Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Context of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted: 4th April 2012
Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Context of the Egyptian Revolution

Originally published on Analysis Intelligence, this is the first post of a three-part series using Recorded Future to examine the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s political future. We’ll be hosting a webcast discussing this research next Thursday, April 12.


In early 2011, the world watched Egypt revolt, catalyzing a cascade of uprisings across the Middle East. Since then, Egypt has weathered protests, parliamentary polls, and power plays — soon there will be presidential elections.

After a revolution, one may wonder: what is next for Egypt — who is in charge? In the wake of the uprising of January 25, 2011, an opposition force has been building momentum: the Muslim Brotherhood. Beyond the political maneuvering and Islamist ideology, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sweep of recent parliamentary elections and presidential aspiration are best understood by examining its historical, rhetorical, leadership, and structural changes over time.

This post provides context and an overview for deeper analysis using Recorded Future’s various analytical and temporal tools. Despite the complex, ever-changing, and polarizing nature of Egyptian politics, Recorded Future allows a non-expert to confidently achieve depth and breadth on this critical political moment.

Muslim Brotherhood’s History and Agenda

Although the Muslim Brotherhood did not play an active role in the #Jan25 movement, the ousting of Mubarak and shift change in power provided a long-awaited opportunity for this opposition group to consolidate and legitimize its power. At least, that’s what the data shows.

Below is a snapshot of the timeline for a five year period (January 1 2006 to January 25 2011) for the Muslim Brotherhood. There are a few noticeable peaks through 2009, mostly due to the frequent arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members.

After years as marginalized opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood has adapted to survive in harsh political conditions. As became clear much later, the organization would flourish when the spring finally did arrive by trying to establish legitimacy and seeking to consolidate their power.

Hindsight is always perfect and, often, useless. Instead of looking back at the past (from the present), what if we could look at past versions of the future? More concretely, were there any indications before January 2011 that a major moment was just over the horizon? With Recorded Future, we can time shift our frame of reference to only analyze information reported prior to January 1, 2011 — situating our reference point in the past, but looking forward — analytical time travel, if you will.

Examining queries not just around the Muslim Brotherhood, but also around Egypt, the initial drivers of change present themselves:

  • Muslim Brotherhood’s boycott of late 2010 elections
  • tension for Egypt’s minority Christian community around Christmas 2010
  • Mohammed El Baradei’s planned return to Egypt in January 2011
  • forecasts of economic growth through June 2011
  • promises of investment, particularly in oil infrastructure during end of Q2/beginning of Q3
  • presidential elections scheduled for September 2011

Now that we know that events in 2010 built momentum to the scheduled elections, we can create “time windows” through which to examine the late-January revolution and Mubarak’s descent. First, let’s zoom in on the 60 days prior to January 25, 2011. In fact, we can investigate the sentiment of coverage, our metric for the tone of the reporting.

Again, with reporting before January 25, 2011, we see a graph of positive sentiment around the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood as an opposition force to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party establishment. However, there is a follow-on peak of negative sentiment around the Muslim Brotherhood’s antagonism towards Israel.

While these observations are not surprising per sé, the absence of certain dynamics is also telling; there is little, if any, discussion of the Muslim Brotherhood as a source of mobilization or cohesive political opposition. One observer categorizes the MB’s decision to withdraw from the second round of voting as having minimal effect on the legitimacy of parliament.

With the second time window of the 30 days following January 25th, events on the ground moved quickly, but — as we know now — rippled far forward for Egypt. The picture below not only tells the story of those tumultuous weeks, but also foreshadows the conflicted attitudes towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some voices back the Brotherhood’s crystallization as a political force (El Baradei), while others set an alarmist tone if the Brotherhood were to govern (Mubarak, McCain). Indeed, in the previous several years, Mubarak would warn Western officials about the Muslim Brotherhood’s intent to establish a theocracy similar to that in Iran. Additionally, we have a few different assessments, that either the MB is not as radical as portrayed (Clapper) or that the MB does not play a central role in post-revolution politics (al-Sayyed). Without making a huge leap, we can intuit that the Muslim Brotherhood is aware of this mixed perception and did not want to appear to lead the charge of revolution, instead working through and behind a consolidated opposition front.

With this context in mind, let’s next answer the question “Exactly who is the Muslim Brotherhood?”

The Network of the Muslim Brotherhood – Relationships and Influence

Even experienced observers professed confusion when trying to understand the inner workings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Recorded Future can produce a network map from the large amounts of unstructured data in text, yielding a visualization of the relationships between players.

In maneuvering and analyzing this network map, a few actors emerge because of their proximity to the center: Mohammed Badie and Yusuf al Qaradawi. Badie is a current leader (“Supreme Guide”) of the Brotherhood and Qaradawi is a Qatar-based influential theologian closely associated with the Brotherhood. By hovering over the “Egypt” entity, the other co-occuring actors also highlight.

A few more names pop up — notably Mohammed El Baradei and Hosni Mubarak. Additionally, there’s Mohammed Mahdi Akef, a former Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood model comes into focus: the organization, while centralized, is only somewhat dense around its leadership and has bridges to other international communities. Another search focused on these individuals allows us to assess how other actors orbit around the hubs:

This investigation reveals that Rashad al Bayoumi is an interesting nexus between Badie and Qaradawi and further inquiry shows that he is a deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood and influential in his own right, though not central. What if we could evaluate how the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership views itself? Below, we’re looking at the same network map, this time drawing only from the Muslim Brotherhood’s own website, Ikwan Online.

Among some familiar names (Badie, Akef, etc.), Mohammed Mursy gravitates towards the center. In addition, a list of players to examine (al-Katatni, Ghozlan, al-Shater, Fotouh, el-Erian, Howeidi, and Sawiris) becomes clear. Building a watchlist of these individuals bundles them into one search term of key MB actors.

So, what happened to/with this group after January 25th? Who emerged from the shadows and edges? How does this organization change adapt to changing political circumstances? The forthcoming post will better explore the answer to the last two questions, but here is a quick preview.

Without overstating this map’s sophistication, one can start to discern actors responsible for decisions, respect, experience, communications and rhetoric, authority, and mobilization. Besides a list of people directly involved with the Brotherhood, the map also yields a list of secondary actors — activists, reporters, scholars, and government officials focused on the Muslim Brotherhood. Although it may not always reveal hidden actors, sthe network map visually characterizes the nature and degree of key actors’ ties with one another. In short order, one can develop a picture of the organization’s leadership, influencers, and followers.

Predilection for Prediction: Source Mapping

Analysts often inquire about the methodology and quality of the data collection. To address this challenge, Recorded Future maps the sources of data according to country, topic, or type (mainstream, blog, niche, primary source, etc.), which allows analysts to quickly determine who is credible, correct, and worth following.

In addition to dividing sources, this view ranks them according to how many events each source reported, first broke, or predicted. Ordering sources by reliability of prediction, an analyst can start to assess the credibility of each: what is the publisher’s agenda, association, and historical accuracy?

The goal is to determine which sources are reporting what type of events, when. Some of the blogs may not break stories but instead just re-publish predictions, whereas wire stories may offer frequent reporting and only occasional forward-looking insight. Taken together, a survey of the sources reporting on the fast-evolving moments following January 25th, and particularly in regards to making predictions, comes into focus.

Below, we find that a relatively unknown blog republishes many wire and news stories, hence, its high ranking. Below that, however, we find BBC News and Iranian-backed Iran Daily, as well as a major Pakistani outlet (Dawn) and Al Jazeera Arabic.

The ability to move back and forth through time makes the process of backtesting forecasts quite straightforward and efficient.

Conclusion — Moving to Qualitative Analysis of Quantitative Data

With Recorded Future, an analyst can move mountains of data with the levers of time, momentum, sentiment, and visualizations. After making conclusions based on manipulation of this data, one can rank and evaluate the credibility of various sources, particularly for future predictions. For example, the process of mapping recognized leadership, influential advisers, and outspoken members of any party takes a significant amount of energy. For a non-expert, however, Recorded Future significantly cuts down the time to become familiar with the key players and their relationships with one another.

But why not just head to Wikipedia and scan the article on Muslim Brotherhood? Or, better, Google it and read a few recent articles and policy papers? The news provides updates, Wikipedia crowdsources background, and policy papers proffer analysis — Recorded Future offers insight about where and when to zoom in on the data.

  • In this post, we addressed three key questions:
  • How do I figure out what to research and where to start?
  • How do I compare windows of time?
  • What does the terrain of analysis and sources look like?

For the second post, we’ll used Recorded Future to examine the run up to Egyptian parliamentary polls, creation of a new political party, and subsequent results, focusing on answering three questions for the analyst:

  • Where are my topical and temporal blindspots?
  • How do I keep an eye on emerging signals?
  • How do I correct for the benefit of hindsight when assessing a paradigm shift (e.g. a revolution)?
Munish Walther-Puri Munish Walther-Puri is a guest blogger for Recorded Future who specializes in geopolitical intelligence analysis. Follow Munish on LinkedIn.