On the Record

The Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East

Shadi Hamid

In an interview with Charles Sennott on PBS Frontline, Shadi Hamid discusses the Muslim Brotherhood and its involvement in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

Charles Sennott: Does America understand the Muslim Brotherhood?

Shadi Hamid: The United States doesn’t understand the Brotherhood, at least not yet. There are a lot of misconceptions about the group. I think one mistake that a lot of Western observers make is that they look at it as a fundamentally political organization; that this is a group that wants to come to power. It’s much more complicated than that. The Brotherhood engages in a whole diverse array of activities, and the social and educational side of what they do is very important.

And that’s really their lifeline. When we’re trying to understand why the Brotherhood has gained the support it’s gained, we have to look at that. So we’re talking about a community of members, of believers, who work together, who take part in a whole range of activities with each other. It is, in that sense, a way of life for those who are a part of the group. For example, every Brotherhood member is part of something called an usra, or a family, where they meet on a weekly basis. And they take part really in educational curriculum, or they read certain texts and discuss certain issues.

So in that sense, it’s different than a political party. It’s not like the Democratic Party in the States, where it’s just about political activism or voting or elections. That’s not really what the Brotherhood is about at the end of the day. There are people who join the Brotherhood who have no interest in politics, but really, for a lack of a better way of putting it, want to get into heaven and feel that the Brotherhood is a mechanism for becoming a better Muslim.

Sennott: When you talk about this community, how large is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? …

Hamid: We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of members and millions more supporters and sympathizers. So we’re talking about the largest opposition force in Egypt by far. No one really comes close.

Sennott: So who would come close? Give us some relative sense of the next largest opposition party compared to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamid: The next largest opposition party would be the liberal Wafd party, which has been around for decades, one of the kind of old establishment parties in Egypt, but we’re talking about just a membership in the tens of thousands, if that.

Watch the full interview or read a transcript at pbs.org »