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Experts Debating ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ as Terrorist Organization: good, bad or ugly?

Thursday 16-02-2017 - 12:16 PM
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Mohamed Arabi
US Senator Ted Cruz
US Senator Ted Cruz

Washington - The US President Donald Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order that would request State Department review designating Muslim Brotherhood group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

According to US media reports, the Trump administration is currently weighing an executive order on this matter. Alternatively, the White House could decide to simply throw its weight behind a legislative effort spearheaded by Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) that calls on the State Department to determine whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a foreign terrorist organization.

However, the proposal of designating ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ as a foreign terrorist organization has opened up heated debates among experts. Some argued in favour of the designation proposal, and other weighed in against it.

Experts: The designation might unleash a Pandora’s box

Experts: The designation

For critics of the designation, such a move might amount to a powerful policy win for America’s anti-Muslims movement, whose leaders have worked tirelessly to smear American Muslim civil rights organizations, in particular the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), by calling them “fronts” for the Brotherhood.

As J.M. Berger, a counter-terrorism analyst at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism recently put it, “Let me be extremely clear. This initiative is concerned with controlling American Muslims, not with any issue pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood in any practical or realistic sense.”

Last month, an internal CIA memo argued that designating the Brotherhood would offend the many Muslims who are members of the organization, receive social services from its affiliates, or respect the group as a part of their community. “Moreover, a US designation would probably weaken MB leaders’ arguments against violence and provide ISIS and al-Qa’ida additional grist for propaganda to win followers and support, particularly for attacks against US interests,” the memo, which leaked to press, stated.  

That argument was echoed by Jillian Schwedler, a professor at Hunter College, who wrote last week that, “Designating the Brotherhood could hinder crucial U.S. partnerships as the designation would likely interfere with the ability of the U.S. government to work effectively with governments in which the Brotherhood plays a role. This could include Turkey's President Receb T. Erdogan’s government in Turkey and parliaments in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Yemen, where the Brotherhood-affiliated party is backing the internationally-recognized government alongside the United States and Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels.

This argument often tends to repeat the old claim that "... the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt officially renounced violence in the 1970s and sought to promote its ideas through social and political activities".

Ultimately experts warn of the possible ramifications of that designation—being politically-motivated—as it will definitely ruin coexistence and assimilation, raise the wall of racism based on religion and cultural identity, and revive wild nationalist extremist movements in America.

Argument: The Brotherhood is no different than ISIS, in theory and practice

Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militias

Yet, for supporters of the designation proposal, the group, they argue, is a violent, destabilizing terrorist force akin to Islamic State (ISIS) abroad and is bent on subverting American society at home.

Frank Gaffney Jr., founder of the Center for Security Policy, recently told The New York Times, “The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood are exactly the same as the Islamic State, exactly the same as the Taliban, exactly the same as you know, Al-Qaida(AQ), Boko Haram, Al Nusra Front, on and on, Al-Shabab (working mainly in Somalia and Eastern Africa).”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed the Brotherhood in the same category as al-Qaida during his confirmation hearings, deeming it an agent of radical Islam.

Heads-up: the designation might backfire on the US

Eric Trager, author
Eric Trager, author of "Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days"

However, in his book, “Arab Fall”, Eric Trager argues that the case for giving it the terrorist designation is not clear-cut. He drew the following conclusion that might serve as a warning for the Trump administration’s intended measures against the group.

“If the Trump administration tries and fails to designate the Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, it could backfire: Brotherhood organizations would likely hail this as a victory and use a failed designation as evidence to claim—falsely—that they are nonviolent. And given the polarized political climate in Washington, a failed Brotherhood designation might ultimately afford the Brotherhood a more generous hearing in certain political and policy circles.”

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