The Muslim Brotherhood: A Party or a Sect?

Since coming to power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has continued to run itself in an esoteric and reclusive fashion, leading many to ask if the group is a sect or a party, Amina Abou Chehab writes.

Topics covered

muslim brotherhood, muslim, egyptian politics, egyptian muslim brotherhood

Apr 21, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood is practicing political and social reclusiveness and embracing a different form of existence in society that resembles that of a “sect.” Although the Brotherhood is getting involved in the political scene in Egypt, its determination to exist as a “cult” contradicts this political integration. After former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fell and the Brotherhood took power, nobody expected this behavior. Yet the Brotherhood remains a political body and a reclusive entity that is separated from society and looks down on others with superiority and secrecy.

Although the Brotherhood is in the public spotlight and at the top of the executive authority, it does not practice politics transparently. Instead it prefers secrecy and implements its agendas in private. This is evidenced by its attempts to infiltrate the Egyptian Ministry of Education. In any country where the Brotherhood is found — be it the UAE, Jordan or Egypt — the Ministry of Education is the first institution that the group seeks to control. This goal preceded the Brotherhood’s rise into power, yet it remains at the top of their agenda today, as can be seen in Egypt.

The Brotherhood is continuing its work via the concept of a “cult society” that does not compromise the group’s privacy and makes every effort to preserve it. Recently, video clips exposing the Brotherhood’s private nature and sect-like behavior were released and shocked everyone. While these videos themselves were not new, they did bring about a new public understanding of the Brotherhood. People have been trying to increase their understanding of the Brotherhood, especially after the veil of “holiness” was lifted.

In one popular video clip, the well-known Brotherhood leader Sobhi Saleh is speaking — with his face wrapped in medical bandages — following an attack that targeted him. Summoning God, he says, “God bless me with the Brotherhood.” The original prayer in Islam consists of a Muslim, when faced with trouble, asking God, “God bless me with Islam.”

This distortion of the prayer stems from the Brotherhood’s feeling that it is a sect within Muslim society. This conclusion is further supported by a video clip that was taken at a Brotherhood social event, during which Saleh was addressing the Brotherhood’s members. He called on them not to marry outside the Brotherhood, even if the woman was religious and veiled. Saleh claimed that marriage outside the Brotherhood was like substituting what is better for what is worse.

Cult groups or sectarian groups that live according to a “ghetto” mentality marry from within their sect, like kin marriage. Saleh’s advice for the Brotherhood members to marry women from the Brotherhood, or his warning against marrying someone outside the Brotherhood, was just an indication of a widespread practice within the Brotherhood all over the world. The marriage of Brothers to fellow women from the Brotherhood is a sign of a cult society. This marriage trend indicates other forms of privacy and difference from society in general, as witnessed in Brotherhood celebrations, funeral gatherings or trips, etc.

The Brotherhood members, men and women alike, are different in every way — from their look, clothing, and manner of speech to their way of thinking and working and their general behavior.

The American classification of the Brotherhood that appears in a report of religious freedoms issued by the US Department of State puts the party in its social and political sect-like framework. Along with Shiites and Bahais in the Mubarak era in Egypt, the Brotherhood is classified as a religious sect. According to the American report, they face religious bias, persecution and deprivation of religious freedom. Hussam Tamman, an Egyptian researcher of political Islam, unleashed a set of questions about the Brotherhood’s consent to the American classification of them as a sect, along with the Shiites of Egypt. He wondered whether they refrained from objecting to this because they are convinced of the description or because it is a reality.

Is their exaggeration in social isolation and their keenness to preserve privacy related to the enduring nature of the group and the continuation of its political role via external support? This question is worthy of being stressed, especially given the emergence of an evolved Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-1950s, following the fierce political conflict with the nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Having been vehemently opposed to Nasserism, external political powers supported the Muslim Brotherhood in this conflict. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed to be the sole followers of Islam and accused the regime of infidelity and atheism.

This religious differentiation, without referring to the political regime and the society as a whole, was used as a tool in the heated political conflict. Today the Muslim Brotherhood believes itself to be the elite of society and a private community amid the general public of Muslims. Their interpretation of this conviction has gone to great lengths, as seen in another video. [In the video] they claimed to be the purest and most virtuous of all, and they say that if it were not for them, the nation would have still been mired in sin. It is a condescending, abstinent interpretation that is strange to Islam and its principles, speech and known fundamental rules.

The mind-set, vision and convictions set out by this group do not fit the regime and the state. This is why the Muslim Brotherhood, as newly proven, has failed politically and has not been able to pass its tests of governance.

The frame of religious sects is narrow and limited. It does not tolerate the creativity, difference and scientific richness of individuals. As such, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood lacks vision and expertise in the political, economic and strategic fields.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a political party that is organized as a sect, yet the party is enclosed within a fixed entity that wields power based on its convictions.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Amina Abou Chehab

Recommended Articles

UAE, Qatar officials meet in Kuwait amid Gulf thaw
Al-Monitor Staff | GCC Relations | Feb 22, 2021
Egypt helps Sudan confront Brotherhood ideology through missionaries
George Mikhail | Armed Militias and Extremist Groups | Feb 21, 2021
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, exiled opposition form united front
A correspondent in Egypt | | Feb 23, 2021
Winners and losers in Libya’s political deal
Mustafa Fetouri | Libya conflict | Feb 12, 2021
Egypt's parliament holds back on Qatar normalization
Alaa Omran | GCC Relations | Feb 17, 2021