FEMYSO, the young Europeans who gravitate in the Galaxy of the Muslim Brotherhood
Jean-Loup Adenor and Hadrien Brachet
November 14, 2021
This article first appeared in Marianne and was translated by Alexander Gray, Research Fellow at Policy Exchange
An association which receives European funds is behind the controversial Council of Europe pro-hijab campaign. FEMYSO, according to several researchers, has links to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood movement. This is the first part of our investigation into this structure.
On 4th November, an Al-Jazeera video appeared on FEMYSO’s Twitter account. The organisation’s president, Hande Taner, strongly attacked France: “Paris is currently the capital of Western prejudice” and “France’s biggest export is just racism”, said the young woman facing the camera.
— FEMYSO (@FEMYSO) November 4, 2021
The reason for her anger? The withdrawal of the Council of Europe’s campaign to promote acceptance of the veil. It included slogans such as “My hijab, my choice”, “Beauty is found in diversity like freedom in the hijab” or “Bring joy, accept the hijab”. It was withdrawn after French political figures from across the political spectrum were outraged. FEMYSO was one of the co-organisers.
After studying the design of the Council of Europe campaign, Marianne investigated this pan-European association which brings together 32 member organisations. In its statutes, which we have consulted, appears the objective “to encourage the development of a European Muslim identity”. FEMYSO is described by several researchers as a young and transnational offshoot of the Union of Islamic Organisations in Europe (UOIE) [renamed CEM, Council of European Muslims, in 2020], a structure close to the Muslim Brotherhood and which represents the fundamentalist strand of Islam in Europe.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna to establish an Islamic regime in Egypt, has spread around the world, in different forms, over the past forty years. If independent entities have emerged in many countries and particularly in Europe, they share, according to Sergio Altuna and Lorenzo Vidino to Marianne authors of “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Pan-European Structure”, a “deep belief in the political nature of Islam” and form “a global web of organisational, personal and financial connections”.
According to the researchers Marianne interviewed, FEMYSO is part of the European galaxy of the Muslim Brotherhood. ”FEMYSO is the young branch of an organisation said to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Union of Islamic Organisations in Europe (UOIE), which represents the fundamentalist current of Islam in Europe and whose objective is to form a European Muslim elite”, explains to Marianne Florence Bergeaud Blackler, anthropologist at the CNRS and specialist in Islamist movements.
“Organisational and lnterpersonal links”
Speaking to Marianne, Hiba Latreche, vice-president of FEMYSO maintained on 3rd November that the association had been created on the initiative of “young European Muslims “and that it did not maintain “particular relations” with the UOIE. But the story of the creation of FEMYSO reveals another version. As Lorenzo Vidino and Sergio Altuna recall, a meeting entitled “Islam in Europe” was held in 1995 in Stockholm. Funded by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the presence of several youth organisations including “Jeunes Musulmans de France”, the youth branch of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), the main body of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in France, this event aimed to create a better “coordination” between European Muslim organisations.
This process led to the creation of FEMYSO in 1996. In the 2007 version of its website, consulted by Marianne and modified since, FEMYSO recognised that the UOIE had “invited” the organisations in charge of the project to “a meeting in Birmingham, in the United Kingdom to facilitate the process”. “The UOIE documents prove very clearly that FEMYSO is one of their offshoots”, agrees Lorenzo Vidino to Marianne, professor and director of a program on extremism at George-Washington University and expert on Islamist networks in Europe and North America.
“From 1996, FEMYSO, based in Brussels, was set up as an exchange platform to bring together certain youth organisations linked to the various national federations found in the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, itself associated within the UIOE, summarises Brigitte Maréchal, a doctor in sociology and specialist in European Islam in her book “Les Frères musulmans en Europe. Racines et discours”. But this youth organisation appears keen to maintain autonomy from the Brotherhood, although certain interpersonal and organisational links have been established.”
CCIF, MILLÎ GÖRÜŞ, UOIF
For example, the former FEMYSO President Intissar Kherigi is the daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahdha. The study of the 32 FEMYSO member organisations is also eloquent. Among them, the “Young Muslims of France” or, in Germany, the youth department of “Islamische Gemeinschaft Millî Görüş” (Islamic community Millî Görüş).
Millî Görüş is a Muslim confederation, considered to be close to Turkey. Its French emanation refused to sign the charter of principles for an ‘Islam of France’, which committed the signatories to fight against political Islam and foreign interference. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal estimated in May that Millî Görüş was going “against the values of the Republic”.
Another FEMYSO member: the European Institute of Human Sciences, whose dean is none other than Ahmed Jaballah. He is considered by our colleagues from Liberation as “one of the most respected and influential figures of Musulmans de France, the former UOIF, close to the Muslim Brotherhood”.
FEMYSO also publicly supported the CCIF after its dissolution, judging that “the French government supported by the far right and other extremist groups was using the barbaric event [of the death of Samuel Paty] to criminalise and dissolve the CCIF”.
— FEMYSO (@FEMYSO) April 8, 2012
Finally, FEMYSO has repeatedly invited Tariq Ramadan, the preacher and grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder. In 2011, he spoke at a study session on Islamophobia organised by FEMYSO at the European Youth Centre which depends on the Council of Europe. In 2012, it interviewed Tariq Ramadan during the “Annual meeting of Muslims of France”, organised by the UOIF.
Lobbying at the highest level
These links have not prevented several European institutions from working actively with FEMYSO since the 2000s and it is no coincidence that it has set up its offices in Brussels. As early as September 2003, FEMYSO co-organised an event at the European Parliament on interreligious dialogue. By way of evidence that cooperation is ongoing: on 17th November, the European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, is to receive a delegation from the association. Among the institutional partners that FEMYSO mentions on its site: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.
The association specifies that “Study sessions are generally delivered in cooperation between FEMYSO and the youth department of the Council of Europe”. It also proudly displays on its website a photo from 2006 of the vice-president of FEMYSO at the time, Sunduss Al-Hassani, with the secretary general of the Council of Europe at the time, Terry Davis, during the launch of a human rights campaign. “The Council of Europe has appointed FEMYSO as one of the thirty members of its Advisory Council on Youth and works regularly with this organisation”, adds Florence Bergeaud Blackler.
FEMYSO continues to deny any link to the Muslim Brotherhood, deeming these accusations to be “slanderous allegations”. This is a recurring attitude in this network of associations that the political scientist Fiammetta Venner denounced in 2005 in “OPA sur l’Islam de France”, her book devoted to the UOIF: “It is a fairly common ruse among activists trained by the Brotherhood. They pretend to confuse the name Muslim Brotherhood as a “formal organisation” and the name Muslim Brotherhood designating the school of thought founded from Egypt by Hassan al-Banna. This is in order to protect themselves from any charges for Islamism by arguing that they are not “organically” linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. A mostly secret brotherhood, without any organic link with most of its members, and whose harmfulness lies less in its structure than in the ideas it conveys.”
Ignorance or patronage
“We can organise a campaign on the issue of anti-Muslim racism, but we have to choose our partners carefully,” said Lorenzo Vidino. It remains to be seen whether the Council of Europe or the European Commission make an informed choice. “Most of the time, the European institutions ignore the true nature of this association, especially since organisations close to the Muslim Brotherhood are very effective at making bureaucratic applications, believes Lorenzo Vidino. But sometimes there is clientelism.” Contacted by Marianne, Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs assured that he was examining this issue.
For its part, the Council of Europe tells Marianne that “as far as projects supported by the Council of Europe are concerned, they must meet strict management and financial controls criteria. The allocation of funds is subject to respect for human rights and fundamental values, and we regularly review this principle.”
Contacted by Marianne, the European Commission indicates that “all projects are subject to careful examination and careful monitoring throughout their implementation. In the event of a breach of funding conditions or of the fundamental EU values, the Commission would not hesitate to end this cooperation, if necessary, and we have done so in the past”. In 2015 the Commission chose to dismiss accusations of appeasement with the Muslim Brotherhood, worrying about “the content of certain press articles which discredit civil society organisations whose statutory mission is to contribute to the common objective of combating racism, xenophobia, discrimination and related intolerance.”
Since 2014, FEMYSO has also received several tens of thousands of euros in grants from the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Marianne has traced the trail of European money.