Is US ‘terror tag’ likely for Muslim Brotherhood?

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement shout slogans during a rally to mark the first anniversary of the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2014 in Cairo’s Mattarya district. (AFP)

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

A faction led by Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, wants to add the Brotherhood to the State Department and US Treasury lists of foreign terrorist organizations, the sources said. “I know it has been discussed. I’m in favor of it,” said a Trump transition advisor, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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

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Other Trump advisors, as well as many veteran national security, diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence officials argue the Brotherhood has evolved peacefully in some countries, according to officials and people close to Trump’s entourage. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the country’s oldest Islamist movement, was designated as a terrorist organization in that country in 2013.

It is not clear which faction within the US administration has the upper hand, and Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart this month introduced legislation to add the Brotherhood to the terrorist list. There was no immediate comment from the White House.

Mixed record

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, described the Brotherhood an “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 organizations, 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 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.

Also read: Trump, Sisi discuss fighting terrorism in first phone call

Sisi and Trump spoke by phone this week and the two leaders discussed ways to boost the fight against terrorism and extremism. A US official who declined to be identified told Reuters there had been discussions at the State Department which 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 organization and another thing to say that this group is a terrorist organization,” said the US official.

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.

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