Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “religiopolitical organization founded in 1928 at Ismailia, Egypt, by Hassan al-Banna.” It is important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood was born precisely when fascism and Nazism were taking off in Europe. Scholars from both Egypt and the West have found similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood and the authoritarian European ideologies of this era.
In particular, the Muslim Brotherhood’s social and economic policies were similar to fascist ones. Furthermore, al-Banna sympathized with both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Since the 1960s, some scholars have even argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is inspired more by nationalism and socialism, less by Islam. Manfred Halpern’s iconic book, The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa, argues that the Muslim Brotherhood embraced totalitarianism and rejected modernism.
The MB totalitarian vision
The Muslim Brotherhood’s totalitarian vision was inspired by Islam. It saw modernity and individuality threatening. The organization championed tradition and belonging to a community instead. This community was of pious Egyptian Muslims who would live in an egalitarian society. Traditional Islam, not multiparty democracy, was to act as a guide for the future. This future would only be born after a struggle. As in the case of fascists, violence was a legitimate tool in the Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle. Like all totalitarian ideologies, the Muslim Brotherhood pledged allegiance to al-Banna, its sole leader, and treated his vision as absolute.
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The Muslim Brotherhood’s conception of gender roles was remarkably similar to the Nazis. They encouraged marriage and large families. Women were meant to be mothers and men to be fathers. In this traditional view, men were breadwinners for the family while women were the nurturers of future generations. For this socially conservative organization, promotion of family values was a key goal. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood argued for closing down cabarets and dance halls, and censoring plays, films and novels. The organization also suggested improvements in song lyrics to make them more virtuous.
Antisemitism within the Muslim Brotherhood
Just like the Nazi Party, the Muslim Brotherhood too shared an intense hatred for Jews. For example, Sayyid Qutb, the ideological father of the Muslim Brotherhood, espoused his antisemitism in many of his major works such as the book, Milestones. The book is still considered to be a foundational text for Islamist groups. According to Qutb, the world is divided between the realm of God (Islam) and the realm of Satan (Jews). In Milestones, he writes: “[The Jews’] aim is clearly shown by the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion]. The Jews are behind materialism, animal sexuality, the destruction of the family and the dissolution of society.”
In 1938, seven years before Israel was established, the Muslim Brotherhood led violent demonstrations against Egypt’s Jewish community. That same year, they organized the Parliamentary Conference for the Arab and Muslim Countries in Cairo, where they distributed Arabic translations of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In his book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, Jeffrey Herf explores the Nazi Party’s brief but intense efforts to gain support amongst Muslims in the Middle East. He details the prominent role played by Haj Amin al-Husseini, then the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1937, Al-Husseini fled Palestine, evading arrest by the British for instigating the riots that became known as the Arab Revolt. The Grand Mufti had recruited armed militias to attack Jews but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.
By 1941, al-Husseini established himself in Nazi Germany and Italy. During the war, he collaborated with the Germans in their efforts to recruit Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen-SS. In 1945, the Grand Mufti was taken into custody by French troops but he escaped and settled in Cairo where he was welcomed with praise. The Muslim Brotherhood’s issued a statement to Al Misri that is still telling: “One hair of the Mufti’s is worth more than the Jews of the whole… should one hair of the Mufti’s be touched, every Jew in the world would be killed without mercy.”
That the Muslim Brotherhood was, and still to this day, inspired by fascism is a history that needs to be examined in greater detail. The Muslim Brotherhood has been able to establish itself as a moral, social and political force because of the guiding influence of the authoritarian ideologies that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. By studying the Muslim Brotherhood’s conception and development, we may come to better understand how such ideologies transcended the borders of Europe.
[Naveed Ahsan edited this article.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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