The Beginning: How Britain begat the Brotherhood
Jamal Eddine al-Afghani: In 1885, an Iranian proposed the idea of a British-led pan-Islamic alliance among Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Afghanistan against czarist Russia. It was the era of the Great Game, the long-running geopolitical struggle between Britain and Russia for control of Central Asia. The biggest land grab in history was under way in Africa and the Middle East. And the British, masters of manipulating tribal, ethnic and religious affiliations, expert at setting minorities at one another’s throats for the greater good of the British Empire, were intrigued with the idea of fostering a spirit of Islamic revivalism – if it could serve their purpose.
That man was Jamal Eddine al-Afghani, the founder of pan-Islamism. Were we to construct a genealogy of right-wing Islamism, it would read like this: Afghani (1838-1897) begat Mohammed Abduh (1849-1905), an Egyptian Islamist activist who was Afghani’s chief disciple and who helped spread Afghani’s message. Abduh begat Mohammed Rashid Rida (1865-1935), a Syrian disciple of Abduh’s, who moved to Egypt and founded a magazine, The Lighthouse, to advocate Abduh’s idea in support of a system of Islamic republics. Rashid Rida begat Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), who learned Islamism from Rashid Rida, and who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, or MB, in Egypt in 1928.
Banna begat many offspring, including his son-in-law, Said Ramadan, the MB’s international organizer, whose headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Also Abul-Ala Mawdudi, the founder of the Islamic Group in Pakistan, the first Islamic political party. Banna’s other heirs set up branches of the Brotherhood in every Muslim state, in Europe, and in the US.
In the half century between 1875 and 1925, the building blocks for the Islamic right were cemented in place by the British Empire. Abduh, Afghani’s chief disciple, founded, with the help of London’s proconsul in Egypt, Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer), the salafiyya movement that still exists today. Abduh attached himself more firmly to the British rulers in Egypt and created the cornerstone of the MB, which dominated the Islamic right throughout the 20th century. From the 1920’s on the new Saudi state of Ibn Saud merged its Wahhabi thought with the Salafiyya, now organized into the MB, – the resurgence of Islam was under way.
It was Afghani who started it all. Born in 1838, Jamal Eddine adopted the name “al Afghani” to hide his Iranian birth. Afghani left Afghanistan for India in 1869, where he was feted by the British rulers. Under British patronage he next went to Egypt, then Turkey, which expelled him because of his weird ideas of Islam. Expelled from Egypt in 1879 by the nationalists, he went to Iran where he served as Prime Minister, and in between he made many trips to the two key Rothschild centers – London and Paris. He died in 1879.
A British and French Freemason and a professed atheist, Afghani spent his entire adult life as an agent of British Intelligence, fomenting “Islamic “insurrection where they suited British goals. At points in his fascinating career, he served as Minister of War and Prime Minister of Iran, before leading an insurrection against the Shah. In Sudan, following the Mahdi-led nationalist revolt and the murder of Gordon, Afghani organized an “Islamic” counterrevolution in support of a restoration of British colonial rule.
He adopted the name “al-Afghani” to conceal his Persian birth, to better serve his British handlers in the regions where he operated. Whenever Afghani ran out of cash, he made a bee-line for London, where he was always provided with funding, a publishing house, and other amenities.
Afghanis leading disciple and fellow British agent was Mihammed Abduh. The Egyptian-born Abduh founded the Salafiyya movement, under the patronage of the British proconsul of Egypt, Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer).
Abduh joined Afghani at the age of 22. A pious boy, he was mesmerized by Afghani and became his right-hand man. Between 1871 and 1879, the two men worked together. They organized not only in Egypt, but throughout the region, and built a diverse collection of followers around Cairo’s Al Azhar University. In 1888, Abduh openly cast his lot with Lord Cromer in Egypt. Finally, in 1889, two years after Afghani’s death, Cromer appointed him as mufti of Egypt.
Experimental religions – Sufism, mysticisim, Freemasonry – Abduh was open to it all. Both Afghani and Abduh’s ideas never gained much traction amongst the Muslim masses and the Ulema, as their ideas and practices of Islam were repulsive to most.
With the consolidation of his power in the Arabian Peninsula, Ibn Saud set out to establish himself as the king of Islam. By the late 1920s, his military arm, the Ikhwan, was restless, as their job had been done. They resented Ibn Saud’s monarchy. They clashed, and by 1929, Ibn Saud had dismantled the Ikhwan, and placed them into the Saudi armed forces. The King created a religious police, staffed by the Ikhwan. For the British, the emergence of Saudi Arabia as a state, gave London a foothold at the very heart of Islam. London valued Ibn Saud’s armed forces more than the mystic-theological currents advanced by Afghani and Abduh.
The creation of the Saudi state by the British gave the Islamic right a base out of which it would operate for decades. Yet Wahhabis for all its power, was still a religious and not a political force. Missing was a mass-based Islamic political force that could hold its own against the new century’s most attractive anti-imperial ideas, communism and nationalism. Yet the seeds planted by Afghani and Abduh were about to sprout. Watered and carefully tended by British Intelligence, a new Islamic force was about to rise. For the first time, a true grassroot Islamic fundamentalist party would begin in a city on the Suez Canal: Ismailiya, Egypt.
Abduh ,in turn, begat Mohammed Rashid Rida, a Syrian who migrated to Egypt to become Abduh’s leading disciple. Rida founded the organization, the Society of Propoganda and Guidance that would be the immediate precursor to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The MB was the direct outgrowth of the pan-Islamic movement of Afghani and Abduh. The transmission belt for the influence was Rashid Rida, who had been an avid follower of The Indissoluble Bond, Afghani’s and Abduh’s weekly. Rida arrived in Egypt in 1897, from Tripoli, Lebanon. In Cairo, he sought out Abduh, and soon was his right-hand man. Since Abduh’s patron was Lord Cromer, Rida also came under British patronage.
Prominent Egyptian sheiks and other religious leaders formed what came to be known as the “Lighthouse Party”, made up of followers of Abduh and Rida. They collected around Al Azhar, and included various leaders of mystical Sufi brotherhoods, and Egyptian Freemasons. In opposition to the nationalists, they formed a political party called the Peoples Party. This party openly supported the British occupation of Egypt, and opposed the Egyptian nationalists. Rashid Rida’s chief acolyte was Hassan al-Banna.
Banna was the graduate of Rida’s Institute of Propaganda and Guidance. During World War 2, the MB functioned as a de-facto branch of the British military. In 1942, the Brotherhood created the “Secret Apparatus”, an underground paramilitary organization that specialized in assassinations and espionage.
The Muslim Brotherhood Begins:
In 1928, with a grant from the Suez Canal Company (under firm Rothschild control), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was established. Initially based on the 2nd floor of the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company, in Ismailiya, it helped Banna build a mosque in Ismailiya that would serve as its headquarters and base of operations.
For the next 25 years, British diplomats, the intelligence service MI6, and Cairo’s pro-British King Farouq would use the MB as a hammer against Egypt’s nationalists and later against President Nasser. In the late 1990s, it would be used against President Mubarak of Egypt as well.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance and legacy ofBanna. The 21st Century WOT is a war against the offspring of Banna and his Brothers. They show up everywhere. The political program of the early MB was simple. Banna insisted that Muslims should return to the simple days that prevailed during the era of the Prophet Muhammed (Pbuh), rejecting modern scholarly interpretations of Islamic law and what he saw as the Westernised impurity of thought that had started to beguile the Muslim youth.
In 1932, Banna moved to Cairo and established the MB for the next 20 years, until the 1952 revolution. The MB’s chief rival between 1915 and 1945 was the nationalist Wafd Party, The Wafd’s main aim was to throw the British out, and let the country be run by its own people.
Without doubt, the vast majority of the members of the MB were zealously dedicated to the creation of an Islamic government, and they were militantly opposed to foreign control. Yet the leadership of the MB played politics at the highest levels, with the palace and the British. But there seems little doubt that while some leaders of the organization were sincere, others were double-dealers and agents for the British.
The MB existed in a kind of political netherworld. Its overt branch and its political stars hobnobbed with kings and generals, while its covert branch engaged in dirty tricks and assassinations. As long as the MB violence was aimed at the enemies of the king and the British, it managed to operate with impunity. The MB had an ace-in-the-hole, namely the political support and money it received from the Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi establishment. The British, with 2 centuries of deep involvement in religious and tribal politics, were well aware of the power of Islam.
Banna& the Mufti:
The Arab-Jewish war of 1948 strengthened the MB immensely. It was a chaotic moment in the Middle East, as a new Jewish nation established itself in Palestine. The war, the defeat of Arab armies by paramilitary Jewish units, and the creation of Israel forever changed the political dynamics of the region. It spurred political Islam in many ways.
The war also bolstered ties between the MB and another key British-sponsored Muslim operative, the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Their connection went back to 1935. The MB grew by leaps and bounds in the late 1940s. Said Ramadan, Banna’s son-in-law, opened branches in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. In 1946, the Mufti and the MB jointly organized a paramilitary force in Palestine called the Rescuers, with upto 10,000 men under arms.
The 1948 Palestine crisis fatally undermined King Farouq’s regime, and the palace began to crack down on the MB. Finally, in December 1948, the Egyptian government outlawed the MB, and weeks later, a MB assassin murdered Prime Minister Nuqrashi. Two months later, in January 1949, Banna was shot to death by Egyptian security agents. Banna’s death provided an exclamation point for the end of the first era of the MB, and the beginning of another. The new leader who succeeded Banna was Hassan Ismail Hudaybi. Fifty years later, Hudaybi’s son would also serve as the MB’s spiritual guide.
Thanks to Said Ramadan, the MB were extending their range and influence worldwide. And thanks to the Cold War, the MB would draw energy from the global crusade against communism. Its combination of elite insider politics and underground violent militancy marked the true start of what we now call “political Islam.”
After the wreckage of World War 2 the United States would make its first, tentative steps into the Middle East. The region, with its vast reserves of oil, would become a key battleground between the US, Russia, and the Arab nationalists. When the US began its fight against the Arab nationalists, and the communists, the US would reach out to the Islamic right. The Muslim Brotherhood was waiting.
Nasser & the Muslim Brotherhood:
In 1952, a group of military officers overthrew King Farouq. Nasser was the leader of this group. They were nationalists, and wanted to throw the British out of Egypt. London re-activated the MB to kill Nasser. In 1954, Nasser survived the first of many assassination attempts against his life. The British-controlled MB tried in many ways to destabilize Egypt and Nasser, but failed. In 1956, the Rothschild countries of Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt.
Washington was very unhappy about this. After applying tremendous financial pressure, including freezing bank accounts, an economic embargo, and finally an oil blockade, did the Rothschild’s concede defeat. The US game-plan was to drive the British completely out of the Middle East, so that the US would have uncontested control of the region’s oil.
The newly-born CIA made contact with Said Ramadan, and even invited him to a White House meeting with then President Eisenhower.
Mossadeq& the Muslim Brotherhood:
While Nasser was battling London, another nationalist leader was doing the same in Iran. Mohammed Mossadeq was the Prime Minister of Iran, and he was highly popular in that he was fighting BP’s unjust royalty system. He demanded a more equitable division of profits and royalties. When this was not forthcoming, Iran nationalized BP’s holdings in Iran.
At this time, the Rothschild’s owned 100% of Iran’s oil. In desperation, London turned to Washington for help. In an operation code-named “Operation Ajax”, both the CIA and MI6, worked together and toppled Mossadeq from office. A great part of help came from the Mullah’s and Ayatollah’s amongst Iran’s clergy.
Chief of these was Kashani, working as a fully paid agent of these two intelligence agencies. In 1945, Kashani helped found the unofficial branch of the MB, the Devotees of Islam, led by a radical mullah named NavabSafavi. This entity targeted all those who were for the nationalization of BP’s Iran oil holdings . Kashani was Khomeini’s godfather.
The Shah of Iran’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlevi, zeroed in on the British role :” Many influential clergymen formed alliances with the British. There was a standing joke in Iran that said if you picked up a clergyman’s beard, you would see the words “Made in England” stamped on the other side.”
So, between 1954 and 1956, the British used the Muslim Brotherhood to target all those who opposed British interests in both Egypt and Iran. We now move onto the next phase of the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it came under the control of the newly-created CIA.