Leaked Iranian intelligence documents revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran sought to work together. Like an iron fist in a velvet glove, the IRGC would be the muscle and the Brotherhood could give it cover in the 85 countries it works in, members of the organizations discussed. They convened in Turkey in 2014 to discuss how they might work together and who to fight against. First target: Saudi Arabia. Other common enemies: Israel and the United States.
The revelations come from some of the 700 documents that were leaked from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security to The Intercept and The New York Times, which have been running stories about the documents. The leak reveals that the Brotherhood – a Sunni Islamic religious organization rooted in Egypt with branches in other countries which has inspired numerous far-right Islamist groups, including Hamas – wanted to work with Iran’s religious far-right leadership.
The embrace by these two groups in 2014 appears to go against the narrative that Sunni and Shi’ite religious extremists don’t get along. But the region is not so simple, and in fact, they saw areas of cooperation. First of all, the Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2012 but had been swept from power in 2013 by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. While its members were arrested, others reached out to Iran. This was in the spring of 2014. Could a meeting be arranged?
Iran’s IRGC was so eager that it said it would send Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC Quds Force commander. The Brotherhood wanted to meet in Turkey where its allies among the AKP ruling party were in power. Hamas was being well received in Turkey as well, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been a key supporter of the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Turkey was angered by Sisi pushing Morsi from power. Saudi Arabia had supported Sisi.
Herein lies the reality of the region in that year. Turkey didn’t mind the meeting taking place, but Soleimani was too high profile. Instead an IRGC member named “Abu Hussain” was sent. A Turkish hotel was selected. The Brothers, The Intercept claims, sent “Ibrahim Munir Mustafa, Mahmoud al-Abiary and Youssef Moustafa Nada.” But Nada told The Intercept he never attended the meeting.
What’s important is that while the world was being told that Sunnis and Shi’ites were fighting each other in places like Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, that in fact the religious far-right of these groups was willing to work together. How would that happen?
They could work against the “common enemy” of Saudi Arabia. The Brotherhood had once made major inroads in Saudi Arabia. But in recent years, it has been challenged. The United Arab Emirates began to crack down on it in 2011 and Saudi Arabia followed, designating it a “terrorist organization” in 2014. The US designated Hasm and Liwa al-Thawra, offshoots of the Brotherhood, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as Saudi Arabiain 2018.
In 2014 the Brotherhood and IRGC said they might be able to cooperate in Yemen. This is a major revelation because Saudi Arabia didn’t intervene in Yemen until 2015 to stop the Houthi rebels. The crackdown on the Brotherhood is largely seen as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s approach, as well as the war in Yemen. But this shows that actually the Brotherhood and IRGC were already plotting before MBS reacted.
“The Brotherhood delegation said the two sides could join forces against the Saudis. The best place to do that was in Yemen,” they said, according to The Intercept report. They would escalate with the Houthis against the Saudi-backed government. The Brothers would work with the tribes and the IRGC with the Houthis.
They could also work together in Iraq. The unspecified enemy there would be the US. The IRGC was already working against the US in Iraq. The Brotherhood could help reduce tensions with the Sunni community.
It isn’t known what came out of the meeting, but there were hints of more discussions in Turkey or Beirut. The details of the meeting show that these two important organizations appeared willing to discuss different shared interests. This is part of a wider web whereby the IRGC in Iran is willing to work with groups like Hamas or the Taliban when it serves their interests, even though they are ostensibly against other more extremist Sunni jihadist groups.
They have shared interests and enemies, and both have a worldview rooted in religious theocracy. While the Brotherhood often likes to use the ballot box and political Islam to gain power, working both sides of the fence by appearing moderate but also theocratic, the IRGC also uses a different methods to gain influence. The IRGC works with groups like Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq. In each case, it creates a mini-IRGC, with a political party and armed group. It then inserts itself into democratic systems to slowly take over part of the state.
Both groups understand the need for using both democratic means and muscle. Democracy is like a train: you ride it until you reach your station and then you get off. Your destination is power. Both the IRGC and the Brotherhood want power. And they view countries like Saudi Arabia and its allies, the US and its allies, or Israel as often being in the way of that power.