The activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement whose aim is the establishment of Sharia law worldwide, are poorly surveilled within Belgium. That is the conclusion of a recent investigation by Comité I, an intelligence watchdog which oversees the country’s various police, security, and intelligence agencies.
Main conclusions of the report point to a lack of cooperation between such agencies, which include the military General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), the civilian Belgian State Security Service (VSSE), the various police agencies and OCAM, an independent centre which assesses threats of terrorism and extremism in Belgium.
It shows that two Belgian intelligence services in particular, the GISS and the VSSE, monitor the movement very differently, often missing the bigger picture. While the latter monitors their movement in the context of extremist threats, GISS studies the Muslim Brotherhood “only in the context of the influence it could exert within defense,” being particularly attentive to the risk of infiltration.
Each organization’s limited area of purveyance not only “results in the absence of a common definition of the phenomenon [Muslim Brotherhood], but also a lack of shared analysis of the threat level, which raises questions,” the report says. The absence of cooperation among the agencies poses an obstacle to finding a common strategy to combat the threat of the conservative-Islamist organisation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is at odds with the proper functioning of constitutional order and democracy, was originally founded in Egypt in 1928, and now, one hundred years later, operates in most European countries. There is considerable disagreement to what degree it endangers the integrity of government structures of its host countries, however.
The Belgian report specified that its presence in the country poses no direct threat, since no links between the brotherhood and particular institutions have been discerned. However, the GISS considers them to be a “danger.” The VSSE goes even further in its assessment; the movement should be considered a “high priority threat in terms of extremism since their short-term strategy could create a climate of polarization and segregation within Belgian society, and thus constitute a vector of radicalisation,” it has said.
Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s structure, the VSSE stated the following in an internal note:
In about all countries where the Muslim Brothers are present a distinction can be made between the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘public’ organizations and a more secretive ‘underground’ structure based on the operation of the Egyptian parent organization. Belgium is no exception. This ‘dual’ or ‘parallel’ structure allows the national divisions to be de facto part of a wider international structure or network, but at the same time also to keep (at least publically) some distance from the Muslim Brothers. It also implies that, even if the ‘official’ structure of the Muslim Brotherhood were to get into trouble or disappear for a reason, they can still fall back on an ‘underground’ structure.
According to the intelligence oversight unit Comité I, it is up to the Ministers of Justice and Defense, together with those of the Interior, to strengthen cooperation among all services, and to determine the appropriate framework for cooperation. It wants an action plan for this year, including a strategy for the follow-up of the movement, an updated list of associates of the Muslim Brothers, as well as members and supporters. The report strongly suggests that the two main intelligence services, the GISS and VSSE, “intensify” efforts to raise awareness in political and administrative circles of the threats associated with the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Belgium.
The Belgian government has not been remiss on requests for investigations. Last year, the government had asked the Comité I to assess the Muslim Brotherhood’s presence in Belgium and in particular to address the debacle surrounding the nomination to parliament of Ihsane Haoach in 2021, backed by green party, Ecolo. The party member had to resign after links to the Muslim Brotherhood were revealed by State Security. Due to these pressures, her position as Commissioner of the Federal Institute for the Equality of Women and Men became untenable as well. She held the position for six weeks, and then resigned. To avoid similar scenarios, the intelligence watchdog wants the integrity, loyalty, and discretion of candidates for certain public positions to be checked in advance.
The Muslim Brotherhood is commonly regarded by Belgium’s security services as “the parent organization of all contemporary Sunni extremist movements and of various terrorist movements.” Consequently, the highly critical report made some furrow their brows. “Vlaams Belang has been warning for a long time about the danger of the activities, influencing, and infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and in Flanders,” its MP Sam Van Rooy announced on March 30th during a plenary session. He put the matter to Bart Somers (Open VLD), Flemish Minister of the Interior, Administrative Affairs, Civic Integration and Equal Opportunities, asking “what are you doing to combat this?”
Somers said he took the matter “seriously,” but that the report identified no threat “against any specific institution directly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood,” and that “neither the State Security nor others say that today there is a direct link, or even an indication of a link, with any Flemish recognized imam or any of the 25 mosques recognized by Flanders.”
Somers mentioned two methods, meant to detect radicalisation and infiltration, already in place. These comprise the local integrated safety cells (LIVCs), by which “we can receive signals at a very early stage should this change,” and “a screening service that also ensures that during procedures, monitoring of mosques or other prayer institutions, there is also a serious check with all security services.” He confirmed that he would shortly be meeting with Comité I to learn more.
MP Van Rooy was unimpressed by this. He implied that Somers was naive, while referring to the Brussels-based Council of European Muslims, an umbrella association that defends the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood. “It is simply located here, on our territory,” he remarked, indignant. According to Comité I and State Security, it has already built up a secret underground structure, which is active “in schools, in youth movements and also in mosques,” Van Rooy said. He went on to state that these “may be unrecognized mosques,” but that these comprise the vast majority. He pressed Minister Somers about initiatives needing to be taken to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from infiltrating government functions.
After quick contributions by MP’s Jeremie Vaneeckhout (Groen/Green) and Hannelore Goeman (Vooruit), who echoed the seriousness of the danger, Somers doubled down on his assessment that current security measures are sufficient and that they “protect us as much as possible.”
Somers’ approach is better explained by the sociological lens through which he looks. He feels that “first and foremost,” there is the problem of segregation. He believes this provides the Brotherhood with an excuse to isolate people, keep them in sheltered communities and convince them that the society they live in is not theirs. Second, he wants to ensure “there is no racism and discrimination in our society,” since intolerant conditions make easier the task of recruiting for extremist causes. Third, he wants to keep providing sufficient support for organizations and associations that do positive work, so that those who want to cooperate with our society “are given every opportunity,”and that “we clearly distance ourselves from those who allow themselves to be recruited by an organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“Too little too late,” according to Minister of Parliament Van Rooy. After showing his book For Freedom, So Against Islamization, written in 2018, he quoted the following passage from it:
The Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating, it has its members, satellites, affiliates and organizations here. Through money and propaganda, she has been strengthening her grip on Muslim communities with us for decades—decades. The Muslim Brotherhood realizes that ostentatious violence and hatred deters and is counterproductive, so they are taking a non-violent, gradual path. They are patient and let the demographics do their job first and foremost. Their persistent cultural, social and political activities are a greater danger than the jihadists.
Finishing his point, he referred to Austria, which in its crackdown on political Islam, was the first European country to ban the Muslim Brotherhood. Van Rooy called on the Federal Government to follow Austria’s lead, track down all its members and expel them from the country—and wider Europe.
Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.