The Bomb and the Beard: The Egyptian MB’s Views Toward WMD

By Ibrahim Said

Egypt’s next leader could be a member of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Yet even if Muhammad Mursi, the presidential candidate fielded by the MB, does not win the elections, the Islamist movement-turned political party will have a growing role in Egyptian political life and a domineering presence in the country’s parliament. As a result, the perceptions, worldviews, and preferences of the Brothers’ leaders on various issues related not only to domestic affairs but also to foreign and security policy will come under greater scrutiny by the international community. One key area in Egyptian foreign affairs that could have significant implications for regional and possibly international security is nonproliferation and arms control. How much value does the Brotherhood place in Egypt’s nuclear program and in Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? What are the MB’s views on nonproliferation? Should the world expect a radical shift in Egyptian nonproliferation and disarmament policy if Mursi and his colleagues come to power?

Before the uprising

In their 2005 parliamentary elec­tions plat­form, the MB declared that under their lead­er­ship, Egypt would develop “spe­cial national pro­grams, such as the nuclear pro­gram, the space and avi­a­tion pro­gram, arma­ments pro­gram, and the bio-technology pro­gram.” Indeed, revival of the country’s nuclear power pro­gram was a ral­ly­ing cry for the MB. The party, which at the time held roughly one-fifth of the seats in the Egypt­ian National Assem­bly (the lower house of the Egypt­ian par­lia­ment), used the nuclear issue to chal­lenge Mubarak’s government, which had shown lit­tle inter­est in nuclear energy, unlike a num­ber of states in the region includ­ing Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, the UAE, and Turkey.

By May 17, 2006, MB deputies were openly attack­ing the Mubarak gov­ern­ment for not pur­su­ing an active nuclear pro­gram. Ikhwanon­line, the offi­cial web­site of the MB, stated that Broth­er­hood “deputies accuse[d] the gov­ern­ment of aban­don­ing the nuclear pro­gram and [being con­tent with not] build­ing atomic power plants for peace­ful pur­poses and elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion at the same time many other coun­tries such as India advanced in this field.”

Despite this initial focus on peaceful nuclear energy, at a July 4, 2006 joint meeting of the foreign affairs, Arab, defense, and national security committees of the Egyptian parliament, Dr. Hamdi Hassan, spokesperson of the MB parliamentary caucus, made clear that his organization was interested not merely in using nuclear power for meeting Egypt’s energy needs, but in creating an Egyptian nuclear deterrent: “We [Egyptians] are ready to starve in order to own a nuclear weapon that will represent a real deterrent and will be decisive in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”[1]Ahmed Diyyab, another member of the MB caucus, also attacked the Mubarak government’s nuclear policy, criticizing Egypt’s traditional role in leading states in the region to press for a Middle East Weapon-of-Mass-Destruction (WMD) Free Zone: “Is it realistic and diplomatically sound,” he asked, “to demand a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East, while being aware of the presence of a staunch enemy [Israel] who does not, at all, abide by international community decisions?”[2] By implication, his suggestion that the Mubarak government’s traditional championing of a WMD-free zone was an insufficient safeguard of Egypt’s national interest amounted to another call by the Brotherhood for Egyptian acquisition of a nuclear deterrent as a more effective alternative.

As MB calls for Egypt to develop a nuclear deterrent against Israel were being made openly, the party started to challenge the Egyptian government’s opposition to Iran’s development of its nuclear program. Leading MB figures appeared to view Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability as beneficial to the Arab world because it would serve as a counterbalance to what they perceived as Israel’s military hegemony in the region. Speaking in April 2006, the vice-spiritual guide of the MB in Egypt, Mohammed Habib, stated, “I do not see any problem with Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” [3] He added that, “according to nuclear deterrence theory, even if Iran has a nuclear weapon, it will be used to face the Israeli nuclear arsenal. And, this will create a form of balance between the two parties: the Arab-Islamic party on one hand and the Israeli party on the other.”[4] Mr. Habib claimed that the majority of Egyptians share the MB’s view. He added: “I believe that it is not reasonable that Israel or the Zionist entity remains the only party in the region with more than 200 nuclear warheads.” [5]

In the summer of 2006, after having press­ed the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment for more than a year to restart the country’s nuclear pro­gram, the MB openly called for Egypt to develop nuclear weapons as a counter to Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Against this back­ground, the group reacted with lit­tle enthu­si­asm to the September announce­ment by Gamal Mubarak, son of the former president, that Egypt would revive its peace­ful nuclear program – with­out declar­ing that Egypt would build a nuclear deter­rent. However, because the nuclear program enjoys tremendous and broad support among Egyptians, the MB had little choice but to support the initiative. “Politically, no one questions the rational approach of President Moubarak.”[6]Since 2006, quotes or statements on nuclear weapons did not appear on either the Arabic or the English official MB websites.

A Qatari newspaper reported on September 05, 2008 that Youssef Qaradawi, perhaps the most influential leader of the global MB, issued a fatwa (Islamic ruling) in his newest book calling on the Muslim World to acquire nuclear weapons.[7]In Jurisprudence of Jihad, Al-Qaradawi says that “I believe that the Muslim nation should have these illegal weapons since they will become the weapons which deter and frighten the enemies.” The newspaper report adds: “Al-Qaradawi pointed out that jurisprudence imposes a crystal clear religious obligation on Muslims to work hand in hand and do not have disputes in this regard. They should meet, not separate.” Al-Qaradawi says that peace is one of the sublime goals of the Muslim nation, but Muslims should not give up jihad completely since this position will make them vulnerable to the enemies. This fulfills the divine order in this Koranic verse: “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into [the hearts of] the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.” [Koranic verse; Sura 8, Verse 80] Al-Qaradawi also stresses the need to have well-educated cadres in order to deal with the sophisticated weapons, according to the report. Al-Qaradawi rules out the possibility of launching a nuclear war since the Cold War proved the impossibility of waging a war between two great powers that are armed to the teeth with unconventional weapons. However, he says that the presence of a nuclear arsenal in the Muslim world will reduce the threat posed by its bitter enemies and make them think twice before attacking it.

Al-Qaradawi was also cited by a Al-Alam news report for criticizing the West for its silence and inaction in the face of the “Zionist regime’s” nuclear weapons stockpile. [8] At a meeting with Iran’s ambassador to Qatar, Qaradawi said: “As we witness western states’ opposition to Iran’s legitimate right to use civilian nuclear technology, they have kept silent over the Zionist regime’s atomic arsenal.” The senior cleric further urged worldwide Muslims to maintain and reinvigorate solidarity and unity especially with Iran in order to confront the challenges and defuse the all-out pressures exerted by the enemies of Muslim world. He called for the deepening of the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity among Muslims in an effort to confront the problems and challenges facing the world of Islam. The Islamic scholar highlighted the grave and cumbersome conditions in a number of Islamic states, specially people’s living conditions in the Gaza Strip in Palestine. He urged cooperation and consultations among Muslim states and nations to help resolve problems in Palestine and defuse enemies’ plots.

After Mubarak

On January 25, 2010 Qaradawi reemerged in Tahrir Square during the peak of the uprising. He returned to Cairo immediately after the collapse of Mubarak’s regime to deliver a sermon in the heart of the capital that drew more than 200,000 participants. In his speech, he was reported to have encouraged unity between Muslims and Christians, and praised the Egyptian army for facilitating the people’s expression of freedom and democracy. The politically astute cleric also voiced staunch support for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Qaradawi’s appearance was warmly received by the large crowd, touching off debate as to whether the cleric had any intention of claiming the mantle of revolution and, if he did, how the Egyptian public might react. Qaradawi was reported to have mentioned that Muslim nations “must possess such weapons in order to strike terror in our enemies,” but “not use them.” “If we had nuclear weapons, they would be afraid to attack us, as was the case between the Soviet Union and the Americans, and between India and Pakistan. This is armed peace.”[9]

On March 20, 2012, Salem Abdel Galeel, 1st deputy assistant of Ministry of Awqaf, (who is considered as a MB associate) declared in a meeting at the International Center for Strategic and Future Studies in Cairo, that acquiring WMD is not a leisure anymore and it is a necessity in our contemporary world, he asked what a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East means if our neighbor acquires hundreds as reported? He also maintained that these weapons are not for use but only for deterrence. [10]


The MB leaders’ statements regarding Egypt’s nuclear program and WMD are interesting and worth scrutinizing, but we should be very careful not to jump to conclusions. These statements do not represent official government policy – yet. Furthermore, once in power, the MB are likely to tone down their rhetoric and moderate their policies. The burden of governance will be overwhelming and the MB are experienced and astute enough to realize that their words and actions will be put under the microscope. They will also be held accountable not only by the international community but also by those who elected them to office. Politics and international pressures are likely to influence the MB’s principles and earlier positions on nonproliferation. But we will have to wait and see how this one will play out.





Ibrahim Said is Visiting Scholar at the Technical Nonproliferation and Disarmament Project of the UK/Norway intiative hosted by the Center for Accelerator-based research and Energy Physics, University of Oslo. Said is also Middle East next generation fellow and a former Visiting Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.