Egyptian weekly Al Ahram has published an analysis of the economic history of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The introduction to the piece provides the background for the analysis:

The recent confrontation between the regime and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood (MB) once again sees the spotlight focussed on the financial practices of the largest and most powerful Islamic group in Egypt. In April 2008 40 MB leaders were convicted by military courts in an obvious attempt to break the financial backbone of the group. The government liquidated several MB-run companies and imprisoned successful MB businessmen including Khairat El-Shater, the second deputy of the MB general guide, and his business partner Hassan Malek. In the case known as the “international organisation”, which started in June 2009, the government seems to be targetting MB economic power once again. Prosecutors have indicted several MB-affiliated businessmen, charging them with money laundering and receiving funds from abroad to finance the outlawed group. The escalation in the economic confrontation poses several questions. What is the nature of the MB’s economic activities? What is the financial history of the MB? And where is the dividing line between what the MB owns and what its members own?

Following a history of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s economic activities, not reprinted here, the Al-Ahram piece provides an analysis of the current state of the Brotherhood’s economic power, making the important point that the wealth of the Brotherhood’s members is often conflated with the finances of the Brotherhood using the example of the Al-Taqwa Bank:

It is hard to estimate the real economic power of the MB. The legal ban on the group makes it difficult to know the size of its membership. Also, businessmen may not want to reveal the extent of their affiliation with the group. It is also common for outsiders to confuse the money available to the group with the wealth of its members, hence the tendency to exaggerate the MB’s financial power. Since the 1950s the MB has lost most of its assets, except minor ones related to Islamic schools and publishing houses (Dar Al-Daawa and Al-Madina Al-Monawara schools in Alexandria and the Islamic Distribution and Publishing House and Al-Radwan schools in Cairo). MB members are also known to invest in publishing and education, but the assets involved are private, not MB-owned. One can therefore say that the actual economic assets owned by the MB are limited and confined to cultural activities. These assets, of course, are subject to state confiscation at any time. As a group the MB has no substantial assets and most of the economic institutions that have been subject to security and legal action of late are owned by MB members, some of whom have leading posts within the group, such as El-Shater, Hassan Malek, Sanaa Youssef Nada and Ghaleb Hemmat. We have no proof that the assets in question are actually owned by the MB or that the individuals in question are acting as a façade for the group. Still, these assets add to the power of the group, if only for the simple reason that MB members are required to give the MB a certain percentage of their income, thought to be around eight per cent. Businessmen are also known to make voluntary donations to the group and to fund specific activities. The MB encourages its members to invest in areas that help the group’s activities. But this doesn’t make the group the owner of the assets in question. Take, for example, Bank Al-Taqwa. The bank was a private project owned largely by MB members, though the MB itself had no assets in the bank. The MB was instrumental, however, in setting up the project, for it supports this type of banking on principle. If people tend to confuse assets owned by the MB with assets owned by its members, there is a reason. It is common for MB businessmen to market their products as if they were affiliated with the MB. With a lot of purchasing power in the hands of Islamist sympathisers, this is a profitable business ploy. But businessmen may also take this approach as a precaution against market fluctuations, or even political vicissitudes. Should things go wrong they can always blame the state.

Youssef Nada and his partner Ghaleb Ali Himmat, identified above, are best known for their role in establishing the infamous and now-defunct Al Taqwa Bank located “offshore” in the Bahamas. Numerous Muslim Brotherhood luminaries held shares in the bank, including the bank’s Sharia supervisor Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi and his family, which was supposed to conduct business in accord with Islamic principles. The bank was closed in 2000 after what Nada said were unforeseen developments related to the Asian financial crisis and a run on the bank caused by unfavorable publicity generated by accusations that the bank was funding Hamas. No documentation of the bank’s activities has ever been produced and Nada has refused to hand over the bank records which he said were moved to Saudi Arabia. Unconfirmed intelligence exists suggesting that Al Taqwa zakat funds, described above as “voluntary donations”, were used to support a variety of Brotherhood causes. Prosecution of Nada and Al Taqwa has also been dropped in Switzerland and Italy recently but Nada, Himmat, Nasreddin, and Al Taqwa remain on the U.S. and other lists of designated terrorists.

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