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Cold War, Holy Warrior

Ike was president. Washington was desperate for Arab allies. Enter an Islamist ideologue with an invitation to the White House and a plan for global jihad.

ONCE AGAIN, it was the Cold War that saved Ramadan and his movement. This time, his destination was Germany, an ally of Islamic fundamentalism going back to the Nazi era. When Egypt and Syria established diplomatic relations with East Germany, West Germany made overtures to both countries' opposition—and that included the Brotherhood. Ramadan got official West German help in fleeing to Munich from his certain death sentence in Egypt; a few years later he settled in Geneva, hub of international diplomacy and intrigue. There, in 1961, he created the Islamic Center of Geneva, which would serve for decades as the base and organizational headquarters for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.

As Washington's ally in the struggle to undermine Nasser, Ramadan benefited from a fateful choice made by the United States in the 1950s and '60s. Rather than allying itself with Nasser's brand of Arab nationalism, the United States had made perhaps its biggest mistake in the Middle East since World War II: It chose to make common cause with Saudi Arabia's reactionary monarchy. Starting in the 1950s, Washington encouraged the kingdom to create a network of right-wing Islamic states and Islamist organizations, thus helping to build the foundation on which Al Qaeda would ultimately rest. Ramadan's Islamic Center was a major beneficiary of the policy, reaping generous funding from the kingdom.

The center soon became a place for Islamists from across the entire Muslim world to meet and make plans; it also acted as a publishing house for Islamist literature. Its purpose was to promote the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology, according to Hani Ramadan, Said's son, who has assumed his father's mantle as director of the center. "The creation of the Islamic Center was supposed to realize my father's desire of creating a center from which he could spread the teachings of Hassan al-Banna," he says, "a place where students coming from various Arab countries could meet and be trained in the message of Islam." According to Richard Labeviere, a French journalist who has written about the Brotherhood's ties to terrorism, Said Ramadan used Geneva as the launching pad for the Brotherhood's international expansion; the group even created its own Swiss bank, Al Taqwa, with offices in the Swiss town of Campione d'Italia as well as the Bahamas. After September 11, 2001, Al Taqwa was listed by the United States as having supported terrorists.

There's another intriguing question that emerges from this period in Ramadan's life: Had he been recruited by the CIA during his 1953 visit to the United States? Ramadan's family denies that he was, but declassified documents in the Swiss National Archives, uncovered by Sylvain Besson of Geneva's Le Temps newspaper, reveal that in the 1960s the Swiss authorities considered him to be, "among other things, an intelligence agent of the British and the Americans." In July 2005, the Wall Street Journal, after extensive archival research in Switzerland and Germany, reported: "Historical evidence suggests Mr. Ramadan worked with the CIA." Documents from West German intelligence archives, uncovered by the Journal, reveal that Ramadan traveled on an official Jordanian diplomatic passport secured for him by the CIA, that "his expenditures are financed by the American side," and that Ramadan worked closely with the CIA's American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism, Amcomlib, which ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (both CIA front groups) in the 1950s and 1960s. According to the Journal, in May 1961, a CIA officer with Amcomlib met with Ramadan to plan a "joint propaganda effort against the Soviet Union."

As it turned out, the Islamic Center was only the beginning of Ramadan's ambitions. In 1962 he helped create a broader, more powerful organization that would become the central nervous system for far-right Wahhabi internationalism: the Muslim World League. "My father wasn't just one of the leaders of the founding group of the league," says Hani Ramadan. "He had the original idea for its creation."

With vast Saudi funding, the league sent out missionaries, printed propaganda, and doled out funds for the building of Wahhabi-oriented mosques and Islamic associations from North Africa through Central Asia, even outside the Islamic world. According to Gilles Kepel, a noted French scholar of Islam, it also served as a conduit for Saudi money to radical Islamists, from the ultraright Islamic Society in Pakistan to Afghan jihadists to the Muslim Brotherhood itself. "The league identified worthy beneficiaries, invited them to Saudi Arabia, and gave them the recommendation (tazkiya) that would later provide them with largesse from a generous private donor, a member of the royal family, a prince, or an ordinary businessman," Kepel wrote in his book, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. "The league was managed by members of the Saudi religious establishment...along with ulemas [Muslim clergy] from the Indian subcontinent connected to the Deoband Schools or to the party founded by Mawdudi." The Deobandi movement, a school of ultraorthodox Muslim fundamentalism founded in India, was instrumental in establishing the system of madrasas in Pakistan that trained the Taliban.

In 1970, the Brotherhood and Ramadan saw their ultimate vindication when Nasser died and Anwar Sadat, a member of the Brotherhood decades before, became president of Egypt. The next year, Ramadan returned to Egypt at the head of a Muslim Brotherhood delegation, organized and financed by Saudi Arabia, to broker a deal with Sadat to reestablish the Muslim Brotherhood, 17 years after it was first outlawed. (In the words of Robert Baer, a former CIA operations officer who has written about ties between the CIA and the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia "pimped for the Brothers.")

At the time, Sadat was trying to reorient Egypt away from its ties to the Soviet Union, moving the Arab world's most powerful country into the orbit of the United States and Saudi Arabia. But Sadat lacked any real political base, and he had to purge scores of Nasserists from key positions in the government. He turned to the Muslim Brotherhood to help create a new base of support, and the group seized its chance.

During the 1970s, the Egyptian Islamist movement spread wildly, taking over key institutions and spawning a host of radical Islamist offshoots, which in turn mobilized to support the CIA's anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. These volunteers also established a new organization, Islamic Jihad, which would later join with Osama bin Laden as part of Al Qaeda. And in 1981, the radicals turned on their protector: An Islamist assassin gunned Sadat down in full public view during a televised army parade.

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