What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

Founded in Egypt by imam Hassan al-Banna in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is the country's oldest Islamist organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt by religious scholar and teacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928, and is the country’s oldest Islamist organization.

It began as a religious charitable organization, teaching the illiterate and building hospitals. In the 1930s the group began an armed insurrection against British rule and was an active supporter of the Egypt revolution of 1952.

After a failed assassination attempt against Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, the group was banned and thousands of members imprisoned. But the organization continued to grow underground.

Today the organization blends political action with charity work. It's popular throughout the Muslim world, with branch operations in other countries including Syria, Yemen and Algeria.

While espousing support for democratic principles, the Brotherhood’s key goal has been to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia.

The group experienced an ideological split around the 1950s. One of its top members, Sayyid Qutb, advocated the use of offensive jihad, including armed struggle, against societies he felt weren’t living up to Islamic principles.

The Egyptian government executed Qutb in 1966 during a crackdown on the Brotherhood. But his writings have been used by several extremist Islamic groups in Egypt and elsewhere.

The Brotherhood made attempts at a political resurgence in the 1980s by joining forces with different parties, eventually garnering 17 seats in the lower house of the Egyptian parliament in 2000.

Five years later, with independent candidates running, the group captured 20 per cent of the seats.

The stunning victory triggered another round of crackdowns. The regime of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak arrested hundreds of members and rewrote the constitution, requiring that no political activity or party be based on religious foundations.

Prominent members of the Brotherhood in Egypt have reiterated that the group supports a civil state, with a parliamentary system based on Islamic principles and supported by political, judicial and media freedom.