Reaching Out to Muslim Brotherhood

American Jews Could Play Key Role With Egypt Islamists

Reaching Out: The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s election. It wants to show it is ready to rule. The West wants to make sure it doesn’t take a radical path. American Jews could play a crucial role.
getty images
Reaching Out: The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s election. It wants to show it is ready to rule. The West wants to make sure it doesn’t take a radical path. American Jews could play a crucial role.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 15, 2012, issue of January 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

With Egypt’s first democratic elections ending in a landslide win for the Muslim Brotherhood, the United States has decided to open formal discussions with the Islamist group. Israel has also relaxed its years-long resistance to engaging with the political movement.

American Jewish organizations, however, remain reluctant to reach out to the Brotherhood because of its harsh anti-Israel rhetoric and its threat to end Egypt’s peaceful relations with Israel.

Some scholars believe that the Jewish community is missing out on a historic opportunity to improve relations with the party that seems poised to shape the Middle East’s largest Arab country for years to come.

“This is very important for the Jewish community in order to better understand them,” said Marshall Breger, who has been at the forefront of Jewish interfaith dialogue efforts. Breger, a law professor at the Catholic University of America, added that American Jews should “approach the Brotherhood cautiously, but begin a dialogue on the basis of Judaism and Islam.”

With the political situation in Egypt still in flux, some experts believe that American Jewish groups should reach out to the Brotherhood as soon as possible.

“It would make sense,” said Nathan Brown, a George Washington University expert on Middle East politics who has maintained contacts with Brotherhood activists throughout the years.

According to Brown, the Ikhwan, as the Brotherhood is called in Arabic, is being torn between its wish to show a pragmatic approach toward global politics in order to prove it is suitable for governing the country and a fear of being viewed as a puppet of Western governments.

Outreach to Jewish groups, even informal ones, could prove valuable to the Brotherhood as it seeks to burnish its image as a mature political force. It also could help enhance its diplomatic status as it prepares to enter the world stage.

Contact with Jewish communal leaders could prove an ideal forum for the Brotherhood to engage the West because it would not carry the stigma of official diplomatic interaction with governments.

“Jewish groups are unofficial players, and the Egyptians can say they are religious American leaders, not representatives of the government,” Brown explained, adding that Jewish groups could serve as a back channel for discussions on relations between Israel and the Brotherhood, since such an unofficial track could provide “complete deniability.”

According to this school of thought, Jewish groups could serve as the ideal counterpart for the Ikhwan, since both sides are able to discuss current political issues from a religious standpoint.

The Brotherhood, through its political affiliate, the Freedom and Justice Party, dominated Egypt’s first parliamentary elections after the Arab Spring revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It is emerging as the largest political group in the country. Many in the West view the Brotherhood as extremist. It has historic ties with the Hamas movement in Gaza and rejects Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.