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TALK | The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Evolution in Organization and Ideology from the early 1970s until 2017


Contrary to the generally accepted conceptualization of the Brotherhood as an ‘Islamist movement’, we will understand the Brotherhood as a modern political organization. We will focus on the various internal political and personality clashes that have characterized the Brotherhood’s life as an organization, how these conflicts have contributed to the Brotherhood’s downfall in 2013, and how internal politics continues to shape the Brotherhood’s political behavior today. The oral history and ethnographic methods that have been used for this research will, furthermore, allow for a unique perspective on the personal life trajectories of the key personalities that have shaped the Brotherhood’s history during this period. Doing so, we will argue for a fresh approach on how the Brotherhood – and, by extension, ‘Islamist movements’ in general – can be conceptualized.

The information presented in this lecture is the result of over six years of in-depth research. It is based on a large number of internal docu- ments, as well as over sixty in-depth interviews with rank-and-file members, mid-ranking cadres, senior leaders, as well as dissidents who had left the Brotherhood due to personal conflicts and animosities. The bulk of the interviews were conducted in Cairo and Alexandria between 2012 and 2013 – a period which facilitated a unique access to the rank and file of an otherwise highly secretive organization. Another three dozen interviews were conducted following the military coup of 2013 in various cities outside of Egypt, including in Doha, Istan- bul, London, Manchester, Geneva, Berlin and Paris.

Besides presenting an abundance of ethno- graphic material, such as original internal docu- ments, pictures of protest scenes, and voice recordings with rank-and-file members, the lecture will also feature a range of detailed organizational charts that allow for an intimate understanding of the Brotherhood both from the inside-out as well as from the bottom-up. The corresponding book The Fourth Ordeal: A History of the Society of the Muslim Brothers, 1973-2013 will be published in early 2018.

Victor J. Willi holds a PhD in History from the University of Oxford and a Master in History, Arabic & Islamic Studies, and International Law from the University of Zurich. He has over 15 years of research experience in different countries of the Middle East and North Africa, including extended field trips in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, where he investigated the historical origins of Hezbollah. His new research project focuses on the politics and practice of Islamic law among Hamas and the Salafi scene in Gaza. He is currently the academic director of the interdisciplinary programmes at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva while advising the Swiss government on the Middle East and North Africa. Previously, he held various consulting and project management roles, including at the World Economic Forum, from where he received an executive Master degree. He also has several years of teaching experience, lecturing on post-Arab Spring Middle East politics and the modern history of the Middle East and North Africa. He is the recipient of several full-time research scholarships, including two from the Swiss National Science Foundation. He is Swiss-American and fluent in English, German, French and Arabic.

Earlier Event: November 29
Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly
Later Event: November 30
TALK | The Qur’an in the Enlightenment