Meeting the Muslim Brotherhood
(Excerpt from The Brotherhood: America’s Next Great Enemy by Erick Stakelbeck)
The alleged leader of Germany’s Muslim Brotherhood punched me.
It was actually more of a playful nudge of my right shoulder, something an old friend might do while busting your chops. Yet I had met Ibrahim el-Zayat only minutes before.
“You should have asked me for some names,” el-Zayat said as we stood in the lobby of a Cologne hotel. “I could have put you in touch with all the right people.”
I had just informed him that I had contacted a few leading Islamist figures in his home base of Cologne and gotten no response. Hence, the nudge and a look of feigned exasperation. How long must I suffer this infidel?
In reality, I wasn’t too upset at the lack of response from Cologne’s Islamists. El-Zayat was the one I really wanted. He’s been called “one of the most influential Islamists in Europe” and “a quintessential New Western [Muslim] Brother.” Likewise, the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a comprehensive intelligence digest, regularly refers to el-Zayat as “the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany.”
Since I was writing a book about the Brotherhood, el-Zayat seemed a good place to start. But in the run-up to our meeting in late June 2012, I had all but given up on interviewing him. For weeks, I had sent el-Zayat emails saying I was coming to Germany and would love to get together. His responses were infrequent and noncommittal. Finally, on my last night in Germany and after a long day of interview shoots, my cell phone rang as I was heading back to my hotel. To my great surprise, it was Ibrahim el-Zayat.
“I can meet you at your hotel in thirty minutes,” he said. “But I can’t stay long.”
My cameraman and I grabbed a quick bite, set up for the interview shoot and waited. And waited. Just when we thought el-Zayat might not show, he came bounding through the hotel’s front entrance. Clad in a smart suit and designer eyeglasses and sporting a wavy, salt-and-pepper mane and neatly trimmed beard, el-Zayat looked more like a European diplomat than “a spider in the web of Islamist organizations,” as one German security official described him.
That alleged web has many strands. El-Zayat, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson, “seemed to have either founded or been closely involved with every recently established Muslim Brotherhood–related group in Europe.” The list includes The Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE)—widely considered the Brotherhood’s lobbying arm on the Old Continent—as well as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi-created group for which el-Zayat acted as European representative. El-Zayat also served for nearly a decade as head of the Islamic Society of Germany (IGD), an organization with longtime ties to top Brotherhood leaders in Germany and abroad.
In short, Ibrahim el-Zayat is an extremely well connected mover and shaker who, despite his youth, has been a major player on Europe’s Islamist scene for years. Born in Germany in 1968 to an Egyptian Muslim father and a German mother who converted to Islam, el-Zayat has spent most of his life in Deutschland but is well traveled and speaks fluent English. After studying law and economics at German universities, he went on to become a successful businessman and marry a doctor (his wife is the niece of famed Turkish Islamist Necmettin Erbakan).
Needless to say, Germany has been very good to el-Zayat. Yet he seemed to have little affinity for his homeland as he spoke to me of Germany’s supposed intolerance for its 4.3 million-strong Muslim community.
“From the Muslim community’s side, it is that you feel not part of the country,” he told me as we sat in a small conference room. “Because many people have the deep understanding that they have done the utmost to be part of Germany, but the society is refusing them…. Germany has a lot of parts now which are no longer multicultural but now monocultural, and this is a challenge for everybody.”
A challenge indeed: particularly for non-Muslims in places like London, Madrid, and Boston who’ve seen Muslim immigrants unleash deadly terror on their cities in recent years.
I’ve visited many of the type of unassimilated, “monocultural” Islamic communities el-Zayat describes and have reported on them extensively. From Berlin to Brussels to suburban Paris to Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim immigrants are segregating themselves from their host societies and setting up Islamic enclaves that are often no-go zones for non-Muslims, including police.
It’s hard to see why a committed Islamist like el-Zayat would frown on this development. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leading global ideologue and Spiritual Guide, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (whom el-Zayat praises effusively), is the driving force behind the Brotherhood’s state-within-a-state strategy for the West. And el-Zayat himself is helping to spearhead the rapid construction of mosques throughout Europe.
A Cologne newspaper featured a profile of el-Zayat describing him as the chief representative of an organization called the European Mosque Construction and Support. In that capacity, el-Zayat reportedly maintains more than six hundred mosques across Europe and helps with the construction and renovation of countless others. According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s own documents, mosques, or “Islamic Centers,” are meant to serve as the “beehives” of the parallel Muslim societies the Brotherhood envisions in Europe and the United States. Coincidence?
When el-Zayat’s involvement in a mosque project becomes known, locals often protest—his reputation as a Muslim Brotherhood–connected figure precedes him. He is well aware of the baggage he carries in the eyes of non-Muslims and shared a simple, very Brotherhood-esque solution in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Ian Johnson:
If a plan to build a mosque is made public, everyone is against it. Mosques must always be built secretly … if it’s not public, you can build any mosque, regardless of who’s behind it. You just have to keep it secret.
This strategy of deception—or taqiyya—has paid big dividends for el-Zayat. It has also attracted the attention of German authorities, who have investigated his business dealings over the years but have yet to indict him on any charges.
Although the government scrutiny and ensuing bad press have forced el-Zayat to keep a lower public profile, once we began our interview, he settled almost immediately into his familiar role of crafty spokesman for the Islamist cause.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi had been declared the victor in Egypt’s presidential election just hours earlier, and el-Zayat was clearly pleased.
“I think it is a big success for Egypt and for the democratic change process that you have Mohammed Morsi now as president,” he crowed.
To hear “Mohammed Morsi” and “democratic change” uttered in the same sentence now sounds absurd, given Egypt’s wholesale descent into Islamist chaos under Morsi’s rule. Of course, to those of us who’ve long warned that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical, anti-American organization that spawned al-Qaeda and Hamas and actively calls for the destruction of Israel, the idea of Morsi as Cairo’s version of Thomas Jefferson has always been not only absurd, but downright dangerous.
Yet at the time of Morsi’s election in 2012, Western media and governments were still enraptured by the so-called Arab Spring (some still are, despite its disastrous results) and had much invested in the notion of a supposedly moderate, pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood taking the reins in Egypt.
Whether el-Zayat assumed I was among this sizable, pro-Brotherhood camp is unclear. Regardless, he plowed ahead with talking points that would leave the average New York Times or BBC journo positively smitten (as if the playful love tap on the shoulder wouldn’t have already done the trick).
“I believe that for many years we had only a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about what is the Muslim Brotherhood,” el-Zayat said. He added, “You had information mainly filtered by governments who have been oppressive … and I think that this should be overcome and I hope that it’s overcome.”
He needn’t have worried. Ever since the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, the Obama administration and its mainstream media minions have been hard at work recasting the Brotherhood as (in el-Zayat’s words) a “reform movement” that is “evolving” and worthy of more than a billion dollars in American taxpayer aid, even given our massive debt.
“I think what is special about the Muslim Brotherhood in the end …,” el-Zayat continued, now clearly hitting his stride. “is what you could describe as a thought which is combining Islam with modern life. And this starts with [Jamal al-Din] al-Afghani and Rashid Rida and it comes to Hassan al-Banna—who had been the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood but who had a completely different stance on things.”
Al-Afghani and Rida were two seminal Islamists who helped inspire al-Banna’s “stance on things” prior to his formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928—a stance that included, as we’ll see shortly, a hatred for the West and Jews and a desire to reestablish the global Islamic caliphate, with an Egypt ruled by sharia law as its centerpiece.
When I pressed el-Zayat on al-Banna’s clear directives for Muslim Brothers to wage armed jihad against non-believers, he didn’t skip a beat.
“The concept of jihad as it has been presented by al-Banna—as the ‘Big Jihad’—is the jihad in us,” el-Zayat calmly explained. “As to fight … against all the bad evil that is within you. This is the real jihad that you have to overcome.”
The hundreds of millions of men, women, and children who have lost their lives to jihad—as in, holy war for Allah, it’s traditional and primary meaning—over the past 1,400 years would likely beg to differ with el-Zayat’s assessment. But the Brotherhood’s good friends on the political Left, most of whom know not a shred of Islamic history and have never picked up a Koran in their lives, simply nod in mindless agreement. After all, this jihad stuff sounds like it would fit in perfectly at their next yoga class.
Polished, eloquent, and charming, el-Zayat would seem the ideal spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its agenda in the unsuspecting West. The only hitch is that he steadfastly denies being a member of the group. In 2007, the MB’s official English-language website, Ikhwanweb, identified him as a Brotherhood member but later retracted the claim and published a denial from el-Zayat. Additionally, when a German parliamentarian said that el-Zayat was “clearly a functionary” of the Brotherhood, he sued her (unsuccessfully).
The Egyptian government under Hosni Mubarak also maintained that el-Zayat belonged to the Brotherhood. In 2008, it convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to ten years in prison on charges of funding the MB in Egypt (the Brotherhood was banned under Mubarak). As you might have suspected, el-Zayat’s conviction was thrown out after the Mubarak regime was toppled, and he received an official pardon from Morsi in July 2012.
Member or not, el-Zayat plays a unique role in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological universe. He’s forged close connections with top global Brotherhood leaders and clearly shares and promotes the movement’s worldview. Still, he, like other MB-connected individuals in the West that I’ve interviewed—some of whom you’ll meet in this book—disavows any sort of formal relationship with the Brotherhood.
Doing so has helped these “New Western Brothers”—as Italian terrorism expert Lorenzo Vidino calls them—largely avoid the stigma that the Muslim Brotherhood carries. Or used to carry. Indeed, the MB’s much-deserved reputation for violence, radicalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing in the Age of Obama. The concept of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer only whispered about at D.C. cocktail parties—it has become the official policy of the United States government.
We’re nearing a point where el-Zayat and his Western cohorts may not even have to bother playing a double game anymore. The Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates are coming to power throughout the Middle East and North Africa, with the full support of Western governments—the Obama administration chief among them. In essence, the Brotherhood, which had moved in the shadows for most of its existence, has suddenly gone mainstream.
When an organization’s members (and “non-members”) become frequent guests at the White House and European Parliament and lead governments that receive billions in Western funding and weaponry, it’s safe to say that any stigma that once existed is out the window. As a result, the day is fast approaching in Europe and the United States when allegations of membership in the Muslim Brotherhood will be greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders by Islamists and Western officials alike.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the granddaddy of them all when it comes to modern-day Islamic terrorist groups, is now considered polite company in Western capitals. In the process, it hasn’t had to change its core beliefs one iota: America as we know it must still be destroyed, Israel must still be wiped from the face of the earth, the global Islamic super-state, or caliphate, must still be reborn and Islamic sharia law must still be imposed upon one and all—whether we want it or not. In other words, the Brothers espouse the same platform today that they did upon their founding nearly a century ago—a fact that seems not to bother President Obama and his foreign policy team in the least.
“Let me know when your report airs,” Ibrahim el-Zayat said as he prepared to depart our interview and move on to yet another appointment. “I look forward to seeing it.”
The wind was at el-Zayat’s back as he bid me farewell and strode off into the warm Cologne night. His side was winning. And he knew it.
(Excerpt from The Brotherhood: America’s Next Great Enemy by Erick Stakelbeck)