The Muslim Brotherhood in Spain
by Maria Lozano Alia
“It is natural that Islam dominate, rather than be dominated, impose its law on all nations and extend its power over the entire planet”.
— Hassan al Banna
The Muslim Brotherhood has been the object of curiosity, study, tracking and fear in equal parts for the entirety of its history.
As is well known, the group was born in 1928 in Egypt, its leader being Hassan al-Banna, who is the source of the introductory quote, and who is considered the father of modern Islamism and the inspiration for the poorly-named “Arab Springs”.
And it is this paternity and its influence over extremists and violent groups (such as Hamas or Hezbollah) since their beginnings until today that has spawned a rejection of a large part of the West and also of current moderate Muslims.
Broadly speaking, and to establish an ideological framework, the Muslim Brotherhood can be defined as an organization which seeks the implementation of Islamic traditional values and sharia as a fundamental regulation of the human being to counter the deterioration of Islamic societies which began with contamination from the West and colonialism. The Islamic faith, therefore, appears as a nexus, guide and norm among all the members of the Islamic faith, beyond national, political and geographical structures.
For the achievement of these objectives, political participation is articulated as the principal tool, although throughout their history, they have resorted to violence and terror on more than a few occasions, this fact being the determining factor motivating the split of the Brotherhood in some countries.
As a distinctive feature of this group, it is worth underlining the permanent creation of structures, organizations, and support services for the community, in a manner parallel to institutions such as schools, hospitals, and mosques with the aim of winning over society.
The first expansion beyond Egypt was realized in Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon in the 1940s. The conquest of Europe had to wait a few years longer, with the first Brothers arriving in Spain in the 1960s, as will be seen later.
We should first analyze the common patterns in all of the processes of expansion of the Brotherhood.
1. The first is the complete adaptation of the organization to the environment, to the nation receiving them and to its structures. Full liberty exists for the nascent organization, with full communication with the structure of origin. 2. Winning over society by means of support services to the community. As already mentioned, their objective is to approach society through help to the most unfortunate, and via the construction of schools, hospitals, civic centers, etc. 3. There is on the part of all the organizations an “official” rejection of violence. Nevertheless, this is not an obstacle, because the movement is the inspiration for terrorist groups and the creation of violent cells in the receiving nations. 4. The deep secrecy of its members in Europe, mainly in Spain, and the lack of official data concerning the actual and current membership of the leaders of the principal Islamic organizations to the Muslim Brotherhood.
So we move on to briefly analyze the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain and its current situation.
The presence of active members in Spain began in the 1960s. The educational and cultural policy in Spain in those years, together with the lower cost of living in comparison with other Southern European countries, attracted a large number of students from the Near East.
In the same way, repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria during these years caused many of them to seek refuge in Spain.
Formally, and in the wake of the Law of Associations of 1964 and the Law of Religious Liberty of 1967, the first Muslim associations were created in Spain. Among them, the most important is the Islamic Center of Granada created in 1966 for Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian students. The direction of this center, on a large number of occasions, was led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The principal activities of the center in those years was the coordination of religious education and proselytizing for non-Arabs. In any case, what caused the increase in its members was the establishment of a place for meeting and debate on the political situation of the countries of origin.
The existing tensions and divisions in Syria surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood between the most radical faction, which advocated armed confrontation (Al-Talia al-Muqatila/Combat Vanguard), and the faction of Al-attar (Al-Talia al Islamiya/Islamic Vanguard) which supported political participation, had its reflection in Spain. In 1971 the followers of Al-Attar in Spain, founded the Islamic Association of Spain in 1971, breaking with the Islamic Center of Granada.
The Islamic Association of Spain adapts its internal regulations in order to create centers and mosques. The fruit of this adaptation is the creation of the Abu Bakr Mosque of Madrid, financed in large part with funds from Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic Center of Granada and the Islamic Association of Spain brought together all the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain, functioning as places for meeting and debate on the group for militants and sympathizers.
It is worth highlighting the figure of Nizar Ahmad al-Sabbagh, who assumed the leadership of the movement in Spain until his death in 1981, and who acted as a contact and mediator between the organization in Spain and the World Muslim League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
Beginning in the 1990s, the project became purely Spanish, producing the gradual rupture with Syria, a result of the divisions and confrontations that the group undertook in this country, and at the same time the decay of the Brotherhood in Spain, which thus lost its opportunity to consolidate itself as a strong organization, as occurred in other countries such as Germany and the UK.
The Muslim association movement in Spain has much to do with this evolution, it being necessary to express themselves as valid interlocutors dealing with the State to sign cooperation agreements. The objectives of these associations are more tied to the presence and institutional participation and management of the growing Muslim population in Spain, the result of immigration, than following the fundamentals of the Brotherhood.
However, it is necessary to bring up the existence of figures who are clearly linked to terrorist acts and who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain.
From the middle of the ‘90s the Abu Bakr Mosque began receiving young men from radical circles who intended to create a terrorist cell linked to Al-Qaeda, and who distributed propaganda from Islamic Jihad, Hamas or the Algerian GIA.
Among them we have to highlight Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (Abu Mu’sab al-Suri) from the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, who settled in Spain with connections to the Algerian GIA and the Taliban of Afghanistan. His photo appears in 2010 in the first issue of Inspire, the English-language bulletin of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, together with an article published under the name Abu Mu’sab al-Suri.
On the other hand, Abu Dahdah. Born in Syria and also member of the Muslim Brotherhood, for which he had to flee the country. After traveling through multiple countries, he settled in Spain, where he founded the first jihadist networks in Spain. His network is the origin of some of the participants in the attacks of Casablanca in 2003 and Madrid in 2004.
Currently there is no conclusive data which permits us to confirm the official rebirth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain, nor the existence of an organization or structure associated with them.
On the one hand, Riaj Tatary, the president of UCIDE [Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España, Union of Islamic Communities of Spain], is said to belong to the Brotherhood, which he has denied on several occasions.
On the other hand, it seems that in a discreet manner certain organizations have emerged with possible links to the Brotherhood in Spain: Islamic Relief in Spain, associated with Islamic Relief Worldwide, with members among the leadership connected to the Brotherhood, and the discreet Islamic League for Dialogue and Co-existence in Spain (Lidcoe), the association that is the standard bearer, and coordinates the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Spain and acts as representative of the movement before the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe [FIOE, in its initials in English], the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.
However, tracking these organizations, which are connected to a moderate Islamism, is complicated and generally involves the appearance in the press of social action initiatives (schools and mosques) so well-liked by the Brotherhood.
What seems clear is that its ideology, if not radicalizing itself, could be the ideal breeding ground for facilitating radicalization and preventing integration into Spanish society.
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