The Muslim Brotherhood: Breaking Rice Bowls

By J. Millard Burr and Rachel Ehrenfeld*
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 @ 12:29AM

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“Wealth and children are an ornament of life of the world.” Sura 18:47.

Let no one doubt. Within Islam, no censure is assigned to the personal accumulation of wealth.  And no known member of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun) has been condemned for either the pursuit or the accumulation of wealth.

Muslim scholars gathered in Istanbul last week to debate the ‘Caliphate’ declared recently by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), aka IS), the Sunni terrorist group that operates in Iraq and Syria.

Titled “World Islamic Scholars: Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative,” delegates from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries gathered in Istanbul. The meeting was attended by Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and the President of Turkish Religious Affairs (Diyanet) chaired the event.

Erdogan is a known Muslim Brother, and Gul is certainly an Islamist if not a declared Ikhwan. Davutoglu, an emerging member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), has a special interest in the Balkans. He is known for his close association with Mustafa Ceric, a senior member of Europe’s Muslim Brotherhood branch and a participant in the U.K.-based “Radical Middle Way” movement involving numerous Ikhwan scholars.

Within a decade of its creation in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood was split internally by those who felt that the movement was not sufficiently revolutionary and those who sought to follow an evolutionary path to political power.  Indeed, over the years a number of former Muslim Brothers have led terrorist movements, the like of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Egypt’s Gamaa Islamiya, and even Al Qaeda–movements that have initially been shunned by the Muslim Brotherhood.  These groups broke too many rice bowls to be embraced publicly.  And if the Muslim Brotherhood leadership was about anything, it was the creation of personal wealth.

Thus, the ISIL formation of an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ devoted to the recreation of a Salifist state not only threatens the Ikhwan ricebowl, it has first offended Turkey (the last home of the Caliphate).  Most importantly, it threatens the economic well-being of the Middle East itself, and by projection, the Muslim Brotherhood. But when IS stormed the Turkish Consulate in Mosul on June 10, taking all 49 there hostage — including Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz — Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government passed a law that effectively bans all public debate and reporting of the crisis. Reportedly, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has argued that “the Turkish flag must continue to fly.” The IS made the Turkish Consulate its main headquarters, while Erdogan has warned the United States against any airstrikes against IS in Iraq.

The Egyptian Example

With the emergence of an “Arab Spring,” in just a few months the Ikhwan center in Egypt achieved its life-long dream when Ikhwan leader Mohamed Morsi took power in Egypt. The Ikhwan leadership, millionaires all, could look forward to years of plenty, even if Egypt daily became more impoverished.  Only lip service was paid to the Ikhwan al-Muslimun credo that argued that if charity (zakat) was insufficient to meet the needs of the poor, “then the state has the right to compel the wealthy who do not do so willingly to give more to the poor” (Mitchell, Richard P., The Society of the Muslim Brothers, p. 274).

Although the Ikhwan derives much of its strength from the middle class and the professions, Professor Ahmed Karima of Al-Azhar University in Egypt has claimed the Ikhwan has for years been a “movement of millionaires.”  He has stated (without naming names) that the Ikhwan “can count no less than 1,200 millionaires among its members.”

One of those millionaires was Khairat a-Shater, a senior Ikhwan who headed a powerful business empire.  He was reported to have transferred “tens of millions in cash to senior administration officials in Gaza.”  In addition, he has moved funds to the military wing of Hamas — since 1988 the Muslim Brotherhood-wing in the Gaza Strip devoted to the destruction of Israel.  Much of the opposition to Morsi came from the Egyptian “street,” which saw that aid to Hamas in Gaza was occurring while the local populace was in need.  For that matter, Gaza residents pointed out that Ayman Taha, a Hamas founder, was actually a well-paid Egyptian agent.  In 2011 Taha bought a luxury villa in downtown Gaza City for $700,000.

The Gaza Example

Senior Hamas members have generally chosen to bank their funds outside of Gaza. Investments entail great secrecy, and transactions are made through front companies and managed by trusted family members or Ikhwan associates.  Even before Morsi came to power the Hamas Ikhwan were said to partner with Egyptian brothers and invest in Egyptian assets.

Among the notorious Hamas agents is the peripatetic Khaled Mashaal, a Palestinian Ikhwan factotum who has handled Hamas funds while living in such Muslim Brotherhood safe havens as Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait.  Kuwait has always been a convivial Ikhwan safe haven and, importantly, its Ikhwan served as a major conduit for funds collected from wealthy Gulf sheikhs and intended first for the Afghan-Arab jihad, then to the struggle in the Balkans, and now to the war in Syria.

With the expulsion of the Hamas leadership from Jordan in August 1999, Mashaal lived in Qatar before moving to the Syrian capital of Damascus in 2001. In 2012, a Jordanian website reported that Mashaal personally controlled “a massive $2.6 billion, in large part deposited in Qatari and Egyptian banks.” It was further claimed that Hamas assets accumulated over the years were not only deposited in Gulf banks but had been invested in Syria and Dubai. And in Qatar numerous investments are reportedly linked to Mashaal’s wife and daughter.  Another source claimed that Mashaal, using Hamas funds, had invested in real estate in Saudi Arabia.  The same report has it that “Mashaal did not always separate Hamas money and his own.”

In early 2013 it was reported that during a secret meeting held in Cairo, and attended by Hamas Shura Council leaders, Mashaal was reelected the Hamas political leader for the fourth time.

Losses in Syria

Before the war in Syria began, Hamas had worked comfortably from its offices in Damascus. Unwilling to take sides in the Syrian civil war, the wealthy Imad el-Alami, a member of the Hamas politburo, closed the organization’s office in Damascus in February 2012.  The Hamas departure from Syria was a severe financial blow.  In 2011, before the start of the Syrian conflict, Hamas’s assets in the country had reached a value of $550 million.  It is not known how much was lost; but aside from real estate holdings, Hamas invested in various commercial companies, “including a cargo company registered to a Syrian businessman” with ties to Ikhwan member Moussa Abu Marzook, Khaled Mashaal’s deputy.

By early 2013 there were reports that Hamas-funded Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades were training Free Syrian Army troops in eastern Damascus. (Ynet, 04.05.13).  It was also reported that Ikhwan leaders in Gulf states were putting the arm on wealthy Gulf sheikhs to support the Hamas activity directed against Syria’s Assad.

The Clerics

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the 88-year-old Egyptian cleric and preacher, has a rich history of activism in the Muslim Brotherhood. He was imprisoned in Egypt in 1949, again in 1954-1956, and finally in 1961, after which he was forced out of Egypt, though claims he left voluntarily to Qatar where he’s became a popular media figure by dint of a widely popular television show that appeared on Al-Jazeera’s Al-Sharia wal Al-Hayat (Islamic Law and Life).

Born in Egypt 1926, Qaradawi memorized the Quran before he was 10 years old.  He is an expert on principles of Islamic jurisprudence and has published over 100 books.

The U.S. forced the closure of the Ikwhan’s Bank Al Taqwa, following 9/11  (see below), which reportedly cost Qaradawi more than $3 million. However, his services as an advisor and a director of a plethora of Islamic banks has made Qaradawi a very wealthy cleric.

Saudi Arabia

Wealthy Ikhwan who fled from Egypt to the Saudi Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s had a tendency to settle in Jeddah, where many went into business.  The Egyptian educators and clerics found Riyadh, Mecca and Medina more to their liking. They were joined by Palestinian Ikhwan who decided to move to Saudi Arabia after the Six Day War of 1967. The Saudi Royal Family had great need of teachers to advance the primitive system of education, which had long been dominated by Koranic schools. Using their oil money, the Saudi rulers employed Muslim Brothers to alleviate the “Saudi education crisis.”  Thus, from the seminal year of 1954 the Salafist trend in Saudi education grew exponentially thanks to Muslim Brothers who were adept at melding the precepts of their movement with the indigenous Wahabbi inheritance. Egyptian Muslim Brothers were prohibited from organizing politically or openly proselytizing in the Saudi community at large. Nonetheless, it was the Muslim Brotherhood activity in Saudi Arabia that helped set the stage for the Salafist revival throughout the Arabian Peninsula and served to stimulate the proliferation of Islamist movements that emerged in the nineteen-eighties.

The Ikhwan also had a profound effect on activity within and emanating from Saudi mosques. In time, Ikhwan pioneers were responsible for exporting Islamist education and Saudi charity to the Muslim world at large.  The Saudi oil revenues that burgeoned following the end of the Six Day War in 1967 turned the Egyptian Muslim Brothers residing in Saudi Arabia into an integral part of the growth of Islamic banking there and elsewhere.

Of all the Ikhwan, the Egyptians who settled in Saudi Arabia have been the most cautious in their display of affluence. They generously support both Saudi charities and the Ikhwan, but they hide their wealth carefully and abhor publicity. They are especially cautious not to make enemies within the Saudi Royal Family. They have learned to survive.

The Balkans

The history of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Balkans follows in tandem with that of Alija Izetbegovic (1925-2003). Izetbegovic was born in Bosanski Samac, Bosnia, in 1925. He was from a wealthy family, raised in a multi-cultural society and educated at a German school. Still, despite his cosmopolitan background, he become a committed Islamist in his teens. At age fifteen he helped found the Young Muslims (Al-Hiddaya), a politico-religious group based on the Ikhwan al-Muslimun movement of Egypt.  Izetbegovic led the Islamist drive for the independence of Bosnia, and thus the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself. His successor, both within the international Ikhwan community and in Bosnia itself, was Dr. Mustafa Ceric.

Ceric, like Izetbegovic, a Muslim Brother, was accused of diverting Saudi funds sent for charitable purposes during the war in the Balkans.  He served as Chief Mufti of the Bosnian Islamic Community for eighteen years before being replaced in September 2012.  He has spent the last decade attempting to rise to the apex of the Ikhwan operation in Europe through involvement with the Ikhwan-dominated European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), which is  headed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and association with Muslim scholars involved in the UK “Middle Way” movement. He is reported to be both vain and greedy, and is claimed to have skimmed funds from the charitable Bosniak National Foundation.

European reports — backed by U.S. State Department cables — have noted that Ceric is known for “shady business dealings.”  Recently, Bosnian public television reported that Sarajevo Islamic Studies students accused Dr. Ceric of taking possession of a residence valued at $6.6 million that was built by the donations of wealthy Bosnians.

The Brotherhood in Europe

After 9/11, the United States went after the Ikhwan’s Al Taqwa bank, which operated from Switzerland and had branches in Lichtenstein, London and the Bahamas. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian center was fast to deny any ties with the bank and the bank’s director Yusuf Nada, who for many years was a well known member of the Ikhwan. Deputy General Guide Ma’mun al-Hudaybi, emphasized that the Ikhwan had no financial or business relations with Nada although that was patently untrue.  Essam Erean, a physician and leader of the Egyptian Ikhwan’s Shura Council, claimed to have knowledge of the bank only through press accounts.  However, investigations soon proved that Ikhwan members did have accounts with the Al Taqwa bank.

Eventually, the Muslim brother’s Muhammad Mahdi Akef, named General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in March 2004, confirmed that Ikhwan funds had been placed with Bank Al Taqwa operation in the Bahamas, and that Nada had informed investors in 2001 that the Al Taqwa was bankrupt.  As a result, Akef claimed that neither he nor the Ikhwan received any compensation.

Qaradawi wasn’t the only loser of the Al Taqwa bankruptcy. Hamas International Committee, reportedly ordered an audit of its account held at the Bank Al Taqwa’s London office — which was then called “the financial heart of the Islamist apparatus.” Its loss was never announced but must have been substantial.

A Summing Up

The above offers a few examples of Ikhwan profligacy and resiliency.  Whether in Turkey, Cairo, Europe or the United States, it remains an organization with a thirst for wealth. Thus, the emergence of a radical caliphate in Syria and Iraq poses an even greater threat than that of Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s. Though the self-appointed caliph of the newly created Islamic State (IS) in parts of Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,  seems to sport a curious taste for expensive watches, such as Vecheron Constantin’s £73,650 platinum Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time.

Hosting the iftar dinner on July 19, Turkey’s president Gul, told the gathering, “as Muslims we are embarrassed with all that is going on because civil wars are in progress and Muslims are killing Muslims.”

As excepted, the attending Islamic scholars execrated the radical movements and rejected the IS and ‘Caliphate” recently declared by Sunni militants active in Iraq and Syria.  After all, no one in power, least of all the Ikhwan, which has just suffered a major defeat in Egypt and whose Hamas-supporting Erdogan is under political attack in Turkey, wants their world smashed once again, this time by a pack of crazies.

* J. Millard Burr is a Senior Fellow and Rachel Ehrenfeld Director of the American Center for Democracy. 

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, Al Qaeda, Balkans, Economics, Financial Jihad, Hamas, ISIS/IS, Islamic Banking, Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood, Shari'a

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