Apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood often argue that the organization, with branches in dozens of countries, has no central leadership or hierarchy. They also see a moderating path by the Brothers in recent years, moving away from support for violent jihad and toward acceptance of democratic political systems.
A new study issued by the Hudson Institute shows how those democratic trappings are simply a means to the same end the Brotherhood has always sought. Regardless of their home country, they share "a vision of bringing Islam back to its rightful place … creation of the Islamist state, which will implement sharia; unification of the Muslims; and spreading Islam, a universal religion, all over the world."
The study, by Israel Elad Altman, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy, at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, finds "a rigid commitment to a core of related principles, combined with pragmatism and flexibility as far as the strategy and tactics of achieving those objectives are concerned. There are no clear timetables to reach the goals, and gradual, methodical progress takes priority."
That has led many branches to use democratic politics as a tool, Altman writes, whereas past generations eschewed participation in politics.
No branch has enjoyed greater success from the adjustment than Hamas, created by the Brotherhood during the original Palestinian Intifada in 1987. Now it controls the government in Gaza and remains politically stronger than the secular Fatah movement. However, Altman notes:
"Hamas' winning of elections and becoming the government did little to moderate its principles, and it has not metamorphosed from a violent resistance and opposition movement to a pragmatic ruling political party. The electoral achievements of the Egyptian MB seemed to have imbued its leadership with a new sense of empowerment and reinforced its willingness to challenge the regime but did not make it more moderate."
The study also looks at Brotherhood branches in Syria and Jordan while detailing its ideological evolution.