Belgium’s security policy is often described as fragile and lax when it comes to the threats by the MB, which the group exploits to operate freely in the country, which has exported the largest number of European fighters relative to its population, who have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
However, this lax policy began to change. In March 2022, the committee responsible for monitoring the various police, security, and intelligence services in Belgium called for monitoring the activities of the MB in Belgium (1). In its report, the committee made a recommendations series to improve the monitoring of the activities of the group in Belgium.
The report’s main conclusions indicate a lack of cooperation between the country’s intelligence and security services to monitor the activities of the MB, including the General Intelligence and Security Services (GISS), the Belgian military service under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense, the Belgian Civil State Security Service (VSSE), various OCAM police agencies, as well as an independent center for the assessment of terrorists and the extremist threat in Belgium.
The government asked the Permanent Intelligence Agencies Review Committee to investigate the presence of the MB in Belgium, and to prepare a report after the crisis surrounding the nomination of Ihsan Hawash during the year 2021 by the Green political party Ecolo to Parliament, as the party member forced to resign quickly after revealing various direct links. And indirectly the MB
Information about the MB in Belgium
Belgium is a very important country for the MB, especially its capital, Brussels, it is the capital of the EU, and is home to countless lobbyists, consulting firms, and non-governmental organizations. The MB presence in Brussels is not a coincidence, but rather an intentional goal, allowing them to put pressure on European institutions, as well as join several Belgian and European NGOs, such as the European Network for Religion and Belief (ENORB) or the Center for Humane Democrats (HDC).
Reports confirm that three of the six European MB-affiliated organizations are based in Brussels (2): the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO), the European Forum for Muslim Women (EFOMW) and the European Islamic Network (EMN).
In addition to the MB activity aimed at overt and covert influence on the EU and the organizations that work with it, there are Belgian local networks. The Muslim League of Belgium (LMB) is headquartered in the capital and is in four other cities: Liège, Antwerp, Ghent, and Verviers. Founded in 2005, LMB quickly established itself as the most representative organization of the MB in Belgium, currently headed by Karim Azzouzi.
The second major pole of the Belgian MB is the Islamic Educational and Cultural Academy in Verviers (ECICV), established by German Islamist Hassan Soueid in 2004.
Around these two main poles of the Belgian MB revolve several affiliated organizations, the most influential of which is the Collective Counter-Islamophobia of Belgium (CCIB), based in Brussels and headed by Mustafa Chery. The Association for the Empowerment of Belgian Muslims (EmBeM), based in Genk led by Fatima Zebouh. There is also the Belgian Association of Muslim Professionals (ABPM) and others.
Belgian intelligence has identified about 40 associations of this movement, operating in various social, educational, religious, humanitarian, and civil fields, often run by qualified and multilingual young people, who regularly exchange positions and create new structures.
The MB-affiliated associations, or those closely affiliated with them, have been allocated more than €52 million in public funds directly or indirectly between 2007 and 2020. According to French press reports (3)
The problem is not only the sums given by Europe to the MB, but the implicit recognition by European institutions underlying these financial allocations, and in some cases the ability to conceal the true identity of the movement.
Belgian moves to limit the group’s activity
The GISS classifies the MB movement as a “danger.” As for the VSSE, the movement was seen as “a threat of high priority in relation to radicalization, since its short-term strategy could create a climate of polarization and apartheid within Belgian society, and thus constitute a guiding factor for radicalization.”
But Belgium does not classify the group as a terrorist, despite calls for it, especially after the deadly attacks in Belgium and France between 2015 and 2016. The head of the Counter-Terrorism Committee in the Belgian Parliament, “Koen Mitsu,” warned of the dangers of the MB, and demanded in his article (4), the inclusion of the MB as a terrorist organization, as has been done in many countries.
Belgium’s policy of supervising mosques, monitoring the lessons and sermons of imams, as well as foreign funding, and what is happening inside about 300 mosques, seems to be fragile, despite the measures taken and the legislation it has enacted to combat extremism and terrorism. According to a report by the European Center for Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Studies on August 15, 202.
Some observers of such issues have confirmed that a good number of mosques preferred to operate without government oversight and decided not to demand official recognition, as they received sufficient foreign funding, and another factor related to the lengthy bureaucratic process of obtaining recognition. ACCORDING TO A REPORT ISSUED BY THE OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ON MAY 12, 2021,
This hinders the government’s strategy of extending recognition to more mosques in Belgium, so that they qualify for government funding that reduces the impact of foreign radical Islamic funding and gives the authorities more oversight.
There are today only 87 recognized mosques out of 300, which is not enough to make the Belgian government’s policy successful, and indicates the seriousness of the situation in Belgium and the lack of real coordination between the authorities responsible for monitoring the activity of Islamic movements, which proves in one way or another the influence of the MB movement on policymakers in Belgium. According to the report.
The dangers posed by the MB to Belgium
The danger of the MB in Belgium comes from the fact that it has influence over European organizations located in the capital of the European Union, which makes it difficult to limit its activity. It works covertly to strengthen the isolation of the Muslim community from European society by putting forward radical ideas that are contrary to European values, exploiting the term Islamophobia in order to gain maximum support within the Muslim minority, and ultimately reaching its ultimate goal, which is to impose its agenda on Western countries as the ones with the greatest influence on the Muslim community in Europe. This policy largely encourages the creation of a semblance of an Islamic ghetto, with the aim of creating a generation of young people affected by extremist and closed ideas that provide fertile ground for terrorist organizations that recruit young people to carry out terrorist operations in Europe and abroad, in addition to obtaining financial support through donations sent from Europe.
The head of the Belgian parliament’s counter-terrorism committee, Koen Mitso, called the MB a “creeping poison”. “Political Islam groups are driven by international actors to penetrate Europe.
The group succeeded in infiltrating state apparatuses by offering goodwill and posing as victims, and then carrying out their extremist agenda in secret,” he said in an article in the Belgian magazine Doorbraak.
The Belgian politician warns that the CCIB is linked to its French counterpart CCIF, which was immediately dissolved by the French interior minister after the non-profit organization was linked to the attack on French professor Samuel Paty, on the grounds that this attack was linked to the MB.
In Belgium, CCIB directors now sit on several governing bodies and councils such as the Senate, the Brussels Economic Council, the Schaerbeek City Police Council, and the Federal Migration Centre, and advocate for equal opportunities at Unia, an independent public institution that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities in Belgium. According to the head of the Anti-Terrorism Committee in the Belgian Parliament, and according to what the head of the Security Committee in the Belgian Parliament confirms.
The Left and the MB in Belgium
The Belgian town of Molenbeek is a model of rapprochement between left-wing parties and the MB, where many terrorist networks are active. The city’s late socialist mayor, Felipe Murillo, was accused of establishing a patronage system and unleashing radical Islamists in exchange for electoral support.
This understanding was greatly reinforced when Belgian-Moroccan Journalist Hind Freihi published her famous article “A Secret Mission in Molenbeek,” in which she exposed the world of crime and extremism, in which Morillo called on local imams to join forces against the author rather than seek to address these issues. Similarly, author, comedian, and free expression activist Sam Touzani stated that Murillo prevented him from appearing in public cultural centers because of his outspoken atheism and conservative Islam criticism, and political Islam currents. (6)
Mutual interests appear in relations between political Islam organizations and left-wing parties in Belgium despite the significant difference in ideologies and ideas.
It was found that the percentage of Muslims voting for left-wing parties ranged between 60.3% and 80%, as Muslims are affected by left-wing discourse that defends freedom of belief and religious practices, and left-wing parties adopt an anti-Islamophobia discourse in Belgian society. Here comes the role of the MB, who play this term as a political card to obtain the freedom of political movement in Belgium, and present themselves as opponents of the oppression of Muslims in Europe and thus become partners of the left, by joining leftist parties and thus closer to influencing decision-making, while the left takes advantage of their presence in order to gain the votes of Muslims who prefer to vote for a Muslim. According to a poll conducted by the Belgian website (Jknack_ May 12, 2021) in the 2018 local elections.
The Brussels government is acting according to the logic that the MB does not currently pose a direct threat against Belgian institutions because it does not directly call for violence, despite warnings from the security services of its subsequent danger to society and security in the state. The Committee on Monitoring the Activity of the Security Services, therefore, suggests that the intelligence services intensify their efforts to raise awareness in political and administrative circles of the threats associated with the presence of the MB in Belgium.
The Belgian government’s recent initiative to assign the committee responsible for monitoring the various police, security, and intelligence services in Belgium to investigate the Brotherhood movement indicates new steps that Brussels may take to limit the activity of the Brotherhood, like neighboring countries such as France and Germany, where Brussels is a country lagging behind the European in limiting the activity of political Islam organizations.
- Belgian magazine (brussels times) on March 26, 2022.
- French website (global-watch-analysis).
- French magazine (Le Point) on January 25, 2022
- Belgian Doorbraak Magazine November 9, 2021
- OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WEBSITE ON MAY 12, 2021
- Website (European Eye on Extremism) on January 26, 2020
- Locations (Jknack_ May 2021)
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