US Republicans move to designate Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation

The different views in the debate reflect the Brotherhood’s multifaceted activities and its varying goals.
Sunday 15/07/2018
US Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington. (AFP)
Clear departure. US Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - Conservatives in the US Congress are pushing to have the Muslim Brotherhood designated a terrorist organisation and reverse longstanding US policy that targeted Brotherhood-affiliated groups that espouse terrorism while accepting factions that operate within their countries’ political systems.

Republicans in Congress are trying to jump-start stalled legislation that would require the US State Department to designate the entire Muslim Brotherhood and its international branches a foreign terrorist group and subject it to sanctions that would bar Americans from giving it support or resources.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is a militant Islamist organisation with affiliates in over 70 countries, including groups designated as terrorist organisations by the US,” US Representative Ron DeSantis said at the start of a congressional hearing on July 11.

DeSantis, one of 76 Republican House members sponsoring legislation to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, said the group “preached hatred towards Jews, denied the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction.”

Democrats in Congress oppose the proposal, saying the Muslim Brotherhood is a vast international organisation with chapters that are part of the governments of US allies such as Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Former US President Barack Obama resisted calls to ask the US State Department to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but US President Donald Trump has considered supporting the move.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia and the United Arab Emirates have designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, called the Brotherhood a “multinational religious, political and social organisation” that has “manifested itself globally in varied forms, ranging from nonviolent political actors to groups that have resorted to terrorism.”

He said a “wholesale designation” of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation “would severely complicate our relationship with regional security partners, including Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey and Kuwait, where the Muslim Brotherhood functions within mainstream government and society.”

The different views in the debate reflect the Brotherhood’s multifaceted activities and its varying goals. It is a political and social organisation with a vast grass-roots network and whose central operation has formally renounced violence but, in many countries, it is an icon of radical Islam and an advocate for sharia. Some of its affiliated branches, notably Hamas, have been designated terrorist groups by the United States.

“There is no singular, monolithic Muslim Brotherhood,” Daniel Benjamin, a State Department counterterrorism adviser under former President Barack Obama, said at the hearing. “Most of the groups that are said to be Muslim Brotherhood affiliates or franchises support democracy and abjure violence.”

Benjamin downplayed ties between the Brotherhood and Hamas, saying Hamas “has its own charter and a history of foreign relations, including with Iran, that no other brotherhood group would sanction.”

Other speakers denounced the Brotherhood.

“No group embodies the threat of radical Islam more than the Muslim Brotherhood,” said M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a US group that advocates for human rights in the Muslim world.

Jasser urged the United States to designate the Brotherhood in Egypt a terrorist organisation and then look at the group in other countries, such as Libya, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, said the Brotherhood “vilifies secular democracy” and that its branches differ only in their tactics. “Some of its branches are violent and some are not,” Schanzer said, encouraging Congress to designate “the worst factions of the Brotherhood” as terrorist groups.

Trump considered designating the Brotherhood a terrorist group shortly after he took office in early 2017 but decided to focus on individual groups tied to the organisation.

In January 2018, the Trump administration listed two groups previously associated with the Brotherhood — Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr — as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Both groups operate in Egypt, where the Brotherhood was founded in 1928, and claimed responsibility for assassinations of Egyptian officials in 2015 and 2016.

The designation aims to deny the groups “the resources they need to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks,” the US State Department said.

The United States has designated 65 groups as foreign terrorist organisations, including Islamic State affiliates in Bangladesh, the Philippines, western Africa and the greater Sahara.