Islam Divided Between Salafi-jihad and the Ikhwan

by Marc Lynch

Institute for Middle East Studies, Department of Political Science and Elliott School of International Affairs; George Washington University; Washington, DC, USA

The Muslim Brotherhood poses a unique challenge to efforts to combat Al Qaeda and like-minded groups. It is one of the key sources of Islamist thought and political activism, and plays a significant role in shaping the political and cultural environment in an Islamist direction. At the same time, it opposes Al Qaeda for ideological, organizational, and political reasons and represents one of the major challenges to the salafi-jihadist movement globally. This dual nature of the Muslim Brotherhood has long posed a difficult challenge to efforts to combat violent extremism. Does its non-violent Islamism represent a solution, by capturing Islamists within a relatively moderate organization and stopping their further radicalization (a “firewall”), or is it part of the problem, a “conveyor belt” towards extremism? This article surveys the differences between the two approaches, including their views of an Islamic state, democracy, violence, and takfir, and the significant escalation of those tensions in recent years. It concludes that the MB should be allowed to wage its battles against extremist challengers, but should not be misunderstood as a liberal organization or supported in a short-term convergence of interests.

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