A number of Central and Eastern European countries, specifically Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, are subjected to attempts by the MB to penetrate their societies despite the group’s initial lack of a traditional Arabic-speaking base. The increasing influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and Iraq, and the rising religious orientation of Turkish nationalist organizations active in the region, are an opportunity for the MB to find a place in these countries, given the unprecedented measures it faces in its traditional strongholds in EU, such as Germany and France.
In this report, we highlight the MB’s movements in Romania, although it has been “shy” so far, putting them under the microscope may contribute to clarifying the group’s influence in the EU and the world, something that the MENA center always tries to present to the reader.
Romania has more than 100,000 Muslims out of a total population of 22.5 million, the vast majority of whom are Orthodox Christians.
Romanian Muslims are divided into three categories, the first: local Muslims of non-Roman origin, who are of Tatar, Turkish, and Albanian origins, the second are the new Muslims of the original people, the majority of whom converted to Islam after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, and finally the third section: Muslims from Arab and Islamic countries, the majority of whom came from Turkey, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Most Roman Muslims are found in an area on the Black Sea coast called Dobrojia, now known as the province of Constança in southeastern Romania. The rest reside in various cities along the Danube, especially the city of Tulcea, as well as the capital Bucharest, which receives Arab students and expatriates.
Muslims today practice their religious rites with complete freedom in Romania, and the fears that prevailed in the past about the extinction of Islamic monuments began to fade after Bucharest, which adopts the secular system, recorded a remarkable rise in respect for religious freedoms.
The MB’s presence…
There is no explicit presence of the MB in Romania, but there is a close link between some preaching and educational institutions and the group. As in the rest of the EU, the cadres of these institutions deny their relationship with the group, out of concern for the confidentiality of “Dawa”.
The most prominent institution known near the MB is the “Islamic and Cultural Association of Romania” which was founded under the name “Association of Muslim Students in Romania” at the initiative of some Arab students and expatriates.
The Association is responsible for the establishment of cultural, humanitarian, and social activities, the restoration of destroyed and ancient mosques, the organization of donation and aid campaigns for Muslim families, and works to “promote the members of the community both among Romans and foreign residents and show the correct image of the Muslim.”
The Association is located in Bucharest and has offices in major university cities across the country (Cluj, Craiova, Constanta, Yaš, Timisoara) where it promotes Islam among non-Muslim students.
The Islamic and Cultural Association of Romania is currently led by Dr. Abu al-Ela Naji al-Ghaithi, a Yemeni who studied human medicine and specialized in Romania, where he has resided for about thirty years.
Al-Ghaithi contributed to supporting the MB during the fall of authority in Egypt, where he personally oversaw the organization of rallies against President Sisi. Some information also indicates that he played a major role in the Syrian opposition in Romania, whether by excluding secular opponents from the scene, or by organizing donation campaigns for the “mujahedeen” in Syria and supporting them in the media and material.
Dr. Fariz Abdul Majeed al-Luqta (Abu Islam), one of the most important figures working for the group in Romania, is a Gazan-born pediatrician who runs the European Waqf Foundation in Romania, and the Jerusalem School in Bucharest, and described by the Romanian-based Syrian activist, Dr. Hanan Noura Hayek,” as “the actual leader of the MB in Romania.”
He contributed to strengthening the Syrian opposition currents in Romania and giving them a kind of legitimacy through contracts with the “Jerusalem School” related to cooperation in the field of education and care for the affairs of Syrian refugee children, and he also played an influential role in neutralizing and excluding some Syrian opponents who disagreed with him in orientation.
The list of organizations loyal to the MB in Romania also includes the Muslim Sisters, which is run by Gamal al-Din, a Roman sheik of Tatar origin who has been actively involved in organizing festivals and marches against the Sisi regime in Egypt.
MB’s Maestro in Romania
Romania has been hosting Osama al-Qaradawi, the son of the late Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the mufti of the MB, as Qatar’s “ambassador extraordinary” to Romania since October 2021, which observers saw as a prelude to an attempt to empower the MB in the fragile Balkan countries in security and economically turbulent.
The position of “Ambassador Extraordinary” is the highest diplomatic level of the ambassadors, gives him exceptional possibilities to perform his duties, and authorizes him to conclude agreements on behalf of the State or body he represents.
“He previously served as Qatar’s deputy ambassador to Cairo during the MB’s rule in Egypt “without relinquishing his Egyptian nationality, as he holds a national number, and extracted an identity card in 2010 as an Egyptian citizen, while not extracting an Egyptian passport to keep him out of sight during his travels.” According to Egyptian media reports.
He also headed the crisis management department at Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a development that “reflects the MB’s penetration into Qatari government circles.”
Observers point out that Osama is the link between the international organization of the MB abroad and the group inside Egypt, where he transmits instructions and information to the MB, taking advantage of the diplomatic immunity he enjoys.
He has a close relationship with MB leaders in Romania and Eastern EU in general, although he has been absent from the media since taking the position.
The Future of Political Islam in Romania
The MB’s tactics of penetrating into host societies vary depending on factors specific to those countries, such as the proportion of Muslims in the population, as well as the possibility of exploiting the phenomenon of Islamophobia, which has become a key in promoting the group’s ideology and expanding its popular base under the pretext of “defending the rights of Muslims.”
Observers warn that the absence of active roles for the most important Islamic organizations and institutions in the Arab and Muslim world, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, in Romania, will give the MB an advantage in the country within a region that has become a gateway for illegal migration to Europe.