Friday, April 18, 2008

Belgium has become an important center for the global Muslim Brotherhood

[Belgium has become an important center for the global Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. Since its origins in early student organizations, the Belgian Brotherhood network has grown to include Hamas support infrastructure and local Islamic groups that in turn are part of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), the global Muslim Brotherhood umbrella group in Europe. Belgium also serves as the FIOE national office. One individual, Bassem Hatahet, appears to be the most important figure in the Belgian Muslim Brotherhood.]


The Global Muslim Brotherhood has been present in Europe since 1960 when Said Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, founded a mosque in Munich.1 Since that time, Brotherhood organizations have been established in almost all of the EU countries, as well as non-EU countries such as Russia and Turkey. Despite operating under other names, some of the organizations in the larger countries are recognized as part of the global Muslim Brotherhood. For example, the Union des Organizations Islamiques de France (UOIF) is generally regarded as part of the Muslim Brotherhood in France. The network is also becoming known in some of the smaller countries such as the Netherlands, where a recent NEFA Foundation report detailed the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country.

2 Neighboring Belgium has also become an important center for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. A 2002 report by the Intelligence Committee of the Belgian Parliament explained how the Brotherhood operates in Belgium:
“The State Security Service has been following the activities of the International Muslim Brotherhood in Belgium since 1982. The International Muslim Brotherhood has had a clandestine structure for nearly 20 years. The identity of the members is secret; they operate in the greatest discretion. They seek to spread their ideology within the Islamic community of Belgium and they aim in particular at the young people of the second and third generation of immigrants. In Belgium as in other European countries, they try to take control of the religious, social, and sports associations and establish themselves as privileged interlocutors of the national authorities in order to manage Islamic affairs. The Muslim Brotherhood assumes that the national authorities will be pressed more and more to select Muslim leaders for such management and, in this context, they try to insert within the representative bodies, individuals influenced by their ideology. With this purpose, they were very actively.

1 Ian Johnson, “How a Mosque for Ex-Nazis Became Center of Radical Islam,” The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2005.

2 Ron Sandee, “The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Netherlands,” The NEFA Foundation, December 2007.

Nine Eleven / Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation – ©2008 – 2

involved in the electoral process to carry out the election of the members of the chief body for the management of Islam in Belgium. Another aspect of this strategy is to cause or maintain tensions by positing that a Muslim or Islamic association is a victim of Western values, hence the affair over the Muslim headscarf in public schools.“3 4

Three factors have contributed to this development in Belgium. First, high concentrations of Arabic-speaking, immigrant populations are a natural support base for the Muslim Brotherhood and Belgium has such a large and concentrated Islamic populations estimated at about 400,000, which is about 4% of the total population.
5 The majority of these are Arabs, mainly Moroccans who have settled mostly in Brussels and the French-speaking areas of the South with about half living in the Brussels conurbation. This has brought the percentage of Muslims in Brussels to approximately 17%.6 Second, the presence of important EU institutions in Brussels is a logical attractor for any Muslim organization with aspirations for achieving legitimacy at the Europe-wide level. Finally, the Belgian government is the only European government not to have acted against the local branch of a Hamas fund-raising organization, discussed later in this report, with strong ties to the Brotherhood, allowing it to operate freely while branches in other countries were shut down or restricted.

In addition to these factors, the Belgian government appears to have created a power vacuum in the Muslim community by ending its relationship with the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Cultural Center of Brussels (ICCB). Founded in 1969, the ICCB is chaired by the Saudi Ambassador and receives most of its funding from the Saudi Muslim World League. Until 1990, the ICCB had been treated by the Belgian government as the official representative of the Muslim Community in Belgian and allowed it to recommend imams and teachers who were then appointed by the government. However, opposition to the ICCB from the local Muslim community forced an end to its role, and in 1994, the government appointed a committee of 17 Muslims called "De Belgische Moslim Executieve" in Dutch or "L'Exécutif des musulmans de Belgique" in French.7 The newly created organization took over the role of the ICCB in appointing teachers and imams and served as the basis for an election at the end of 1998 that created the Representative Council of the Belgian Muslim Communities, the officially recognized organization of Muslims in Belgium.8 Although participants in these organizations were vetted by the Belgian government to weed out extremists, the jockeying for power that took place attracted the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood, which may have created organizations in order to further its legitimacy.
The environment resulting from these factors fostered the creation of a set of interrelated institutions that constitute the Muslim Brotherhood in Belgium today. The remainder of this report will examine these institutions, paying special attention to their structure, leadership, and public activities. It is important to note that almost none of the organizations or individuals that are part of the global Muslim Brotherhood identify 3 Sénat et Chambre des Représentants de Belgique, Session De 2001-2002, Rapport d'activité 2001 du Comité permanent de contrôle des services de renseignements et de sécurité, 19 Juillet 2002,

5 “Islam & Muslims in Europe,”
“Islam in the Benelux Countries” in Shireen T. Hunter (ed.), Islam, Europe's Second Religion: The

New Social, Cultural, and Political Landscape.

8 Lionel Panafit, “First for Islam in Belgium,” Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2000.

Nine Eleven / Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation – ©2008 –

themselves as such and no doubt, if asked, would deny any such connection. It is therefore necessary to establish such a connection to the Muslim Brotherhood through analysis of factors that include the history, affiliations, ideology, and backgrounds of the organizations under question and their leaders. It should further be noted that this kind of structural analysis is, by nature, limited and can only reveal the public structure of a Muslim Brotherhood network. As the Belgian parliamentary report explained, the global Muslim Brotherhood operates clandestinely and these clandestine structures are not normally accessible through examination of the public record. In the U.S., for example, previously secret documents have recently come to light that revealed an extensive and covert Muslim Brotherhood infrastructure in that country.9 Nevertheless, public information can provide a great deal of useful information about Brotherhood structures, leadership, and activities and can point the way for investigators with access to non-public information.

Early Student Organizations

Muslim Brotherhood networks often began as student and/or youth organizations and Belgium was no exception. The earliest known Muslim Brotherhood organization was the Association Humanitaire pour la Promotion de la Jeunesse (AHPJ).10 Founded in May 1988, the AHPJ was identified as one of a number of Muslim Brotherhood organizations operating under other names by a July 2002 report of the Belgian parliamentary Intelligence Committee.11 Bassem Hatahet, later to become one of the most important individuals in the Belgian Muslim Brotherhood network, was elected as the Secretary of the AHPJ in January 1991, serving in that position until November 1996.12 13 This report also says that the AHPJ was also operating under the name Union Islamique des Etudiants et de la Jeunesse en Belgique (UIEJB), which Belgian records show was founded in April 1995 and dissolved in February 2000.14 15 In February 1999, Bassem Hatahet attended a conference in Kuwait where he was described as being affiliated with the Islamic Students Union in Belgium, likely the UIEJB.16
The Belgian parliamentary report describes the student organizations as:
“...also close to the Turkish movement ‘Milli Gorüs’. These associations publish a newspaper which propagates anti-Western ideas and anti-Zionists. They actively supported the Muslim cause in Afghanistan by the collection of funds and the exchanges were made with the ‘Office of Afghan Mujahideen in Brussels’. They organize camps where immigrants of second and third generations are indoctrinated.”

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