The world’s major powers were late to understand the importance of neutralizing political parties who adopt violence as their modus operandi and the need to place them on the right shelf, next to terrorist groups convicted of practicing terrorism to implement their political agenda. But better late than never. What is it that happened and convinced these influential states, including European states, the US, and Australia, to give these groups a pejorative label?
The general answer to this question lies in the results of the actions taken by these groups on the international scene and their effect on international peace. Groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have spent all their political and diplomatic efforts to try to clear their names and twist facts after accusations swarmed them.
We may wonder why a country such as Australia, which lies on the other side of the planet from the Middle East, would classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
The answer is simple. Hezbollah’s operations are transnational. They reach beyond the borders of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Australia has intelligence that confirms Hezbollah constitutes a threat to its safety, far as it may be from Canberra.
Colombia, another state on the other side of the world, also complains of illegitimate and suspicious money laundering activity by Hezbollah. This is not the first time the Lebanese party is proven to be involved in money laundering and narcotic smuggling activities in Latin America and to be interfering on the political level by supporting the governments backing its activity in countries like Venezuela.
Another reason is that Australia did not walk in the footsteps of Germany, for instance, which only criminalized the military wing of Hezbollah but ignored the political one. Australia believes -- and rightfully so -- that the political half is the legislator, and the military half is the commander; and to separate them would be unobjective and futile and would lead to only a half-condemnation. This is evidenced by Lebanon’s current state of affairs: part of the Lebanese government and parliament members legitimize the military acts committed by Hezbollah around the world and use the state’s political and financial systems to support the party.
In 2020, Germany reassessed Hezbollah and banned its activities completely following many raids in various German cities, evidence proving the party’s use of Islamic centers for recruitment and fundraising, and reports showing that Hezbollah smuggles drugs from Latin America to Germany via Africa. The UK had beaten Germany to this step in 2019. One also cannot overlook Australia’s role in the US strategy for the Pacific Ocean, which is likely to be the world’s next theater of conflict.
Yet, Hezbollah is not very different from the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of objectives and the disruption of people’s lives in the countries where they’re present. The one big difference is that Hezbollah has the military expertise and political excellence, unlike the Brotherhood, which worked successfully in the dark but failed miserably in every chance it was given to run a country in public. The Group has seen better days. Now, it is besieged and fragmented, and has turned into a bargaining chip in Turkey, its number one support. The truth is, the Brotherhood worked for decades to polish its image in Western eyes by marketing its moderate approach to Islam and successfully convinced some western decisionmakers that the Group is the best option for a moderate Islam that does not believe in violence. However, the experiences of the last decade have proven that the Brotherhood is just like any other Political Islam group: power-hungry, whatever it costs; and selling fake moderation slogans. In the end, its interests overlap the interests of its peers, such as Hamas, Al-Jihad al-Islami, Hezbollah, ISIS, and al-Qaeda.
A few days ago, a study issued by the European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies unveiled the risks that the Brotherhood poses in France, where it used Islamic centers and Great Mosques to recruit and attract Muslims. The same happened in Austria, the UK, and the US, where a decision to classify the Group as a terrorist organization has been under consideration for about two years now.
A few days ago, Britain’s The National News spoke of the Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorism, saying the Group works in the dark and plays the victim card. Simultaneously, Vienna hosted an annual European conference to review government action on religious extremism. An important document was issued at the end of the conference that calls for monitoring and reviewing the Group’s activities in Europe, the organizations that fall under its control, and the flow of funds into its hands, stressing the need to work more seriously to uncover its actions, arms, and resources.
No country in the world looks at Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood positively. However, to make decisions that target them is a complicated political process that requires security, political, and diplomatic incentives, given these groups’ capacities to cause destruction and disturb peace, and their far-reaching arms that have touched all the world’s continents.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.