Hassan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (left) and Ayatollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran (right).

By Track Persia

June 15, 2019

Senior Muslim Brothers have relatively been silent about the growing tension between the United States and Iran. They also seem to have refrained from denouncing the threats posed by Iran and its proxies to regional security and about the sectarian and ideological conflicts that Iran has caused.

On its part, the Iranian regime has criticised the Trump administration plan to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. In May 2, at a conference in Doha, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said:  “the United State is not in position to (…) start naming others as terror organisations and we reject any attempt by the United State in this regard,” adding: “the US is supporting the biggest terrorist in the region, that is Israel.”

The Trump administration is working on designating the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organisation, which might lead to sanctions against the oldest Islamist movement.

Why the Brotherhood and Iran adopt such positions towards each other. Perhaps close relations between both parties is the main reason. In this case, Iran opposes plans by the Trump administration to designate Brotherhood a terrorist organisation and the Muslim Brothers are turning favour by keeping silent on Iran’s aggressive behaviour.

However, a few senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood did show they sided with Iran. For instance, speaking from a Turkey-based Brotherhood channel Mekameleen, Osama Rushdi in May accused Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, excluding Iran, Turkey and Qatar, of inciting war in the region.

Since the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the leaders of the Iranian theocracy have repeatedly shown affinity for the Muslim Brothers in the region, in particular, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. The recognition that Iranian leaders show to the Brotherhood and their desire to maintain close relations with their members is attributed to the common interests both parties share, despite adopting different ideological notions, given Iran’s theocracy adopts revolutionary Shiite Islam, while Muslim Brothers follow radical Sunni Islam.

The relationship between the Iranian theocracy and the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1930s of the 20th century, i.e. decades before the success of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution led by Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It started when Khomeini visited Cairo in 1938 and met with the Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and his colleagues. The visit was even before the rise of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt.

Indeed, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran was an admirer of Sayid Qutb, a prominent intellectual and a founding thinker of Brotherhood, who was later imprisoned and executed in 1966 for his extremist thoughts.  Khomeini’s successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was not different from his predecessor, he even ordered that Qutb’s works be translated from Arabic into Farsi.

Decades later and after the success of Khomeini’s revolution in Iran and the establishment to the Islamic Republic in Iran, the Muslim Brothers further enhanced their relations with the new Shiite theocracy, taking advantage of the considerable freedom they were enjoying under the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was in 1981 assassinated by extremist Islamists. Later the Muslim Brothers started to send several delegations to Tehran to discuss their common objectives, namely advocating for a rule based on political expedient of Islam and authoritarianism. These visits resulted in opening a branch of the Brotherhood in Tehran approved by Khomeini himself.

The Islamic Republic is not only a role model for Egypt’s Muslim Brothers but also for other branches of Muslim Brothers outside Egypt, such as Fathi Yakan in Lebanon and Rached Ghannouchi in Tunisia, currently the leader of the powerful Ennahda party.

The historical relationship between the theocracy and the Muslim Brothers reached its highest level when the Arab Spring uprisings broke out in 2011. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hailed the uprisings by calling them an Islamic awakening, describing them as a continuation of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

When in June 2012, Muhammad Moris, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party and close to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, became the country’s president after deposing Mubarak’s regime, the Iranian regime was the first to applaud that. Morsi paid a visit to Tehran two months later, it was the first visit by an Egyptian president since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 – Iran had frozen relations with Egypt for signing the peace treaty alone with Israel under President Sadat.  The Islamic Republic reciprocated the visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad six months later.

The Iranian regime was the first to condemn Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013. Hossein Amir-Abdulahian, Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs said: “We do not consider the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation,” condemning what he called “the brutalities” practised against the Muslim  Brothers in Egypt. That prompted the Egyptian authorities to call in the Iranian ambassador Mojtaba Amani in Egypt in January 2014 to raise their rejection of Abdulahian’s statement.

One of the charges brought against the Muslim Brothers in Egypt after the removal of Morsi was they cooperated with Tehran and that Morsi was planning to establish a military apparatus in Egypt similar to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to an  Egyptian MP Tamer al-Shahawi, IRGC officers visited Egypt several times in the first half of 2013 to offer training to militants in the Muslim Brotherhood and to form military force directly linked to Morsi.

An Egyptian court formed to look into assets of the disbanded Muslim Brotherhood organisation revealed in January 2016 that Iran had promised Morsi to deposit $10 billion at the Central Bank of Egypt and to supply Egypt with petroleum products.

However, the Syrian war has been a turning point in the relations between the Iranian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, excluding its branches in Turkey and Hamas. Some of the Muslim Brothers have shown support to Syrian opposition groups against the dictatorship of the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, Iran’s close ally. This setback in the relationship between the two parties might fuel further sectarian polarisation between the Sunnis and the Shia in the region.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.