After declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization, the Trump administration is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign “terrorist” organization.
“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday.
Tellingly, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was declared a terrorist organization at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump is likely to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terror group at the suggestion of Egyptian President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
According to the New York Times, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had urged President Trump to take the step during an April 9 visit to the White House. After the meeting, Trump praised Sisi as a “great president,” as a bipartisan group of US politicians raised concerns about el-Sisi’s record on human rights.
Coup against Mohammed Morsi
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood is one of the oldest and most influential Islamic movements in the world. It came to power in Egypt’s only free election in 2012, a year after long-serving President Hosni Mubarak resigned amid a popular uprising when Mohammed Morsi a Brotherhood member was elected President.
However, in July 2013, el-Sisi, who was commander-in-chief and Defense Minister, seized power in a military coup and imprisoned President Morsi.
Muslim Brotherhood was declared a “terror group” by Egypt in 2013 after the military coup.
In the aftermath of the coup, General el-Sisi, who later adopted the title of Field Marshal, launched a violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, with thousands of the group’s members arrested, and hundreds sentenced to death in what human rights groups have described as sham trials.
Human rights groups have also voiced concerns that el-Sisi might use it to justify an even harsher crackdown against his opponents.
Two of Egypt’s closest allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have also banned the group.
Implications of the move
The New York Times said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton supported the idea of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
However, the Pentagon, career national security staff, government lawyers and diplomatic officials have voiced legal and policy objections, and have been scrambling to find a more limited step that would satisfy the White House.
The US State Department had previously advised against banning the movement because of its “loose-knit structure and far-flung political ties across the Middle East”.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a network of loosely affiliated groups across the Islamic world. Several political parties in Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan consider themselves as part of the Muslim Brotherhood or have ties to it.
Reuters pointed out that giving the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist designation could complicate Washington’s relationship with NATO ally Turkey. The organization has close ties with President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and many of its members fled to Turkey after the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.
The Guardian said, if implemented, the move risks skewing US foreign policy towards a number of allies that contain parties or organizations aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, including Tunisia, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Affiliates of the group are also present in Syria and in Libya, where it is part of the unity government endorsed by the United Nations, the Government of National Accord.
Muslim Brotherhood statement
Al Jazeera quoted a statement on its website, saying: “The Muslim Brotherhood will remain stronger – through God’s grace and power – than any decision.”
It added: “We will remain … steadfast in our work in accordance with our moderate and peaceful thinking and what we believe to be right, for honest and constructive cooperation to serve the communities in which we live, and humanity as a whole.”
Reuters quoted Istanbul-based Yehya Hamed as saying, Trump is “trying to fight with the wind,” pointing to the prominent role of Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco. “What Trump is doing is bringing more instability to the region,” said Hamed who served as investment minister in the Morsi government.
The Guardian quoted a former Minister of Morsi as saying: “Trump is trying to lead the region into disaster.” “This is a mess,” said Darrag. “All of this just to please el-Sisi.” Darrag fears that the designation could radicalise young supporters of the Brotherhood. “If this designation happens now, it will give Isis and al-Qaida further evidence to present to young people, saying that you’ve been labelled terrorists so what are you waiting for, why don’t you become real terrorists,” he said. “This could turn the region into chaos. Imagine the repercussions of something like this.”
What experts say?
Daniel Benjamin, former counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department, said the department looked into designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in 2017 and 2018 and concluded that there was no legal basis for a designation.
“That continues to be true,” tweeted Benjamin, who is now at Dartmouth College. He accused the Trump administration of “warping” the designation process for political reasons.
“It’s malpractice and ultimately dangerous,” Benjamin said in his tweet.
According to the Guardian, the United Kingdom conducted a review of the Muslim Brotherhood under David Cameron’s leadership in 2015, examining the group’s origins and ideology in order to judge whether it had links to extremists. The review found that “for the most part, the Muslim Brotherhood have preferred non violent incremental change,” and the group was primarily committed to political rather than violent engagement.
Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was quoted as saying that such a decision would be “an extremely imprudent step” given that the organization does not fit the legal criteria for a foreign terrorist organization. “This decision could have very unpredictable implications,” she said. “It could be used to curb the civil liberties of US citizens who are Muslims. I find this deeply troubling.”
The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged in recent years as a favorite bugbear for the US far-right, with numerous social media users on Tuesday hailing Trump’s push by sharing unfounded conspiracy theories that the group had infiltrated former president Barack Obama’s administration or was attempting to impose Islamic sharia law in the United States.
Human Rights Watch has argued that a terrorist designation would “unfairly taint anyone alleged to be linked to the Muslim Brotherhood,” meaning that people based in the United States could face prosecution — or, if not citizens, deportation — for backing charities or advocacy groups accused of ties to the movement.
The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorism Designation Act
Tellingly, during the congressional terms of 2015-16, and 2017-18 bills failed to declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
On January 9, 2017 Representative Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL), introduced a bill (H.R. 377) to ask the Secretary of State to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. The following day Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced an identical bill (S. 38) in the Senate titled The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act . The bill states that the group has met the criteria of a terrorist group, and thus should be designated as such.
Both Senator Cruz and Rep. Diaz Balart introduced similar bills in the 2015 Session. The House version was passed by the Judiciary Committee but neither made it to a floor vote.
Not surprisingly the Washington Post and the Huffington Post were quick to point out the real motives behind the bills related to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Washington Post said on Jan 11, 2017, it is also likely to have a far-reaching impact on American Muslims at a time when Muslim community leaders say the religious minority is facing the worst harassment it has seen since the aftermath of 9/11. Title of the Post comment was “How an obscure U.S. policy effort could hurt American Muslims.”
The Huffington Post writing under the title, Ted Cruz vs. The Muslim Brotherhood Boogeyman, , pointed out that American Muslim advocates contend that the real intent of Cruz’s bill has little to do with foreign policy, rather the legislation would enable the U.S. government to target domestic Muslim groups that Cruz and others earnestly believe are part of a massive, covert conspiracy to destroy the U.S. from within.
“Proponents of the measure, including members of Trump’s incoming administration, have long used the Muslim Brotherhood label as shorthand for Muslim organizations, politicians and government officials with whom they disagree, and civil rights advocates fear those allegations could be used as pretext to investigate and alienate those who challenge the government’s treatment of Muslims” the Washington Post said adding:
“Supporters of the designation have wielded it most frequently against advocacy groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which regularly files lawsuits on behalf of Muslims over alleged discrimination, as well as against charities. They have also used it to attack Democratic members of Congress, Muslim government officials, longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and the Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who criticized Trump at the Democratic National Convention in the summer.”
The New York Times said Tuesday (April 30) it was also unclear what the consequences would be for Americans and American humanitarian organizations linked to the Brotherhood.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com