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.
The African Studies Association, of which I am a member, has issued a strong and laudable statement against President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. A few key excerpts from the statement:
The fact that all seven are majority Muslim countries and that the rhetoric preceding the exclusion specifically talked about a ban of Muslims suggest that US policy is targeting Muslims. This creates an image of bias and hostility that undermines efforts to build understanding and cooperation. It also blatantly disregards constitutional protections of freedom of religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and makes those of us who work abroad less safe.
The ASA includes many scholars who have worked in countries with autocratic governments, and who conduct research on authoritarianism, and we are particularly troubled by the signs of emerging authoritarian practices in the United States. We are alarmed by the administration’s attacks on the free press and the harassment of civil society. This executive order targets people based on race, religion, and national origin and is a form of scapegoating commonly associated with authoritarian regimes. The failure to adequately consult with Congress on this order and the disregard for court rulings limiting its impact represent an overreach of executive authority that undermines democracy.
I am proud to be a member of ASA.
Readers of the blog may be interested in applying for this position with the International Crisis Group:
Based in the region, and preferably in the Crisis Group Office in Dakar, the Analyst will research and produce reports and other works on security, political, legal, governance, human rights and social issues related to Northern Sahel region, including in Northern Mali and Northern Niger.
Crisis Group’s reporting is top-notch, I almost always agree with their policy recommendations, and everyone I’ve met from the organization is highly professional, intelligent, and good-hearted. In other words, I imagine it’s a great place to work.
The 115th U.S. Congress began on January 3. Both the Senate and the House are controlled by the Republican Party, as was the case before the November 2016 election. That makes for substantial continuity in key committee assignments in both houses of Congress, but here, for informational purposes, are key assignments related to Africa:
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy: Chairman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA)
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development: Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM)
- House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations: Chairman Christopher Smith (R, NJ-4), Ranking Member Karen Bass (D, CA-37)
- House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa: Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL-27), Ranking Member Theodore Deutch (D, FL-21)
- House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade: Chairman Ted Poe (R, TX-2), Ranking Member William Keating (D, MA-9)
In the past month, several exciting books have come out that deal with Islam in Africa.
- Robert Launay’s edited collection Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards (Indiana) brings together a number of major scholars and covers a wide variety of countries from Mauritania to Tanzania. Islamic education in Africa has been the subject of increasing scholarly interest in the past fifteen years, with major titles by Louis Brenner and Rudolph Ware. This volume will take the conversation even further. I have a chapter in the book – a sketch of trilateral connections between Nigeria, Britain, and the Arab world during the colonial period.
- Roman Loimeier has published Islamic Reform in Twentieth-Century Africa (Edinburgh). Loimeier is a senior scholar of Islam in Africa, and he has followed up classic books on northern Nigeria and Zanzibar with recent work that takes a continental scope. His latest book features “twelve case studies (Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Comoros) [and] looks at patterns and peculiarities of different traditions of Islamic reform. Considering both Sufi- and Salafi-oriented movements in their respective historical contexts, it stresses the importance of the local context to explain the different trajectories of development.”
- Noah Salomon, an exciting thinker who works on Sudan and South Sudan, has published For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State (Princeton). Salomon’s publications on Sudan so far have raised important issues about relations between Salafis and Islamists, and about the meaning of “the rule of law.” His book “depicts contemporary Islamic politics not as a response to secularism and Westernization but as a node in a much longer conversation within Islamic thought, augmented and reappropriated as state projects of Islamic reform became objects of debate and controversy.”
I have not yet read Loimeier and Salomon’s books, but I am very much looking forward to doing so (I read the chapters in Launay’s volume while it was in press). If you read any of the three books, please share your thoughts in the comments section here.
I’ve written a few things that have appeared elsewhere in the past few weeks:
- A new collection came out last month called Shaping Global Islamic Discourses: The Role of al-Azhar, al-Medina and al-Mustafa, edited by Masooda Bano and Keiko Sakurai and published by Edinburgh University Press. I have a chapter in the volume that deals with non-violent Salafi networks in contemporary northern Nigeria – i.e., not Boko Haram, but a rather more influential group of graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, many of whom have staunchly and publicly opposed Boko Haram.
- I discussed what Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet might look like at World Politics Review.
- I analyzed Boko Haram’s brand of religious exclusivism for Oxford University Press’ blog.
- I wrote for Global Observatory about hunger in Niger, especially as the hunger crisis relates to displaced persons and Boko Haram.
- I couldn’t hold back from writing something about ISIS, even though it’s a bit out of my lane. I talked about ISIS’ intellectual genealogy for the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame blog.
I’ll be taking some time off for spring break and to work on a few academic projects. I should resume blogging by the end of the month.