Europe warned of Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘divisive,’ ‘dangerous’ influence

Supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood clash in Egypt, where the group is now banned. (AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2020

Europe warned of Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘divisive,’ ‘dangerous’ influence

  • Dr. Lorenzo Vidino’s new book ‘The Closed Circle” sheds light on a secretive organization that ‘even denies it exists’
  • In exclusive interview, he says European governments should not regard the group as representative of Muslims

ROME: European governments should not fall for the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to be seen as the representative of Muslims, says Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, an expert on Islamism in the West.

The Brotherhood is “a problematic entity within the Muslim community” whose influence as “dangerous,” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

Defining the Brotherhood’s role in Europe is “very difficult” because “unlike in the Middle East … there are no groups or individuals that openly identify themselves as (linked to the) Brotherhood in any European countries,” said Vidino, who is director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University and author of the recently published book “The Closed Circle: Joining and Leaving the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.”

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna and has sought to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with charity work. By the late 1940s, the group is estimated to have had 500,000 members in Egypt, and its ideas had spread across the Arab world.

According to Vidino, from the 1960s, individuals and organizations with links to the Brotherhood in the Arab world moved to the West and “created networks throughout Europe that are now fairly independent from the Middle East.”




Dr. Lorenzo Vidino. (Supplied)

They “adopt the ideology of the Brotherhood” but are “for the most part free to choose their tactics and strategies,” said Vidino, whose research has focused on the mobilization dynamics of jihadist networks in the West, and the activities of Brotherhood-inspired organizations.

“These networks have been able to exert an influence that’s much greater than their small numbers.”

They are “highly problematic” because of the impact they have on social cohesion and integration in Europe, said Vidino, who has held positions at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, the US Institute of Peace, RAND Corp. and the Center for Security Studies in Zurich.

“The message they send out, at least internally within the Muslim community, is a very polarizing one. It creates a mindset of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of constant victimhood, which pushes the idea that the West is out to get Muslims and is against Islam,” he told Arab News.

“This obviously creates a very divisive society. It prevents the integration process. It poisons relationships between communities.”

Opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood argue that it has become a breeding ground for terrorists. For instance, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, joined the Brotherhood in the 1960s, when he was 14. In comments to Arab News last year, Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst, said: “One must remember that terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and Daesh drew inspiration from Muslim Brotherhood ideologues.”

In a 2015 paper entitled “The Muslim Brotherhood in the UK,” Dr. Vidino identified three categories of individuals and organizations operating inside the UK who could be regarded as Muslim Brotherhood: “In decreasing degrees of intensity, these are the pure Brothers, Brotherhood affiliates and organisations influenced by the Brotherhood.”

Dr. Vidino added: “Significant attention has been devoted to the activities of members of the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood living in London. This small cluster of a handful of senior leaders and young activists is engaged in media, legal and lobbying efforts aimed at challenging the current Egyptian regime.”

The Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in December 2013, after accusing it of carrying out a series of bomb attacks in Cairo.

With the group pushed underground in Egypt and a number of other Arab countries, many of its members and top supporters found refuge in Turkey and Qatar.

A book published last year by two French investigative reporters, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, claimed to reveal the details of lavish payments made by Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood organizations across Europe. Titled “Qatar Papers - How the State Finances Islam in France and Europe,” the book is reportedly based on official documents and testimonies that shed light on Doha’s extensive funding to promote the Brotherhood’s ideology on the continent.

The book published evidence of cheque and money transfers from Qatar that had been used to underwrite Brotherhood-linked projects around Europe.

Vidino, who has testified before the US Congress and other parliaments and has advised law-enforcement officials worldwide, says the Muslim Brotherhood in the West is “such a secretive organization. It even denies it actually exists.”

“This is why I thought that one of the best ways to get information about it and its structure, on what it thinks and wants, was to interview people who are part of that organization in the West,” he told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

  • 1928 - Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt.
  • 14 - Age at which Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri joined the Brotherhood.
  • 140 - Islamic centers in Germany reportedly funded by Qatar Charity.

While there are “different experiences” among those he interviewed for his book, “all of them were recruited after a very long process. They became part of what they described as a very sophisticated machinery in each country.”

Vidino added: “All of them eventually left for different reasons that had something in common: They all saw internal corruption within the organization and a lack of internal democracy. They all came to see the Brotherhood as deceitful. They saw a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of using religion to pursue purely political goals.”

People who leave the group are “ostracized,” he said. “They lose a lot of their social circles because being a member of the Brotherhood is a fully absorbing experience.”

He added: “It’s obviously difficult for anybody who has devoted 10, 20 years of their life to say that they were wrong, and that the organization and the ideology they devoted their lives to was incorrect. It takes a lot of intellectual courage to do so.”

Some apparently do summon up the requisite intellectual courage. For instance, a recent report in the German news media was part of a cache of leaked confidential documents that shed light on Qatar’s use of its wealth and charities to fund and infiltrate mosques, activate Muslim Brotherhood networks and buy influence across Germany.

The documents reveal that Qatar Charity has used its deep pockets to fund at least 140 mosques and Islamic centers across Germany since it began its campaign — costing an estimated €72 million ($84.69 million). In 2016 alone, the charity spent roughly €5 million on various construction projects in major German cities, including Berlin and Munich.

Not far behind Qatar is Turkey, which has provided various forms of support to the Muslim Brotherhood, including granting asylum to wanted Brotherhood members and equipping them with satellite TV and radio stations. In a recent paper titled “Erdogan’s influence in Europe: A Swedish case study” in The Washington Institute’s Fikra Forum, Magnus Norell, adjunct scholar, wrote: “Turkey’s political leadership appear deeply invested in a number of small European parties that align with Erdogan’s own political vision he is enacting in Turkey.”




Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has provided lots of support to the Muslim Brotherhood. (AFP)

Norell said Erdogan explicitly outlined his policy on Albania TV in June 2017, when he said that there was nothing wrong with supporting political parties in the Balkans and other European countries that shared an ideology similar to that of his Islamist AKP, and that “nobody should be bothered by this effort.”

Referring to its presence in Europe, Vidino describes the Muslim Brotherhood as “a very elite group.” “To them it’s not about big numbers. You don’t simply join. They’re very selective in who they take,” he told Arab News.

“We’re not talking about very big numbers. We’re talking about maybe a few hundred people in a country like Italy, maybe 1,000 in countries like France or Germany. Their power lies in their ability to mobilize other people, to influence a Muslim community, to influence policymaking in the West … They have a keen ability to adapt to the environment.”

Muslim Brotherhood members, he said, want to be viewed by “Western establishments, governments, media and so on as the representatives of Muslim communities and basically to become those who shaped Islam in Italy, in Germany and Sweden, in Belgium and so on.”

In conclusion, Vidino said: “It’s up to the ability of European governments to understand that that they’re not the representatives of the Muslim community, and that they are, if anything, a problematic entity within the Muslim community that influences how important and dangerous they’re going to be.”

 


Battleground states define presidential battle, not popular vote

Updated 14 min 25 sec ago

Battleground states define presidential battle, not popular vote

  • With the strong push by Democrats to increase voter turnout, Biden could win 4 million more votes than Trump
  • Michigan and Ohio are up for grabs and are close – Biden is definitely closer to winning there than in other marginal states

CHICAGO: Everyone in the United States is touting the idea of voting by mail, but I just don’t have confidence in the US postal system.

The election system we use to count votes is already unreliable, and adding the postal service, which is even more unreliable, only raises more concerns.

I’m pretty sure we will be waiting for days and maybe even weeks to figure out who has won the Nov. 3 presidential election, Donald Trump or Joe Biden. And there are many other important races including for US Senate, Congress, and state legislative offices.

But the factors deciding who wins the presidential race may be restricted to only a few American states based on the results of the 2016 election that Trump won over Hillary Clinton. There are seven states were the percentage difference between Trump and Clinton in the 2016 election results were so close that they could easily switch.

Don’t listen to the American polling. The fact is US media polling tends to reflect the “popular vote” which is not how we elect a president.

Polling is great for many issues but not for the American presidential election.

Americans use the “Electoral College Delegate Voting” (ECDV) system, which protects the voice of all 50 American states and Washington DC to play a role in determining who will be president. ECDV gives smaller populated states like Iowa an equal standing with larger populated states like New York.

Hillary Clinton won almost 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 giving her the “popular voter edge,” which clearly was reflected in the polling that misled many into believing she would win the election.

This year, with the strong push by Democrats to increase voter turnout, Biden could win 4 million more votes than Trump, which is also reflected in the current polling. But most of that 4 million voter edge will not directly affect the Electoral College Delegate voting system.

In states that are heavily Democratic such as New York, Illinois and California, I suspect the vote will increase sharply. But increasing the vote in Democratic dominated states won’t change the end result for Joe Biden. Regardless whether Biden wins Illinois by 55 percent, as Hillary did in 2016, or by 75 percent this November as some are projecting, it won’t change the number of Electoral College Delegate votes that Biden will receive from Illinois, which is only 20.

The public is better informed by understanding which states to follow on election night, and not by being lobbied by the biased American mainstream news media, which clearly supports Biden over Trump.

In the ECDV system, the winner needs at least 270 total votes from the 538 votes available in the 51 state and district jurisdictions (which includes 50 states and Washington D.C.).

Hillary Clinton won 20 states and Washington D.C., giving her only 232 delegate votes. She won most of those by strong margins, with the exception of New Hampshire, which was 46.8 percent to Trump’s 46.5 percent, and Minnesota, which was 46.4 percent to Trump’s 44.9 percent.

Trump won 30 states, giving him 306 ECDV. He won most of those states by significant margins with the exception of seven states which are the battleground states that you should monitor on election night and the week that follows.

Trump had 23 states that gave him very strong margins of victory in the south and the middle west. 

There are seven Trump states that are potential swing states. Here is how I break them down.

Four of the states are B-Battleground states and are tougher for Biden to win from Trump because of their voter histories and the spread between Trump and Clinton from 2016. But Biden can take them based on voter activism there and voting histories that have varied widely.

The four are: Ohio (51.3 percent Trump and 43.2 percent Clinton) with 18 ECDV; Iowa, (51.1 percent to 41.7 percent) with 6 ECDV; Wisconsin (47.2 percent to 46.5 percent) with 16 ECDV; and Michigan (47.3 to 47 percent) with 16 ECDV.

There are three states that are A-Battleground states that Trump can’t afford lose, again because of the history of those states and the narrow margins. They are Pennsylvania (48.2 percent to 47.5 percent) with 20 ECDV; Florida (48.6 percent to 47.4 percent) with 29 ECDV; and North Carolina (49.8 percent to 46.2 percent) with 15 ECDV.

If Trump loses any one of those A-Battleground states, it suggests that Biden will probably easily take 3 or all of the 4 B-Battleground states, giving Biden the election.

If Biden takes Ohio and Michigan and one other B-Battleground states, Trump can still win the A-Battleground states yet lose the election. Michigan and Ohio are up for grabs and are close, for sure, and Biden is definitely closer to winning there than in the other states.

Of course, this is just an election roadmap. Who reads maps these days anyway that have all been replaced by electronic navigation systems?