Much has been written about the global network of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe, where it has been active for six solid decades. While its presence is no secret, little is known about their back-channel ties to the region and its political elite. The Brotherhood carefully handles those relations via legally established charity groups spread across the UK, Germany and France.
Far from being isolated within their respective European communities, each of these organizations is overtly linked to a specific constituency in the Middle East. For example, the bases in Germany liaise with the Turkish and Syrian MB, while the ones in London work with Iraq and Gaza. Meanwhile, France’s Islamists are linked directly to the main political parties in Algeria and Tunisia. Rarely do these Europe-based groups trespass on each other’s territory. They operate through a clear and structural hierarchy, and their overarching goal is to distribute funds to local affiliates while spreading MB doctrine throughout the Arab World. The following is a breakdown of the various groups across Europe:
Union of Good
Base: United Kingdom Connection: Gaza
The first major group with regional tentacles is Itilaf al-Kheir (Union of Good) — a notorious UK-based organization headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Doha-based spiritual godfather of the Brotherhood. He founded the group after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 with the declared mission of raising funds for Hamas. In November 2008, the United States blacklisted the group.
Union of Good is focused on Gaza and is currently headed by Issam Mustapha — a former member of Hamas’s political bureau who is a good friend of the terrorist group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Mustapha is a frequent visitor to Ankara, where he has been received with red carpets by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and where he works closely with the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. He serves as managing trustee of the British charity fund Interpal, with links to all the major Brotherhood-affiliated groups in the UK.
Union of Good is headed by a 10-man board of trustees — all openly affiliated with Hamas. Mustapha has played an instrumental role in channeling Qatari funds to Gaza, aimed more so at buying arms for Hamas and bankrolling its military activity rather than relieving economic pressure on Gazans.
More recently, Union of Good has been focused on raising funds for Hamas ahead of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Territories, which ought to have happened in 2020 but were delayed, among other things, due to Covid-19.
The group has a wide network in Gaza City and its interlocutors include Jamal al-Tawil — former head of the Islah Organization in Ramallah, his photojournalist daughter Boushra and Abdul Khaleq al-Nashteh — head of the Islamic Charity Organization in Jericho.
The Muslim Association of Britain
Base: United Kingdom Connection: Iraq
Al-Rabita al-Islamiya (The Muslim Association of Britain) is another UK-based front for the MB with strong connections inside Iraq. It was initially established to encourage British Muslims to engage in local politics, but has morphed into a vehicle for MB activity in Baghdad, thanks to its current and former Iraqi chiefs Omar Hamdun and Anas al-Takriti.
Hamdun is a dentist-turned-preacher and political activist, born and raised in the UK. He currently serves as the public face of MAB, but real power remains in the hands of al-Takriti — the founder and president of the Cordoba Foundation accused of being a front for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Al-Takriti’s father, Osama, is head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party in Iraq — a post he assumed from Tarek al-Hashemi. The Takritis, hailing from Saddam Husssein’s hometown of Tikrit, are very well-connected to the political community within Iraq. Meanwhile, Anas is close to his father’s deputy Eyad al-Samerrai — the former speaker of the Iraqi Parliament.
Anas is also closely affiliated to two top Palestinian figures — the London-based academic Azzam al-Tamimi and Hamas chief Mohammad Sawalha. He is also well-connected to the Doha-based Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which he has supported since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
The Takriti connection has stained the work of another UK-based organization, al-Majlis al-Islami (The Muslim Council of Britain), which was set up in 1997, but has since been infiltrated by MAB. It is the largest Muslim organization in the UK, serving as an umbrella for nearly 500 mosques and schools. A 2015 report by the British government accused the Muslim Council of “important connections” to the Brotherhood — an accusation that it has denied.
Islamic Relief Worldwide
Base: United Kingdom Connection: Egypt
The Munazamet al-Igatha al-Islamiya (Islamic Relief Worldwide) is a Birmingham-based organization that was founded in 1984. Its founder, Hani al-Banna, is an Egyptian doctor who brought the organization to Cairo after Mohammad Morsi’s election in 2012, using it as a front to fund MB activities. He denies any relationship to Imam Hassan al-Banna — the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood — but claims that al-Banna is the “spiritual father” of relief work around the world. He is dangerously close to Issam Haddad — a ranking member of the Egyptian Brotherhood who became special assistant to Morsi in 2012-2013 and whose son, Jihad, was a media spokesman for the Brotherhood during its brief stint in government. Both were subsequently arrested on charges of membership in an outlawed organization, inciting violence and connections to Hamas.
Prominent within the Islamic Relief Worldwide is Ahmad Kazem al-Rawi — an Iraqi member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the World Muslims Congress, which is headed by al-Qaradawi.
Finally, there is Ibrahim Munir — a member of the Guidance Council of the Egyptian MB based in Cricklewood, northwest of London. This December he was elected deputy guide of the Egyptian Brotherhood, right from central London.
The Islamic Community of Germany
Base: Munich Connection: Turkey and Syria
In Germany, the MB’s presence dates back to 1960 when Hassan al-Banna’s son-in-law, Said Ramadan, set foot in Munich a few years prior. In addition to the Islamic Center, which he led, there are other affiliated groups like the Organization of the Islamic Assembly, the Central Council for Muslims in Germany and the Munich-based Islamic Community of Germany (ICG).
When Morsi died in 2019, the ICG orchestrated a nationwide prayer in commemoration. The current MB leader in Germany is Ibrahim al-Zayyat. He is married to the niece of Necmettini Erbakan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mentor and is possibly the most important MB figure in Europe. He also happens to be a shareholder in al-Taqwa Bank which, in turn, is believed to have financial ties to al-Qaeda. It was co-founded by his boss and predecessor at the ICG, Ali Ghaleb Himmat — a ranking Syrian member of the MB who arrived in Germany with Said Ramadan back in the 1950s. Al-Taqwa Bank channels all MB funds across Europe and handles the accounts of both Hamas and Osama Bin Laden.
These two Germany-based MB members control a wide network throughout the region. Al-Zayyat, 52, is in-charge of Turkish-MB relations, while Himmat handles Syrian Islamists, with Qatari money, despite his ripe age of 83. He is close to Issam al-Attar, the Aachen-based former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, who although officially retired, remains a monumental figure to Syrian Islamists across the political spectrum. His sister, ironically, is the current vice-president of Syria, while his successor as leader of the Syrian MB community is Akram Mzeik, also a Damascene who is the current secretary-general of the Council of Muslims in Germany.
Within Syria, the MB remains outlawed since the 1960s, but has a significant following in the Syrian northwest, especially in the opposition-held Jabal al-Zawiyeh area in the Idlib province. They are heavily affiliated to the Sham Legion — a powerful militia on the Syrian battlefield whose members were shipped off to Libya last year to fight alongside Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj — a protégé of Erdogan. Much of the money for Syrian activities in Libya is raised through the MB community in Germany, specifically through the above-mentioned organizations.
In January 2019, al-Zayyat met with members of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) at the grand mosque of Cologne, hoping to create a united front for the MB in Europe. Meanwhile, his wife (Erbakan’s niece) and brother-in-law handle Millî Görüş — an Erbakan-inspired political and religious movement dealing with Turks in the diaspora. Fifteen years ago, it claimed a membership base of 87,000 people across Europe, but is now believed to have doubled in number. Members all receive regular stipends, as well as copies of al-Zayyat’s speeches and dictates. Much of that money is raised and transferred via Himmat, then distributed by al-Zayyat.
Musalmans de France
Base: France Connection to the region: Tunisia and Algeria
In recent months, France has been on the world radar’s due to the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country. A recent 244-page report by the French Senate labeled the MB as a “dangerous organization” whose leaders ought to be banned from French territory. It proposes a systematic campaign to combat MB ideology, rather than a simple ban on their activities. That includes banning al-Qardawi literature — including the infamous “The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam” which sells freely in France — and the preaching of jihad and anti-Semitism. The MB in France controls 147 mosques, which is around 10% of mosques in the country, along with 600 associations all tied to the MDF. Until 2017, the group was known as the Union of Islamic Organization in France (UOIF). It only changed its name after the UAE designated it a terrorist organization.
Founded by a group of Arab students back in 1983, it quickly transformed into a Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan group after its Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi components started to fade away, leaving behind one prominent name, Abdullah Bin Mansour — a Tunisian. And since then, it has remained focused mainly on Tunisia and Algeria, with strong ties to the Tunisian Ennahda Party and the Algerian Movement of Society for Peace (commonly known as Hamas). Men like Thami Breze and Ammar Lasfar are former and current presidents of the French Muslim community and both are of Moroccan origin. Lasfar, preacher of the Lille Mosque, was once an adviser to the French government on Muslim affairs back in the late 1980s. Yet unlike the case in the UK and Germany, the MB leadership in France is nowhere near as famous outside its community, composed of mostly mosque preachers like Tarek Oborou (Bordeaux), Izz al-Din Qassi (Lyon) and Hassan Iquioussen (co-founder of Young Muslims in France). Few people outside of France, Algeria and Morocco have heard of its top command.
Many of the big names in the political parties back home receive, or have received, regular support from the MB organizations in France, including Rachid al-Ghanouchi, the current speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, Sheikh Mahfoud Nahnah (founder of the Algerian Hamas) and his two successors, Professor Boughuerra Soltani and the incumbent Abdulrazzaq Makri. In 2014, MDF stood by Hamas’ decision to boycott the Algerian presidential election and subsequent constitutional reforms of 2016. In 2019, it raised funds for Makri’s presidential bid against Abdulaziz Bouteflika, which never happened.