Italy has been considered one of the important Muslim Brotherhood bases in Europe for decades, beginning in the 1960s when the group began to become active there due to campaigns against Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt. As soon as the first group members came to the European country, they began to establish advocacy organizations; its apparent goal is to spread Islam and guarantee the rights of the Muslim communities there. However, its essence was – and still is – a call for the implementation of Hasan al-Banna’s project based on world sovereignty and the building of a Muslim Brotherhood caliphate across the globe.
About 1.6 million Muslims live in Italy today, according to the Statista website, and the Moroccan community constitutes the largest number, with a population of 450,000 people. Islam is the second most common foreign religion in the country.
During the years of its activity in Italy, the group managed to establish good relations with several parties, especially the left, always considered supportive or at least tolerant towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.
The most prominent Muslim Brotherhood tools
In Italy and Europe in general, the group runs a wide network of advocacy, social and economic associations and organizations, which may seem separate from each other, but an examination of their activities and the names of the personalities who run them give a clear picture of the mechanism of the group’s work. Islamic organizations and associations active in Italy can be monitored as follows:
– Union of Muslim Students in Italy (USMI): The prime Muslim Brotherhood organization in Italy. It was founded in the late 1960s in Perugia. It consisted mostly of Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian students. The union was the nucleus that later in the 1990s formed the “Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy” , the Muslim Brotherhood’s striking arm in Italy.
– The Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy (UCOII): It is considered the official representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Italy. It was established in 1990 by Muhammad Nour Dashan, who is of Syrian origin, still running it. It includes nearly 130 associations and controls about 80 percent local mosques together with cultural and youth centres.
The Qatar Charity Foundation is the most prominent supporter of the “UCOII” union activities, which allocated 25 million euros in three years to build 43 mosques, including the Ravenna Mosque, the Catania and Piacenza Mosque, financing a building in the Roman neighborhood of Centocelle to be used as a mosque, as an alternative to the Great Mosque of Rome, which takes a position against the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the investigative book “Qatar Papers” by French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
The “UCOII” union includes controversial personalities, such as Yassin El Baradei, the Secretary-General of the Union, who declared in September 2020 that Christianity and Judaism “are heresy and manipulate the original message of the prophets”, referring to the “clear words of God in the Holy Qur’an”. He claimed that “Islam comes to correct the errors committed in the previous holy books”. This sparked a wave of condemnation among Christians and Jews.
– The Muslim League in Italy (or the „Islamic Association in Italy“) is one of the most important institutions of the Jamaat in Italy, having its headquarters in Milan. The League operates under the guise of cultural and educational activities and plays a major role in coordinating the members of the Muslim Brotherhood network. The association is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s „Council of Europe Muslims“.
– The Association of Muslim Youth and Students in Italy (AGESMI): An Islamic youth organization established under the auspices of the Federation of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy, its first board of directors consisted of the sons and daughters of the leaders of the Federation of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy. The association has failed to gain any support.
– The Italian Muslim Youth Organization (GMI): A splinter youth organization from the Muslim Brotherhood that was established in 2001, days after the September 11 attacks, and soon the Federation of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy began to intervene in order to control it.
– The Charitable Society for the Support of the Palestinian People: It is concerned with charitable work and collecting donations for the benefit of the Palestinians, as it claims, and its headquarters are located in Genova.
– The Islamic Center of Milan and Lombardy: Founded in 1977, with the efforts of a small group of students and immigrants from the MENA region, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood-associated USMI. Later the center gradually grew as immigration flows brought more Muslims to Milan.
There is also the „Association of Muslims“ in Italy, founded and led by an Italian army officer of Somali origin, and the „Association of Italian Muslims“, founded by an Italian citizen of Scottish origin together with the „Islamic Religious Association“, which initially arose as a center for studies, and then turned into an Islamic religious association with the aim of obtaining official recognition from the Italian government.
For years, Italy has embraced prominent leaders of the group, the most important of whom are Youssef Nada and Ghaleb Hemmat, prominent financiers of the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of the most important founders of the international organization of the group for decades, according to a report issued by the Political Islam Documentation Center.
In practice, the local Muslim Brotherhood network is run by officials of UCOII, the Moroccan Yassine Lafram, who has been leading the union since July 2018 for four years. It is believed that he is just a youth front for the first row leaders of the local organization, such as the imam of Florence, since 2001, Muhammad Noor Dahshan, Honorary President of the Organization, and Spokesperson for the Executive Council of the Federation from 2006 to February 2010.
The list also includes Izz al-Din al-Zir, a Palestinian born in 1971, who holds a university degree from Hebron University. He is considered one of the founders of the “Islamic Community” in the Tuscany region, became a member of its board of directors until 1991, then its cultural official and its current president since 2000.
Other prominent names include Nadia Bouzkari, the vice president of the union, Yassin El Baradei as the general secretary of the union, Mustafa Al-Baztami as treasurer of the financial fund and Abdel Hafeez Khait, head of the institutional and public relations department in the union.
But among the most prominent figures as a front for the group, Sheikh Wajih Saad, a founding member of the „European Association of Imams and Guides“ in Italy and Dr. Ali Abu Shuwayma, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representative in the group’s Shura Council, director of the Islamic Center in Milan and Lombardy.
Relationship with Shiite groups
Some reports indicate the existence of sharp divisions between the Islamic bloc in Italy as a result of various affiliations, such as Jama’at al-Dawa wa al-Hijra or Jama’at al-Takfir wa al-Hijra, the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Sufis and other various blocs that have spread in recent years.
On the other hand, a recent study issued by the “European Eye on Extremism” website has warned of the suspicious relationship between the entities linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Italy and Khomeini (wilayat al-faqih in Iran), where vision, ideology and practices are similar.
The authors of the study, researchers Tommaso Virgili and Giovanni Giacaloni, have recommended the need to investigate the relationship between Sunni Islamist groups and their Shiite counterparts linked to Iran. They have considered that past and current events in the Middle East show that Sunni and Shiite extremists can fight each other fiercely, but can also forge alliances in the name of a common goal, for example, opposing the West and/or Israel or seeking a state based on Islamic law.
The two researchers have cited the historically controversial relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda, in which the Muslim Brotherhood, with local exceptions, has established friendly and shared ideological relations with Iranian Islamists.
The study has concluded with a recommendation to Italian authorities to pay attention to the indicators of the reproduction of this alliance at the local level, as it leads to civil extremism and institutional infiltration, and thus constitutes a new threat to its liberal democracy.
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