ANALYSIS: The Global Muslim Brotherhood: A Transnational Influence Operation


The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch (GMBDW) has been in operation for over 13 years, publishing its first post in June 2007. Before that, the GMBDW editor had been working on the transnational, Islamist network known as the Global Muslim Brotherhood (GMB) since September 12, 2001. The significance of that date is obvious and our interest in the Muslim Brotherhood began in earnest when early on, the US identified the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Al Taqwa Bank as a funder of Al Qaeda. Since that time, the Brotherhood has been mainly viewed through the lens of terrorism, with some claiming that the Brotherhood is directly involved with terrorist acts while others asserting that the Brotherhood is a “conveyor belt” of terrorism through the Islamist ideology which it promotes. While there is some truth in both these claims, there is no evidence that the GMB itself has been involved in the planning or execution of terrorism. That said,  a report published our companion website identified an international umbrella organization that brings under its wings Salafi, Salafi-Jihadi, Global Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas leaders, including US/EU/UN-designated terrorists.  As far as ideology, the GMBDW has seen no serious research demonstrating that Muslim Brotherhood ideology is a “conveyor belt” to terrorism although we cannot help but feel that the constant drumbeat of Muslim Brotherhood claims that the West is engaged in a “war on Islam” is, at the very least, unhelpful.

The above notwithstanding, the major focus of the GMBDW has always been on the GMB networks in the West, and it is in the West that the subject of the GMB has become intolerably polarized, particularly in the US. On the one hand, despite their Islamist/MB/Hamas origins and problematic records with respect to extremism and terrorism,, US Muslim Brotherhood groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) are increasingly treated by the mainstream media and most civil society organizations as the legitimate representatives of the US Muslim Community. (This occurs in the face of polling data demonstrate the exact opposite.) Whereas newspapers such as The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal had in the past covered the subject with investigative flair, there is today a complete absence of any informed discussion of USMB groups in the very same papers. On the other hand, US rightwing extremists operating loosely under the rubric of the “Anti-Shariah” movement have so inflamed sentiments with wildly inaccurate and exaggerated claims about the threat of “Shariah Law” that it is become almost impossible to talk about real threat emanating from Islamist networks without being lumped together with these voices. Nowhere can this polarization be better seen than in the recent example of the late Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by Saudis operatives in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The first view, common in the US media and exemplified by the Washington Post itself where he wrote as a columnist, is that Khashoggi was a shining voice for moderation and reform who wished nothing more than to bring freedom and democracy to the Arab world:

When he began his self-imposed exile to Washington last year, Jamal Khashoggi described himself simply as one “independent journalist using his pen for the good of his country.” With his brutal killing in Turkey this month, the Saudi journalist became much more: the Arab world’s loudest dissenter and an international symbol for the cause of free expression….Ironically, Mr. Khashoggi had never sought to be a disrupter and instead, as a lifelong member of the Saudi political establishment, had been an advocate for modest reform within the system. Refusing to be labeled a “dissident,” he argued simply that his fellow Arabs deserved the “right to speak their minds without fear of imprisonment,”

The opposing view, being pushed by large swathes of the Islamophobic right, is that Khashoggi was an Osama bin Laden supporting terrorist, even being compared to Adolph Hitler. In this example, the writer selectively cites from a BBC report, tellingly ignoring  Khashoggi’s negative comments about bin Laden at the end of the piece:

Media martyr Jamal Khashoggi is being described as a political dissident. Sure. So were Hitler, Khomeini and Osama bin Laden. By no coincidence, Jamal Khashoggi was an old friend of Osama bin Laden. In early 1990 Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia and gave a lecture in which he predicted that Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait. Jamal Khashoggi, who had travelled extensively with Bin Laden in Afghanistan, attended the talk and afterwards asked his old friend how he could be so certain of the future. He recited a verse from the Koran,” recalls Jamal. “The verse means the one who practises jihad for God, for Allah, God will show them the right path. I wasn’t comfortable about it. He had given himself the position of ‘I am seeing things because God is directing me towards it’. That was the first time I felt that Osama began to have an inflated ego.” Jamal lost touch with Bin Laden in the mid-1990s and Khaled in the early 1990s as both completely rejected his ideology. Although it has been many years since either of them saw Bin Laden, both admitted feeling sad at the death of their old friend in a raid by US forces in Pakistan earlier this month. The media spins this as Jamal being a moderate. Only insofar as tactics go. He was a Muslim Brotherhood member and continued backing the Jihadist network.

The truth, as always, and as we wrote in 2018, is far more nuanced and lies between these extremes.

Caught between these extremes, the GMBDW editor has long realized that the most profound and imminent threat of the GMB in the West was not the imposition of “Shariah Law” or sponsorship of operational terrorism within the developed democracies, but rather the presence of a large, well-funded network of organizations and individuals operating non-transparently in ongoing efforts to influence both public policy and Muslim communities in the interest of an Islamist agenda. In this light, the GMB can most usefully be viewed as a non-state, transnational influence operation that is competing within our democracies with various state actors,. This realization dates back to 2014 when we wrote:

The GMBDW will continue to provide open source intelligence on the global Muslim Brotherhood, but until media attention on the subject becomes more common and shifts focus solely from terrorism to the larger question of the role and influence of the global Brotherhood in our societies, its sympathizers and defenders will continue to succeed in diverting attention from important questions of national security as well as social policy.

Based on this realization, we have finally decided that rather than continue to tolerate the ongoing “weaponization” of information provided by the GMBDW in the interests of a rightwing agenda, or seeing the information ignored by their counterparts on the other end of the political spectrum, it is time to put our insight into action. We are in the process of developing a new publication that will place the threat of GMB in the context where it belongs– as one actor in the family of global influence operation that will be henceforth covered by the new publication. As we always have, the new publication will continue to monitor the GMB but in this new context and focusing on instances where the GMB has succeeded or is attempting to gain influence within western democracies. We will also be covering the threat of other influence operations around the world, most notably Russia and China but including other Islamist-dominated states as well such as Turkey under its current leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Even before the launch of the new publication, we will be reorienting the GMBDW fo focus more sharply on instances where the GMB is gaining or attempting to gain influence.

Stay tuned!

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