US weighs terrorist designation for Muslim Brotherhood

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump's advisers are debating an order intended to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organisation, targeting the oldest and perhaps most influential Islamist group in the Middle East.

A political and social organisation with millions of followers, the Brotherhood officially renounced violence decades ago and won elections in Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Affiliated groups have joined the political systems in places like Tunisia and Turkey, and then President Barack Obama had long resisted pressure to declare it a terrorist organisation.

But the Brotherhood calls for a society governed by Islamic law, and some of its former members and offshoots - most notably Hamas, the Palestinian group whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel - have been tied to attacks.

Some Trump advisers have for years viewed the Brotherhood as a radical faction secretly infiltrating the US to promote syariah law. They see the order as an opportunity to finally take action against it.

Officially designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation would roil US relations in the Middle East. The leaders of some US allies - like Egypt, where the military forced the Brotherhood from power in 2013, and the United Arab Emirates - have pressed Mr Trump to do so to quash internal enemies, but the group remains a pillar of society in parts of the region.

Momentum behind the Muslim Brotherhood proposal seems to have slowed in recent days amid objections from career officials at the State Department and the National Security Council, who argue that there is no legal basis for it and that it could alienate allies in the region. Former officials said the order has been put off at least until next week.

The delay may reflect a broader desire by the White House to take more time with executive actions. But it also underscored the complex dynamics involving the Muslim Brotherhood, whose chapters have only loose relationships across national lines.

Critics said they feared that Mr Trump's team wanted to create a legal justification to crack down on Muslim charities, mosques and other groups in the US. A terrorist designation would freeze assets, block visas and ban financial interactions.

The White House is also considering a similar proposal to designate Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, said US officials familiar with the matter.

If implemented, it would add to measures the US has already imposed on individuals and entities linked to the IRGC. The IRGC is by far Iran's most powerful security entity, which also has control over large stakes in the country's economy and huge influence in its political system.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'US weighs terrorist designation for Muslim Brotherhood'. Print Edition | Subscribe