Few organizations have had an impact on the social and political aspects of the Middle East comparable to that of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, an outgrowth of Egyptian politics, has slowly risen to power and quickly descended as a result of its ideology. In his book Inside the Brotherhood, Hazem Kandil provides one of the first in-depth studies of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist organization. His research includes a firsthand perspective of the Brotherhood, its recruitment, and the group’s ideology. Through unfettered access to the Brotherhood, Kandil focuses on the Islamists as ideological subjects. His open access gives a contemporary account of the organization, while drawing on the tradition and teachings that continue to have an effect today.
Kandil introduces Inside the Brotherhood in a manner that is consistent with the recruitment of a potential Brother: “It is better to come with an empty glass. You learn faster.”1 Kandil’s anthropological approach to the formation of the Brotherhood begins with a brief mention of former President and Brother Muhammad Morsi before pivoting to the teachings of the Brotherhood’s founder Brothers, Sayd Qutb and Hassan al-Banna. This is an intentional device that effectively bridges the gap between the inception of the Brothers to the current state of the movement.
The author approaches the Brotherhood in a manner that can be aptly interpreted in a modern context. Despite its deeply religious foundations, the Brotherhood is represented as a “political club, a religious sect, a social association... Or something else.”2 Kandil’s analysis lies in the “something else” of the organization: the evolution of the Brotherhood amongst social pressures. The role of the Brotherhood has drastically developed from the social construct of an ideological organization to a powerful political movement, to its current state: Designation as a terrorist organization. Kandil objectively illustrates the progression of the Brother and the Brotherhood through society, history, and alternate public opinions.
Kandil does an excellent job of grounding his account of the Brotherhood in reality; recognizing that becoming a Brother requires a degree of acquiescence and submission in order to eschew skepticism. This acquiescence has led the Brothers to often blindly pursue their leaders for fear of reproach. Argumentative Brothers were investigated, punished, and expelled. Organizational pressure is a powerful coercive tool within the Brotherhood and has helped maintain their subscribers through member dissent and government restrictions.
While Kandil’s account of the Brotherhood is prescriptive, he weaves historical narratives to show the humanity that comprises the organization. These narratives illustrate the intricacies, the faults, and the belief structure that have grown out of the Sunni Islamist organization. It additionally illustrates the human element that guided the growth and decline of the Brotherhood. Recognizing that the Muslim Brotherhood is a pan-Islamic religious and social movement, Kandil concludes by providing a more “macro” perspective of the organization as it spread from Egypt throughout the Maghreb and the Levant. He further helps the reader develop a more detailed account of the Brotherhood and their political rise and fall.
Inside the Brotherhood is a realistic and intimate account of the Brotherhood that does an excellent job of laying the foundations for future discussions of the organization. The book is necessary reading for anyone pursuing a deeper understanding of the group and its role in Egyptian and world politics, as well as their recruitment, social networks, and world views. Though Kandil does not make any presumptions for the future of the Brotherhood in Egypt or beyond, it is likely that the organization will have a continuing effect on the politics and culture of the Middle East.
1 Hazem Kandil, Inside the Brotherhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 10.
2 Ibid., 49.