U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., travelled to Egypt last week as part of an eight-member House delegation. She held a televised press conference with Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa, where she spoke of the recent coup in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
"We've seen the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood has posed around the world," she said Saturday. "We stand against this great evil. We are not for them. We remember who caused 9/11 in America. We remember who it was that killed 3,000 brave Americans. We have not forgotten. We know that you have dealt with that enemy as well."
Was Bachmann blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the 9/11 attacks? Or, was she making a more general statement that both Egypt and the United States should fight extremists?
Dan Kotman, Bachmann’s press secretary, told PolitiFact in an email that her comments were not meant to imply that the Muslim Brotherhood caused 9/11. Her main point was that the United States and Egypt need to maintain their resolve against terrorism in general, Kotman said.
Bachmann’s comments struck us as open to interpretation, so we won’t rate them on our Truth-O-Meter. Nevertheless, we thought it was worth taking a closer look at the Brotherhood, al-Qaida and misconceptions about the attacks.
Who is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Brotherhood is an Islamic political and social movement founded in Egypt in 1928. Today, they have millions of members throughout the Middle East.
In Egypt and other countries, the Brotherhood has frequently been oppressed. After Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the Egyptian presidency in 2011, the group was legalized. Then Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate for president, won election in 2012, but was overthrown in a military coup and arrested in 2013.
In recent memory the Brotherhood has not supported violence as a means of changing political processes in Egypt, wrote Dave Siegel, Duke University political science professor, in an email.
The Brotherhood has been a part of violent resistance before, Siegel wrote. And members unhappy with the movement’s political turn have contributed to al-Qaida’s material and spiritual growth.
Whether or not the Brotherhood can ever get another leader elected to office, they’re not going away, said Tony Gaskew, a criminal justice professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studied the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship. It would weaken Egypt and the region to drive them out with force, he added.
"They support the tenets of democracy within the political process, which really separates them from a lot of social movements in the Middle East," he said.
Al-Qaida and Sept. 11
Former President George W. Bush named al-Qaida as the group responsible for 9/11 in a public address just days after the attack.
"Al-Qaida is to terror what the mafia is to crime," Bush said.
While the Muslim Brotherhood focuses on politics within countries like Egypt, al-Qaida seeks to liberate the Middle East from imperialist rule, which they think was implemented to keep the Muslim world divided and weak, said James Gelvin, a Middle Eastern history professor at UCLA.
In 2002, Bush formed the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to provide a complete account of the attacks and recommendations for the future. They published their report in 2004.
The commission frequently referred to al-Qaida in explaining its makeup and recommending future action. By contrast, there are only five references to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 585-page document.
One mention is to explain that Osama Bin Laden relied on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a Brotherhood member. The report also described Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal 9/11 architect, as having once been a member of the Brotherhood.
The fact that a 9/11 terrorist had a tie to the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t surprising to Gaskew.
"It is impossible to be socially active in the Middle East and not have come into contact with the tenants of the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "They are extremely active in creating and sustaining social services, educational services, employment programs and health care programs."
Many people leave the Muslim Brotherhood due to the social movement’s opposition to violence, Gaskew said. They have repeatedly denounced violence, Gaskew said.
The Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida aren’t on good terms with each other, Siegel said.
"(The Muslim Brotherhood's) methods -- focused more on the political process than pure violence -- have actually been explicitly criticized by Bin Laden, who accused it of betraying the cause," Siegel wrote in an email. "It is certainly not responsible for 9/11."
BBC News, "Text: Bush Address to Congress," Sept. 21, 2001
Brookings Institution, "Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood," Jan. 28, 2011
Email interview with Dan Kotman, Michele Bachmann’s press secretary, Sept. 10, 2013
Email interview with Dave Siegel, Duke University political science professor, Sept. 10, 2013
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "The 9/11 Commission Report," July 22, 2004
New York Times, "Visiting Republicans Laud Egypt’s Force," Sept. 8, 2013
Phone interview with James Gelvin, UCLA Middle Eastern history professor, Sept. 9, 2013
Phone interview with Tony Gaskew, University of Pittsburgh criminal justice professor, Sept. 10, 2013
PolitiFact, "Glenn Beck On Al-Qaida Links to Muslim Brotherhood," Feb. 4, 2011
The Week, "WATCH: Michele Bachmann Flubs Almost Everything About Egypt," Sept. 9, 2013