Is the Muslim Brotherhood Moderate?

Article excerpt

ROBERT S. LEIKEN, director of the Immigration and National Security Programs at the Nixon Center and author of the forthcoming book Europe's Angry Muslims, and Steven Brooke, a research associate at the Nixon Center, discussed their findings concerning the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Europe at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, DC on April 4.

The gathering was sponsored by the Middle East Institute, in partnership with Busboys and Poets. Leiken and Brooke's analysis of this controversial organization was based on their research for their article "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood," published in this year's March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, .

Brooke opened the discussion by describing the Muslim Brotherhood as the world's oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organization, and noted that the Brotherhood has been condemned by both the West as well as radical groups in the Middle East. "American commentators have called the Muslim Brothers 'radical Islamists' and 'a vital component of the enemy's assault force...deeply hostile of the United States,'" Brooke said. "Al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri sneers at them for 'lur[ing] thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections, instead of into the lines of Jihad.'"

During their research, the two scholars interviewed dozens of members of the Brotherhood from Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They discussed many topics, such as democracy and jihad, their stand on Israel, Iraq, the United States and what type of society they are struggling to achieve.

Leiken and Brooke found that members of the Brotherhood come from various factions with varying approaches, and that many are pursuing moderate routes to obtain their goals.

"U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington's tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood-and the Islamist movement as a whole-as a monolith," Brooke stated. "Policymakers should instead analyze each national and local group independently and seek out those that are open to engagement. In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a noble opportunity."

Since its establishment in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood's main objective has been to bring together religious principles of the Qur'an with anti-imperialism, Brooke said. "At its beginning, the Brotherhood differed from earlier reformers by combining a profoundly Islamic ideology with modern grass-roots political activism," he explained. According to Leiken and his findings, "the Muslim Brotherhood is very conservative, but not radical," Brooke said. "Bin Laden is not political; the Muslim Brotherhood wants power."

Brooke pointed out that many analysts legitimately question whether the Brotherhood will adhere to the principles of democracy or simply use the process as a means to gain power. …