A Roundup of Arguments Against Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization

An extremely important debate is occurring in Washington now: whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, or otherwise use the powers of the U.S. government to constrain the Brotherhood’s operations. The main debate now concerns a bill (.pdf) by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would ask the State Department to either designate the Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization or provide an explanation as to why not. There is also talk of a presidential Executive Order demanding a designation. As I wrote on Twitter, I oppose the designation of the Brotherhood for various reasons.

Here are some experts weighing in on why the designation would be a bad idea:

  • William McCants and Benjamin Wittes: “The Brotherhood as a whole, in several different respects, does not meet the criteria for designation under the statute. That’s why, despite pressure from governments like Egypt and the UAE over a protracted period of time, it has not been designated to date under any of the previous three administrations. Barring a change in statute that would almost certainly render the material support law unconstitutional, a designation, notwithstanding the ferment for it, would not be lawful today either, even under a Trump administration.”
  • Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne: “There is no single thing called the Muslim Brotherhood, but instead a number of organizations, movements, parties, associations, and informal groups that take some inspiration, sometimes direct and sometimes remote, from the original movement founded in Egypt in 1928 and the core texts its founder produced. Brotherhood-inspired movements long ago concluded that their circumstances were so distinct that each would follow the path it saw as appropriate in its own society. And there are many organizations that have been formed with varying degrees of participation from Brotherhood members, but their ties to any Brotherhood organization are often informal and vary in scope. Nor is their use or espousal of violence, a key aspect of the terrorism designation, a given, even if one branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that has unarguably used violence in recent years is the Palestinian organization Hamas, which the United States declared to be a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.”
  • New York Times Editorial Board: “It is wrongheaded and dangerous to tar all Brotherhood members with one brush. The Brotherhood is associated with political parties in Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen and even Israel, and runs schools and hospitals. Many of those parties are America’s partners. The governing party in Turkey, a NATO member, also has connections to the Brotherhood. If the group is named to the terrorism list, how will Washington continue these relationships without violating the law?”
  • Arjun Sethi: “If the Brotherhood is designated a foreign terrorist organization, the government could bring criminal charges against [American] Muslims, Arabs and their institutions by invoking dangerously broad and expansive material support of terrorism laws. They could be criminally prosecuted for providing support, services, resources, expert advice or assistance to the Brotherhood without any intent to support terrorist activity. These laws can be easily exploited and manipulated for political gain, as even the most remote connection to the Brotherhood could pass muster in a court of law.”
  • Georgetown Bridge Initiative: “If the US designates the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO, the signal sent to masses of Muslims is that the United States welcomes autocracy, but not democratization. A controversial review of the Muslim Brotherhood by the UK government, somewhat similar to a requirement under the Republican proposal, could not arrive at evidence of complicity in violence. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a strong opponent of oppressive dictatorships and radical Muslim extremists…Putting the Muslim Brotherhood in the same general category as the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) would be a victory for the extremists because it would take away from the United States an important resource in the battle against ISIL.”
  • Andrew March: “There is a hidden danger for academics and journalists lurking within congressional legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Most of the discussion has focused on whether the legislation’s premise is correct about the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with terrorism and the potential impact on Muslim American organizations. There is another threat more specific to academic researchers and analysts: Those who conduct research on the organization could find themselves at risk of prosecution for “material support” of terrorism.”

A final thought from me, Sahel-specific: a designation would complicate U.S. relations with two countries this blog covers, Mauritania and Sudan. With Mauritania, the effect could be to constrain political space for the opposition. With Sudan, the effect could be yet another source of conflict and tension, given that the Muslim Brotherhood is, at least in some loose sense, the ruling party in Sudan.

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