABLY, IN HIS EXPERIENCE)... WHEN (THEY) WERE PUT 
ON TRIAL, THEY WERE NEVER ACCUSED OF USING VIOLENCE... WE ARE 
AGAINST ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE..." 
 
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SECRECY AND SUCCESSION 
---------------------- 
 
13.  (C) ASKED ABOUT CONCRETE PLANS FOR SUCCESSION TO AVOID A 
POWER VACUUM, EL ARIAN TOLD AL AHRAM NEWSPAPER, "ALL MATTERS 
ARE UNDER CONSIDERATION BY THE (MB) SHURA COUNCIL." 
ACCORDING TO STATUTES SET BY ITS FOUNDER IN 1928 AND 
REPORTEDLY AMENDED IN 1992, A CANDIDATE FOR THE POST OF 
SUPREME GUIDE MUST BE FROM THE 120-MEMBER SHURA COUNCIL.  MB 
CHAPTERS OUTSIDE EGYPT WILL ALSO HAVE A SAY IN SELECTING THE 
NEW LEADER, ACCORDING TO ARIAN.  SPECIFICS AND CRITERIA FOR 
CHOOSING A NEW LEADER ARE NOT CLEAR.  MB SPOKESMAN EL HODEIBI 
ADMITTED TO AL AHRAM IN MARCH THAT, "CONVENING THE (SHURA) 
COUNCIL WOULD IN ITSELF LEAD TO ARREST."  THE GOVERNMENT 
CONSIDERS MEMBERSHIP IN THE MB SHURA COUNCIL A CRIMINAL 
MATTER, ACCORDING TO MB SOURCES. 
 
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COMMENT 
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14.  (C) DUE TO THE MB CODE OF SECRECY CONCERNING ITS 
DELIBERATIONS AND PLANS AS WELL AS EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT ANGST 
WITH MB ELECTORAL ACTIVITIES AND RECENT GAINS BOTH IN THE 
PARLIAMENT AND THE LAWYERS' SYNDICATE, MB MEMBERS HAVE BEEN 
HESITANT TO SPEAK WITH EMBASSY OFFICERS ABOUT THE MB.  WE 
HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO ASCERTAIN THE LIKELY SUCCESSOR TO MUSTAFA 
MESHHOUR, NOW 80 YEARS OLD.  GIVEN THE ORGANIZATIONAL 
STRUCTURE AND SPLIT WITHIN THE POLITICAL CAMPS, SELECTION OF 
THE NEXT SUPREME GUIDE WILL LIKELY REPRESENT A STRUGGLE 
BETWEEN THE HAWKS AND THE DOVES.  GIVEN THE UNCERTAINTY ABOUT 
WHO IS ACTUALLY ON THE SHURA COUNCIL, WE CANNOT PREDICT WHICH 
SIDE IS LIKELY TO WIN, ALTHOUGH ACADEMICS FAMILIAR WITH THE 
MB INDICATE MESHHOUR'S SUCCESSOR WILL LIKELY COME FROM THE 
"DOVE" GENERATION. 
 
15.  (C) DESPITE ITS INTERNAL CHALLENGES, THE SPECTER OF 
GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE, AND ARREST OF ITS MEMBERS, THE MB 
ENJOYS A DEGREE OF POLITICAL POPULARITY AMONG EGYPTIANS, 
WHICH WE WILL EXAMINE IN THE SECOND CABLE IN THIS SERIES. 
 
 
KURTZER 

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