The Islamologist Lorenzo Vidino, an eminent specialist on the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, produced, in October 2023, as part of the program on extremism at George Washington University, a report entitled ”Verbatim: What European Security Services Say About the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe”. Exclusive extracts.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe is a controversial topic, frequently subjected to misinterpretations and manipulations. Opinions on it vary from those who argue that it does not exist and that it is bigoted and conspiratorial thinking to argue otherwise, to those who claim that it does and it is, in substance, similar to groups like al Qaeda or the Islamic State; from those who believe that it is a force that has evolved over time and now embraces democracy and the positive integration of Muslims in European society, to those whoargue that it is a complex movement that, while showing a moderate façade, is in reality engaged in non-violent but nonetheless highly problematic activities (a position held by this author).
Much of the confusion stems from the opaque and secretive nature of the Brotherhood and, consequently, thedifficulty of obtaining clear and unequivocal information. As the Brotherhood was founded and operates mostlyin Middle Eastern countries where local regimes have enacted various forms of repression against it, the movement has always seen dissimulation of many aspects of its structure and goals as a necessary tactic to survive. Organizations belonging to the Brotherhood’s family in the Arab world have therefore gone to great lengths to hide various aspects of their inner workings. It is a tactic that, given the context, is understandable and has ensured the movement’s survival in tough political environments for almost a century.
Somewhat counterintuitively, the secrecy that shrouds Brotherhood networks is somewhat greater in the West, where the Brotherhood is not considered a terrorist organization and can generally operate freely within a democratic framework. Brotherhood branches in the Middle East, as said, have historically kept secret many aspects of their activities, but they have never denied their own existence. That denial is common in the West where most Brotherhood-linked activists and organizations not only shroud in secrecy their inner workings but even refuse to admit any Brotherhood connection. Brotherhood activists and sympathizers also tend to attack those who highlight the existence of Brotherhood-linked networks in Europe and their problematic nature with charges of shoddy research, conspiratorial views, and bigotry.
Given these dynamics, it is important to observe what entities across Europe, whose institutional mandate is to monitor potential threats to their countries, think about the movement, from its very existence to its tactics and goals. The Brotherhood is not designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union or by anyindividual European country. At the same time, however, the security services of virtually all European countries have long monitored the movement—a fact that is per se telling.
European security services have kept the movement under watch with different degrees of intensity. Those thathave a broad institutional mandate that leads them to monitor all potential threats to their countries’ democratic and constitutional order, like Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz, both at the federal level and in all 16 German states), have done so more extensively than some of theircounterparts throughout Europe whose mandate is narrower and law enforcement-like. And in each countrythe degree of scrutiny of the Brotherhood varies with time, depending on factors such as the existence of more immediate security threats or input from political decision makers.
Yet, without exception, all European security services adopt a highly negative view of the Muslim Brotherhood on the Continent. All European security services which have publicly expressed views on theMuslim Brotherhood in Europe over the last twenty years have clearly and consistently stated that:
These views have been expressed in various terms by European security services, and some have reachedmore pessimistic conclusions than others. But all those that have gone on the record over the last two decades about the movement have been extremely negative and concerned about its impact on European society.
This short report has collected all publicly available statements from annual and occasional reports, testimonies in parliamentary hearings, and formal statements in court cases from the various European security services that have addressed the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. They include all the statements the author could find, with no selections or omissions, save for repetitions (as in the case of annual reports from German security services, which in substance repeat what was reported in previousyears). All documents are publicly available and unclassified. All are herewith reported with references (so that the reader can read the context) and without commentary. The report does not include media interviews by representatives of security services, as they do not constitute a direct representation of their views and manipulation/misinterpretations might have occurred.
The assessments here reported come from the security services of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, theNetherlands, Spain and Sweden. The author is not aware of any security service from any other European country having gone on the record on the matter. The main reason for this is arguably the varying levels of comfort of different security services when it comes to going on the record on any matter unless strictlynecessary. In general, for example, the security services of most Southern and Eastern European countriesare culturally less prone to revealing much of their views on any matter than their Central and Northern European counterparts. Moreover, issues related to Islamism in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular do not constitute a major issue in Eastern European countries, given their small Muslim population.
In substance, the security services of basically all the largest Western European countries (with the notableexception of Italy) have gone on the records expressing very negative views on the Muslim Brotherhood. Theauthor is not aware of any European security service having stated anything that even slightly contradicts the assessments on the Brotherhood made by the services of the seven countries here mentioned. To thecontrary, interviews conducted by the author with most European security services over the last twenty yearsconfirm that even those that have not gone on the record (Italian security services, for example) adopt extremely negative views of the Brotherhood, in line with those that do appear on record.
The inevitable conclusion of this reading is that the European security community has reached a firmconsensus over the presence, structure, tactics, aims, and ultimately, problematic nature of the MuslimBrotherhood in Europe. That consensus has been consistent over the last twenty years and has no knowndeviations, and this consensus should be the basis for well-informed policymaking on the subject.
‘‘A totalitarian ideology contrary to the Western conception of coexistence and equality
Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung (BVT), Austria’s intelligence agency, opinion in a 2016 court case:
The Muslim Brotherhood is not institutionalized under this name in Austria; however, it characterizes the public depiction of Islam through its intellectual and personal strength. The Muslim Brotherhood does not maintain membership registers; its members are kept secret in all countries to protect them from being identified by the authorities.
The political system aimed for [by the Muslim Brotherhood] is reminiscent of a totalitarian system, which guarantees neither the sovereignty of people nor the principles of freedom and equality. Such a fundamental position is incompatible with the legal and social norms of the Republic of Austria.
The Liga Kultur Verein für multikulturellen Brückenbau in Graz is an association of theMuslim Brotherhood, in which it is allowed to spread only their ideology, which in its core contradicts the Western democratic understanding of coexistence, equality of men and women, the political order and the fundamental principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Austria.1
Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung (BVT), 2018 annual report:
[The Muslim Brotherhood in Austria is] a network of associations and front organizations aswell as, in its inner core, a hierarchically structured organization. Due to its perception of Islam as holistic system of society, it is school of life, cultural association, social idea and economic enterprise in one.
In the past, there have been occasional individual cases of Salafi and Jihadi radicalization out of the environment of the Austrian Muslim Brotherhood.2
1- Landesverwaltungsgericht Steiermark. Cases LVwG 70.8-3597/2015-34, LVwG 41.8-37/2016-34 and LVwG 41.8- 39/2016-34, Graz. September 9, 2016.
2- Bundesministerium für Inneres. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2018, page 16. Retrieved from: https://www.bvt.gv.at/401/files/Verfassungsschutzbericht2018.pdf.
“An extremist movement contrary to the proper functioning of society and the constitutional order”
– Sûreté de l’État, Belgium’s intelligence agency, 2002 report to the Belgian Parliament:
The State Security [Sûreté de l’État] has been following the activities of the InternationalistMuslim Brothers in Belgium since 1982. The Internationalist Muslim Brothers have possessed a clandestine structure in Belgium for more than 20 years. The identity of the members is secret; they operate in the greatest discretion. They seek to spread theirideology within Belgium’s Muslim community and they aim in particular at young, second and third generation immigrants. In Belgium as in other European countries, they seek totake control of sport, religious and social associations, and they seek to establish themselves as privileged interlocutors of national and even European authorities in order tomanage Islamic affairs. The Muslim Brothers estimate that national authorities willincreasingly rely on the representatives of the Islamic community for the management of Islam. Within this framework, they try to impose the designation of people influenced by their ideology in representative bodies. In order to do so they were very active in theelectoral process for the members of the body for the management of Islam [in Belgium].Another aspect of this strategy is to cause or maintain tensions in which they consider that a Muslim or a Muslim organization is victim of Western values, hence the affair over the Muslim headscarf in public schools.1
– Sûreté de l’État. 2020 annual report:
In Belgium, the ‘International Muslim Brotherhood’ is represented by an organisation called La Ligue des Musulmans de Belgique (LMB, the League of Belgian Muslims), whichreportedly has only around 50 members and around 100 supporters or sympathisers. Belgium is also home to the Council of European Muslims (CEM, formerly the FIOE), a European umbrella organisation that represents the interests of the Muslim Brotherhoodwith the European institutions. In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has organised a wide range of free activities, mainly in Brussels. These include launching new schemes inthe field of education and training (for primary and secondary schools), setting up specific sections for young adults and students. They have their own scouting movement and other social activities for children.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its often highly-qualified members are found in many non-profitorganisations and other groups in all areas of society. This makes it more influential and important than one would expect from its limited membership. The Muslim Brotherhood respects democratic rules and the law, and pursues supposedly legitimate goals in the short term.However, the discourse, beliefs and vision adopted internally in the longer term are contrary tothe proper functioning of the constitutional order and democracy. To the State SecurityService, the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist movement.2
1- Sénat et Chambre des Représentants de Belgique, Rapport d’activité 2001 du Comité permanent de contrôle des services de renseignements et de sécurité (Comité R). Session of July 19, 2002.
2- Veiligheid van de staat súreté de l´etat. Annual Report 2020. Retrieved from: https://vsse.be/sites/default/files/1- ra2020-ukt-l-single.pdf.
‘‘AN ELITE WHO WORKS SO THAT THE COUNTRY WILL BE GOVERNED BY THE LAW OF GOD NOT BY THAT OF MEN’’
– Testimony of Lucile Rolland, head of the Service Central du Renseignement Territorial (SCRT), before theparliamentary commission on the October 3, 2019 terrorist attack at the Paris Préfecture de police:
There is a big difference between Salafists and Brotherhood, even though they are all fundamentalists.
The Salafists believe that you can only live your religion in a normal way by being cut off from impious society: they want a real separation from secular French society. There is no centralized organization among the Salafists: they are more like Protestants, if I may say so. They are much more decentralized than the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafists invest inthe educational sphere to try to spread their belief, but they do not have heavy funding. They do not create places themselves: rather, they try to infiltrate them, take them over and impose the way they live their religion. Finally, they completely reject the electoral process. For them, the mere fact of participating in elections is impious: it would mean that we recognize a kind of superiority in the law of man over that of God.
The Brotherhood is somewhat the opposite: it is an elite wishing to completely irrigate society by entering public life, even politics. Gathered within a national federation, theMusulmans de France, they clearly want to take power through the ballot box. The linkbetween the two is therefore a fundamentalist vision of religion, although the way ofexpressing it is not the same: the goal is to make one day that the country in which they arelocated is governed by the law of God and not by the law of men.1
1- Assemblée nationale. Compte rendu: Commission d’enquête chargée de faire la lumière sur les dysfonctionnements ayant conduit aux attaques commises à la prefecture de police de Paris le jeudi 3 octobre 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dyn/15/comptes-rendus/ceprefpol/l15ceprefpol1920014_compte-rendu.
“A missionary activity which constitutes the breeding ground for further radicalization”
– Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, 2005 report:
These ‘legalistic’ Islamist groups represent an especial threat to the internal cohesion of our society. Among other things, their wide range of Islamist-oriented educational and support activities, especially for children and adolescents from immigrant families, are used topromote the creation and proliferation of an Islamist milieu in Germany. These endeavoursrun counter to the efforts undertaken by the federal administration and the Länder [states] tointegrate immigrants. There is the risk that such milieus could also form the breeding ground for further radicalization.1
– Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution), Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany’s most populous state, 2018 annual report:
The relatively small number of sympathizers [of the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany] must not obscure the fact that some of them have considerable influence. They can usually boast an academic education, are employed in well- paid and responsible occupations and well-connected both in Germany and internationally. By their own understanding, the MuslimBrotherhood represents an “Islam of the Middle,” which separates itself from the two polesof Jihadism on the one hand and a liberal, on the other hand, Western Islam adapted to Western ideals. Their goal is an Islamist society in which political interests are ultimately regulated according to the religion. For this purpose, a strategy of “Islamization from below”is pursued, which first addresses the individual and aims at a change of consciousnesstowards a lifestyle shaped by religion. The individuals trained in this way should then work their way into society and make sure that in the long term it approaches the religious understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood.2
In the long run, the threat posed by legalistic Islamism to the liberal democratic system is greater than that of jihadism, which will always outnumber numerically. They aspire to an Islamist order, but are prepared to allow certain democratic elements within that framework. For this reason, their extremism is often barely recognizable at first glance.
– Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) Baden-Württemberg, 2022 annual report:
The covert form of organization of the so-called “usra” Cells (Arabic: “Family”) is the actual MB structure behind official club structures, also in Europe and Germany. The Egyptian MB built the “usra” system in the 1950s in order to avoid state prosecution. In this way, despite the ban, it grew in individual, formally independent cells. It is characteristic of these cells that they share little but have influential interfaces. At a higher level, this strategy is mirrored in a Europe-wide network of mosques and associations and institutes reflected under individual designations to convey the impression of mutual independence and Muslim diversity.
Europe initially served the MB only as a retreat against state repression in Egypt. The European MB structures now comprise a close-knit network from superordinate umbrella organizations, various national front organizations (often several per country), student and youth associations, thematically specialized institutions and supposedly independent mosques and clubs.3
– The Verfassungsschutz Baden-Württemberg also stated:
The “Council of European Muslims” (CEM), until 2020 “Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe” (FIOE), and based in Brussels, is considered the European umbrella organization for MB-related structures. Its first and long- standing president, Ahmed AL-RAWI from the UK, even spoke publicly of a “common view of things” and a “good, close relationship” with the Egyptian MB.
The “Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations” (FEMYSO) in Brussels is the umbrella organization for the youth work of the MB, and acts as a broad pool of young talent for the European MB in close cooperation with the national Muslim student and youth associations. However, most of the members of such organizations are probably not aware of the personal links of the organization with the MB.4
The German federal security services and those of other major Länder like Bavaria and NorthRhine Westphalia also call FIOE “the umbrella organization for Muslim Brotherhood organizations in Europe” in several of their annual reports.5
Similarly, German federal security services and those of other major Länder consistently refer to DMG (DeutscheMuslimische Gemeinschaft e.V., German Muslim Community), a key member of FIOE, as aMuslim Brotherhood entity. This assessment has been made yearly in the BfV’s annual report. Its latest (2022) iteration states:
The “Deutsche Muslimische Gemeinschaft e.V.” (DMG) is part of the global network of the“Muslim Brotherhood” (MB). Essential activities of the DMG and its affiliated organizations are missionary, youth and educational work, which are based on the ideology of the MB. For example, so-called Koran camps are organized. In addition, through its public relations work, DMG tries to establish itself as the central point of contact for Muslim issues in Germany with regard to politics and society.6
1- Bundesministerium des Innern. Bundesverfassungsschutz 2005, page 190. Retrieved from: https://publikationen.uni-tuebingen.de/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10900/63244/Verfassungsschutzbericht_2005_de.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
2- Verfassungsschutzbericht, Nordrhein-Westfalen. Ministerium für Inneres, Digitalisierung und Migration, 2018.
3- Baden-Württemberg. Verfassungsschutzbericht. Retrieved from: https://www.verfassungsschutz-bw.de/site/pbs-bw- lfv-root/get/documents_E- 418404874/IV.Dachmandant/LfV_Datenquelle_neu/Publikationen/Jahresberichte/Verfassungsschutzbericht%20Baden-W%C3%BCrttemberg%202022.pdf.
5- Bundesministerium des Innern. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2007, page 193.; Bayerisches Staatsministerium des Innern, fürSport und Integration. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2019, page 43.; Verfassungsschutzbericht, Nordrhein- Westfalen, Ministerium für Inneres, Digitalisierung und Migration, 2018, page 252.
6- Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz. Islamismus und islamistischer Terrorismus. Retrieved from: https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/DE/verfassungsschutz/der-bericht/vsb-islamismus-und-islamistischer-terrorismus/2022-vsb-islamismus-und-islamistischer-terrorismus-artikel.html#doc1529326bodyText9.
“An influence that paves the way for a more important role for ultra-orthodox Islam in the West”
– AIVD, the Netherlands’ intelligence agency, The radical dawa in transition, The Rise of Islamic Neoradicalism in the Netherlands, report, 2007:
Not all Muslim Brothers or their sympathisers are recognisable as such. They do not always reveal their religious loyalties and ultra-orthodox agenda to outsiders. Apparently co-operative and moderate in their attitude to Western society, they certainly have no violent intent. But they are trying to pave the way for ultra- orthodox Islam to play a greater role in the Western world by exercising religious influence over Muslim immigrant communities and by forging good relations with relevant opinion leaders: politicians, civil servants, mainstream social organisations, non-Islamic clerics, academics, journalists and so on. Thispolicy of engagement has been more noticeable in recent years, and might possibly herald a certain liberalisation of the movement’s ideas. It presents itself as a widely supported advocate and legitimate representative of the Islamic community. But the ultimate aim – although never stated openly – is to create, then implant and expand, an ultra-orthodox Muslim bloc inside Western Europe.1
– AIVD report to the Dutch Parliament, 2011:
The Muslim Brotherhood in the Netherlands “currently does not pose a direct threat to the democratic legalorder or the national security of our country.”2 At the same time, the AIVD argued that the “Brotherhood can eventually pose a risk to the democratic legal order in the Netherlands” because of four overlapping reasons:
Moreover, the AIVD stated that FIOE “can be seen as the umbrella organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. The FIOE has a guiding role within the European Muslim Brotherhood and determines the central policy, which is implemented locally by national federations.”
1- General Intelligence and Security Service. The radical dawa in transition, The Rise of Islamic Neoradicalism in the Netherlands. AIVD, October 2007. Retrieved from: https://english.aivd.nl/publications/publications/2007/10/09/the- radical-dawa-in-transition.
2- Algemene Inlichtingen-en Veiligheidsdienst, Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties. Geen directe dreiging vanuit Moslimbroederschap in Nederland. April 12, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.aivd.nl/actueel/nieuws/2011/04/12/geen-directe-dreiging-vanuit-moslimbroederschap-in-nederland.
3- Parlementaire Monitor. Brief regering; “Conclusies onderzoek Moslimbroederschap in Nederland – Grondrechten in een pluriforme samenleving.” May 26, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.parlementairemonitor.nl/9353000/1/j9vvij5epmj1ey0/vipncvj8czzn.
“A doctrine which aims to establish a caliphate governed by Islamic Sharia”
– Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (National Intelligence Center, CNI), opinion in a 2020 court case denying citizenship to an alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood:
J. is active member of the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, a politically inclined organization very influential within the Islamic world and which has a broad international structure. The doctrine spread by the Muslim Brotherhood movement is based on a radical interpretation of the Qoran, with the goal of establishing a caliphate governed by Islamic law (sharia). The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to establish in Western countries a “personal status of the Muslim”, working in the social, educational, economic and politicalfields to achieve this goal.1
– Comisaria General de Información, 2019 criminal case:
In the West, the actions of the Muslim Brothers present a common modus operandi in each host country:
They present an image of integration and moderation.
Their leaders do not usually publicly admit membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Their leaders manage to become representatives of the main organizations of Islamic communities in the host country.
In the political sphere they try to influence state decision-making that affects the Muslim community of the host country and to make the most of the legal and economic resources offered by the states, creating associative and service networks with the help of public resources.
In the educational field, it is a priority to influence the religious formation of young Muslims settled in their host country.
In the social sphere, they win over the Muslim community settled in their host country bycarrying out welfare and educational activities. They indoctrinate in the idea that Muslimsare victims of Western values and Islamophobic attitudes which generates cohesion in the Islamic community.
In the economic sphere, they create financial structures that comply with Quranic norms,and fundraising is carried out for the operation of the Brotherhood, among its sources of financing is Zakat or alms— network of Islamic NGOs linked to the Brotherhood and profitsobtained from money laundering in the business networks of its members.
The propaganda scope of its work and ideology is another of its greatest priorities, with the use of media, editorials, online communication.
Throughout the 1980s, organizations affiliated with the Brotherhood emerged in European countries, which sought to control Muslim communities and present themselves as the legitimate representative of Islam before the secular power of the European State.
In this sense, in Europe it should be noted the role played by the Federation of IslamicOrganizations in Europe (FOIE, whose acronym in English is FIOE), which is formed as an umbrella of organizations dominated by the Muslim Brothers in Europe that have been financed from countries of the Persian Gulf.
FIOE has expanded to a multitude of countries in the European environment where it hastaken a great role, creating various institutions. In some of these countries it has beenobserved that it has strong links with Hamas and with other organizations that have supported Hamas, and in some institutions that are part of FIOE links with Al Qaeda have been detected.
In the case of Spain, the Islamic League for Dialogue and Coexistence in Spain (LIDCOE), which shares the ideology of the Muslim Brothers, and especially its Syrian branch, is the only entity integrated into FOIE.
…..[The Muslim Brotherhood] has a great capacity for adaptation and survival and despite officially declaring itself against the use of violence, it has resorted to it in various ways.
…..These same networks of the Brotherhood in the West are used to implement the strictest interpretation of Islam in the Muslim community of the host countries….2
1- Cited in Audiencia Nacional, Second Section, proceeding 0000756/2020.
2- Comisaria General de Información. Unidad Central de Información Exterior. June 19, 2019.
“A strategy based on segregation and enclavization of the Western world”
– Säkerhetspolisen, Sweden’s security services, 2022 report:
Since 2018, Säkerhetspolisen no longer assesses the MB as a terrorist organization. This is because the organization’s goal, a worldwide caliphate built on sharia, is not primarily to be achieved with the use of force. Nevertheless, the goal is incompatible with Swedish fundamental freedoms and rights. In addition, the organization’s strategy in the Western world is based on segregation and enclavization. According to MB ideology, Muslims should not be assimilated into Western culture.
[Sweden-based activist] Chakib Benmakhlouf was first deputy chairman and then chairmanfor two terms of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) until 2014. FIOE has been named by the MB as its European branch. During his time as chairman, Chakib Benmakhlouf allegedly received instructions from the MB in Egypt regarding howcooperation with the Egyptian part of the Brotherhood would take place.
The goal of the MB is a global caliphate built on Sharia law, and for that goal, according to al Qaradawi, lies can be necessary. In line with this, Chakib Benmakhlouf has made a series of statements which, according to the Säkerhetspolisen, confirm that he hasembraced al Qaradawi’s ideology. With the quotes “we do not want to draw attention to the fact that we are Islamizing the West, because it does not favor our purposes” and “Islam will dominate and enter every home”, Benmakhloufs has also linked to the long-term nature ofthe strategy.
Under Chakib Benmakhlouf’s leadership, FIOE used 20-year plans for how the organization would act in Europe. In accordance with al Qaradawi’s ideology, Chakib Benmakhlouf believes that it is not appropriate to distinguish between individuals and society, politics andreligion. With the words “Islam is an indivisible whole; religion, politics, confession, worship, action, ethics and other” Benmakhlouf addressed any doubts regarding how FIOE stood towards individual freedom and democracy.1
1- Säkerhetspolisen. Report on the Muslim Brotherhood in Sweden. March 28, 2022