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Investigation on the European networks of the Muslim Brotherhood

17 July 2019 Investigations   13218  

The Muslim Brotherhood has been established in Europe more than 60 years ago. It is the result of three successive generations of activists and preachers. But the European influence of the Brotherhood has increased considerably since the mid-1990s. Thanks, in particular, to the accession to power of the former Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who sealed a strategic alliance with one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s masterminds, the infamous Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi…

By Atmane Tazaghart

The first wave of Muslim Brotherhood activists arrived on the Old Continent in the mid-1950s. These were mainly executives who had fled the repression that struck the Brotherhood in Nasserite Egypt from 1954 onwards.

Thereafter, multiple waves of Muslim Brotherhood refugees swept across Europe, fleeing anti-Brotherhood purges in many Arab countries: Iraq (in 1970), Syria (from 1980), Libya (in 1980, 1990 and 1997), Tunisia (in 1981, 1987 and 1991) and Algeria (from 1992).

But before that, another category of Muslim Brotherhood activists emerged from the 1960s. A younger generation composed of students who have come to pursue their studies in European universities. Some of them arrive in Europe having already been made aware of the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood in their countries of origin. But the overwhelming majority is recruited by the Brotherhood within European universities.

This first generation of students marked a decisive turning point in the process that would lead to the Brotherhood’s long-term establishment in Europe. For about twenty years, it served as a link between the old Brotherhood guard of the 1950s and the young generation of European Islamists, which emerged in the early 1980s, bringing together young people from the second generation of immigrants and converts of European origin.

Indeed, before the arrival of this first generation of Brotherhood students, the tentacles of the Brotherhood in Europe certainly were affiliated to Tanzim al-Dawli, the secret International of the Muslim Brotherhood, but their organisational structures continued to be articulated according to the countries of origin of their members. The preaching circles, open to a wide audience of sympathisers, as well as the indoctrination cells, reserved for activists officially affiliated to the Brotherhood, were structured in the form of channels called “families”: Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi or Maghrebi.

In the early 1960s, this modus operandi, modelled on the Brotherhood’s organisational models in the Arab world, was challenged by the arrival of young Brotherhood students who formed Islamic associations in the European universities they joined. These associations go beyond the divisions linked to their countries of origin.

Student collectives

That is how the Muslim Student Society (MSS) was founded in Great Britain in 1962. In the same year, it launched the first brother-Muslim magazine published in Europe, Sawt al-Ghoraba (The Foreigners’ Voice). The next year, two other Muslim-brother student organisations followed suit: the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FSIS) in London and the Association of Islamic Students in France (AISF) in Paris. Then, the International Union of Muslim Students (IUMS) was created in Brussels in 1964, followed by the International Islamic Federation of Student Organisations (IIFSO), created in 1969 in Aachen, Germany.

Paradoxically, the overwhelming majority of Brotherhood students, who considered themselves as Ghoraba (foreigners) on the European continent, chose to stay there after their studies. Their dreams of returning to the “land of Islam” have been compromised by the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood in most Arab countries.

This is how, a quarter of a century later, the former students of the 1960s, who had to settle permanently in Europe, helped to drive Muslim-brother organisations out of mosques, where their elders were confined, and universities, to which their own activities were previously limited, to conquer all of the Muslim communities in Europe.

In the early 1980s, two youth associations played a pioneering role in this regard: Young Muslims of France (YMF) and Youth Muslims UK (YMUK). They were the first to organise conferences and preaching, in French for the first one, in English for the second one, for young Muslims born in Europe who did not master Arabic.

The activism of these young Brotherhood associations met a growing audience among young Europeans from the second generation of immigrants, attracted by the sirens of the Sahwa Islamiya (Islamic Awakening), which was then in full swing in their parents’ countries of origin.

The Muslim Brotherhood sees this as an opportunity to strengthen their presence in Europe and to extend the influence of Tanzim al-Dawli, the Brotherhood’s secret International, to the different fringes of Muslim communities present on the Old Continent. And it is with this in mind that the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UIOF) was created in 1983. Other organisations of the same type quickly followed suit in several European countries, then joined forces under the aegis of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) in 1989.

Pan-European networks

This is how the embryonic form of the current pan-European network of the Muslim Brotherhood was born (see the mapping of the Muslim Brotherhood’s pan-European organizations, pages 14 and 15). However, it took nearly two decades to bring this project to fruition, through which the Brotherhood extended its secret spider’s web to the entire Continent. Helped in this by two distinct factors: the first is linked to the global phenomenon of economic globalization and the development of digital communication technologies; the second is the result of an alliance formed in the mid-1990s between one of Tanzim al-Dawli’s leading figures, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, and the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, who had then overthrown his father at the head of the gas emirate.

With Qatar’s diplomatic, media and financial support, Youssef al-Qaradawi succeeded in establishing an almost total control by the Muslim Brotherhood over Muslim institutions in Europe. Thanks, in particular, to the highly controversial European Council of Fatwa and Research (see box opposite) as well as a myriad of pan-European associations and organisations, such as the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), the European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW) or the Europe Trust fund (ET) and the European Institute of Human Sciences (EIHS), through which the Muslim Brotherhood increases, year after year, its control over the training of imams in Europe.