Trump administration debates designating Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group

Sunday 29/01/2017
US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn attends the inaugural parade in Washington, on January 20th. (Reuters)

Washington - A debate is under way in the Trump administra­tion about whether the United States should de­clare the Muslim Broth­erhood a terrorist organisation and subject it to US sanctions, officials and people close to President Don­ald Trump’s transition team said.

A faction led by Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, wants to add the Brotherhood to US State Department and US Treasury lists of foreign terrorist organisa­tions, the sources said.

“I know it has been discussed. I’m in favour of it,” said a Trump transition adviser, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The adviser said Flynn’s team discussed adding the Muslim Brotherhood to the US list of ter­rorist groups but said it was unclear when — or even if — the adminis­tration ultimately would go ahead with such a move.

Other Trump advisers and vet­eran national security, diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence officials argue the Brotherhood has evolved peacefully in some coun­tries, officials and people close to Trump’s entourage said.

They worry that a US move to designate the entire Brotherhood a terrorist group would compli­cate relations with Turkey, a key American ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), and where the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which dominates the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power. Tunisia’s Islamist En­nahda Party has also participated in democratic elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the country’s oldest Islamist movement, was designated as a ter­rorist organisation in that country in 2013.

It is not clear which faction with­in the US administration has the upper hand, and US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and US Representa­tive Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, have introduced legislation in Con­gress to add the Brotherhood to the terrorist list.

There was no immediate com­ment from the White House.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, among others, have designated the group on their ter­rorist lists and Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, described the Brotherhood as “an agent of radical Islam” during his Senate confirmation hearing.

US criminal law prohibits people in the United States from knowing­ly providing “material support” to designated terrorist organisations and members of such groups are banned from entering the United States.

Some conservative and anti- Muslim activists have argued for years that the Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 and sought to establish a worldwide Is­lamic caliphate by peaceful means, has been a breeding ground for ter­rorists.

Some branches of the Brother­hood, including the Palestinian group Hamas, have engaged in anti-government violence and provoked violent government reactions. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al- Qaeda, was once a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Other offshoots in Turkey and Tunisia have forsworn violence and come to power by democratic means. Former Muslim Brother­hood leader Muhammad Morsi became Egypt’s first freely elected president in June 2012 in the after­math of the ousting of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak. An army take­over stripped Morsi of power in 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Hundreds of Islamists have since been killed or arrested.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Trump spoke by phone recently and discussed ways to boost the fight against terrorism and extremism.

A US official who declined to be identified said there had been dis­cussions at the State Department that looked at intelligence and in­formation on the group in which it was thought “it would be difficult to justify legally, in terms of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, to meet the criteria”.

“It’s one thing to say one group’s ideology has been used to influence a terrorist organisation and another thing to say that this group is a ter­rorist organisation,” said the US of­ficial.

Following the September 11th, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, the George W. Bush administration investigated the Brotherhood and related Islamist movements.

After years of investigations, however, the United States and other governments, including Swit­zerland’s, closed investigations of Brotherhood leaders and financial groups for lack of evidence and removed most of the leaders from sanctions lists.

A British government review into Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brother­hood, published in December 2015, concluded that membership of or links to the political group should be considered a possible indicator of extremism but stopped short of recommending that it should be banned.