The journey from the inception of the Muslim Brotherhood to the emergence of contemporary Sunni extremist groups such as Hamas, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, unveils a narrative of ideological evolution that has significantly shaped the modern-day Jihadism.
At the heart of this narrative lies the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, with the initial aim of Islamic moral and social reform. However, the organization soon evolved, acquiring a political face and a paramilitary wing, with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state governed by Sharia law.
The Muslim Brotherhood: Ideological Pivot
Hasan al-Banna’s ambition quickly transcended mere social reform, evolving into a political crusade with a radical ideological stance.
This ideological pivot was further accelerated by the works of ideologues like Sayyid Qutb, whose writings significantly impacted modern jihadist ideologies, providing the philosophical underpinnings for the violent doctrines embraced by Al Qaeda and ISIS. The ideology of the Brotherhood didn’t remain confined within Egypt’s borders but resonated across the Middle East, giving birth to extremist offshoots.
Sayyid Qutb: The Ideological Catalyst
Born in 1906, Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian author, educator, and Islamic theorist, became a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
His early years were relatively unremarkable until a stint in the United States in the late 1940s, where he experienced a cultural shock that profoundly shaped his Islamic fundamentalist views. Upon returning to Egypt, disillusioned with the secular governance and moral values of the West, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood and quickly rose through the ranks to become one of its most influential ideologues.
His seminal work, “Milestones,” marked a significant phase in his ideological evolution. In it, he propounded the idea of Jahiliyya (a state of ignorance), asserting that the Muslim world was in a state of spiritual ignorance and needed a vanguard to return it to a true Islamic state. His radical interpretation of Jihad provided a blueprint for modern-day Jihadists to wage war against those they perceived as enemies of Islam.
Sadat’s Assassination: The Catalyst for Modern Jihadism
Anwar Sadat’s assassination on October 6, 1981, during a military parade by Khalid Islambouli and other members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, marked a watershed moment not only for Egypt but also for the broader Islamic political and extremist movements. The event is often seen as a catalyst that galvanized Islamist movements globally, setting the stage for the rise of modern Jihadism.
Before delving into the post-assassination era, it’s crucial to understand the backdrop against which this event occurred. Sadat, who succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as Egypt’s President, initiated policies of economic liberalization and sought to realign Egypt geopolitically. His signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978, leading to a peace treaty with Israel, was highly controversial among many Arabs and Islamists.
Immediate Aftermath in Egypt
The assassination led to an immediate crackdown on Islamist groups and other political opposition within Egypt. The government arrested thousands, many from the Muslim Brotherhood, even though the Brotherhood had formally renounced violence years before. This crackdown, however, didn’t eradicate the ideologies driving these groups, but rather drove them underground, arguably making them more radical.
Galvanizing Global Jihadist Movements
Sadat’s assassination resonated far beyond Egypt’s borders. It demonstrated the potential of militant Islamism as a force capable of challenging established regimes. The event inspired a generation of jihadists who saw it as a vindication of their cause. The success of the assassins in killing a high-profile target like Sadat emboldened extremist groups across the region.
Amid the First Intifada in 1987, Hamas emerged from the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. Its birth was a reaction to the Israeli occupation and an embodiment of the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology, aiming for an Islamic state in Palestine. The human toll of Hamas’ insurgency has been severe, with countless lives lost in suicide bombings and other violent acts, escalating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Al Qaeda’s ideological roots can be traced back to the Brotherhood, particularly through the teachings of Sayyid Qutb. The Soviet-Afghan war provided the crucible for Al Qaeda’s formation, with key figures like Abdullah Azzam, a Brotherhood member, playing crucial roles. Al Qaeda’s terror campaigns, epitomized by the 9/11 attacks, have left a trail of death and destruction across the globe, embodying the global jihadist aspiration envisioned by Qutb.
ISIS, although critical of the Brotherhood’s political strategies, shares the fundamental goal of establishing an Islamic state. Its brutal reign of terror, marked by genocidal violence, showcased a horrifying realization of the jihadist ideology propagated by the Brotherhood’s early ideologues.
Effect on the Muslim Brotherhood
Although the Muslim Brotherhood had distanced itself from violent activism in previous decades, the crackdown post-assassination forced many of its members to choose between maintaining a non-violent stance and adopting a more radical approach against oppressive regimes. Some factions within the Brotherhood chose the latter, further fragmenting the organization and contributing to the global jihadist ideology.
Impact on Global Jihad
The era post-Sadat’s assassination saw the emergence of a more violent, radical form of Islamism on the global stage. The lessons learned from the event, and the subsequent rise of groups like Al Qaeda and eventually ISIS, showed the extent to which radical Islamists were willing to go to challenge what they saw as apostate regimes. The narrative of martyrdom and the perceived success of violent resistance found in Sadat’s assassination continue to inspire modern jihadist groups.
Legacy of Violence and Extremism
The assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 by an extremist group linked to the Brotherhood marked a significant point, post which terrorism emanating from the Arab world saw a sharp rise. The Global Terrorism Database reported over 170,000 fatalities from terrorist attacks worldwide between 2001 and 2019, with a substantial portion perpetrated by Sunni militants inspired by Brotherhood’s ideology.
The operational dynamics among these extremist groups have showcased both alliances and antagonisms. While instances of cooperation have been observed, like in the Sinai Peninsula, clear ideological and strategic differences also exist, particularly concerning political strategies and global aspirations.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s legacy as an ideological fountainhead continues to shape the narrative of Islamic extremism.
Understanding its historical trajectory, coupled with the enduring influence of ideologues like Sayyid Qutb, provides a clearer insight into the complicated landscape of global terrorism and its ongoing impact on global security.
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