A Muslim Brotherhood Terror Designation Could Backfire.

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  • 08/21/2022

Amidst reports that the Trump Administration is once again considering designating Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist entity, several longtime Brotherhood critics are urging caution.

The Brotherhood wants to restore the global Islamic Caliphate through the gradual Islamization of society.

The Brotherhood, created in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, wants to restore the global Islamic Caliphate – the Islamic theocratic state abolished in 1924 – through gradual Islamization.

But the organization has splintered, especially after the Egyptian military ousted the Brotherhood-led government in 2013. The removal from power was followed up with a crackdown on Brotherhood supporters and arrests of its leaders.

The resulting breakdown of organizational cohesion makes a terrorist designation more challenging.

[caption id="attachment_178442" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Pro-Muslim Brotherhood Rally, Sydney, Australia, 1 September 2013. Via Eye OnRadicals, Flickr[/caption]

By law, in order to qualify for designation by the U.S. State Department, a group must:

  • Be a foreign organization;
  • Engage in terrorism, or have both the ability and intent to do so;
  • Threaten U.S. nationals or national security with its terrorist activity.

The Muslim Brotherhood, as one organization, does not have a unified command and control structure ordering terrorist attacks, notes Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros.

"That's going to give them the biggest victory they've ever had. [They would say,] 'American courts have proven we aren't terrorists.'"                - Samuel Tadros

"A political designation [of the overall movement] really doesn't fit at the State Department; it's going to be challenged in court. We're gonna lose," Tadros said.

"That's going to give them the biggest victory they've ever had. [They would say,] 'American courts have proven we aren't terrorists.'"

That doesn't mean the Brotherhood and its leaders are peaceful, or not worthy of the designation.

Muslim Brotherhood branches, including some in Egypt since the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, have established armed wings that have close relations with hardcore jihadists. This is particularly true in Syria, Libya, and Yemen where Brotherhood militias fight side-by-side with al-Qaeda forces.

[caption id="attachment_178447" align="aligncenter" width="2399"] "Down down military rule" - Egyptian woman leads the crowd in a chorus of protest against the visit of Egypt's military ruler Sisi to London. Via Alisdare Hickson, Flickr[/caption]

The Brotherhood resorts to violence when its path to domination is obstructed, Sir John Jenkins found in the British government's 2015 review of Brotherhood activities:

"They have deliberately, wittingly and openly incubated and sustained an organisation – Hamas – whose military wing has been proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation (and which has been proscribed in its entirety by other countries). The writings of the leading Muslim Brotherhood ideologue have been used to legitimise AQ related terror.

"Some leading Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters have endorsed attacks on western forces."

"Jihad is the height of Islam, and it is an obligation to go to the Day of Judgment."               - Mehdi Akef

This was true after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Late Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mehdi Akef encouraged Muslims to wage jihad against the United States. He sided with al-Qaeda's forces, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the April 2004 Battle of Fallujah.

According to Akef, "Participating in jihad is a duty on the neighboring countries" if Iraq wasn't capable of doing it alone.

"Jihad is the height of Islam, and it is an obligation to go to the Day of Judgment ... The barbaric aggression and the brutal U.S. aggression on Iraq have united the Iraqi people under one umbrella ... and indeed awakened all the [Islamic nation]."

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), then led by Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi, issued a fatwa encouraging Muslims to fight Americans in Iraq in November 2004 during the Second Battle of Fallujah.

[caption id="attachment_178449" align="aligncenter" width="1599"] An M-198 155mm Howitzer of the US Marines firing at Fallujah, Iraq, during the Second Battle of Fallujah. Photo by Lance Corporal Samantha L. Jones, USMC[/caption]

The Brotherhood denounced the 2011 U.S. "assassination" of Osama bin Laden, calling his activities "legitimate resistance" against the West.

"As long as the occupation remains, the legitimate resistance will remain, and America, NATO and the European Union must announce quickly the end of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," a Brotherhood Arabic-language statement said.

The Brotherhood denounced the 2011 U.S. "assassination" of Osama bin Laden, calling his activities "legitimate resistance" against the West.

In addition, after Morsi was forced from Egypt's presidency, a schism emerged within the Brotherhood's leadership. Documents obtained by Egypt's Mada Masr news site show older leaders favored peaceful resistance to military rule, while others endorsed violence short of taking lives.

One violent faction sent a member to train in Gaza with Hamas' Qassam Brigades with the intent of passing on terrorist skills to other Brotherhood members in Egypt.

The Brotherhood "visibly split" in 2014, Mada Masr found, with the violent faction led nationwide by Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Kamal. He died in a 2016 shootout with Egyptian authorities.

[caption id="attachment_178445" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Women of the Muslim Brotherhood. Via Gaynor Barton, Flickr[/caption]

Terror cells linked to Kamal began carrying out attacks in 2015 under the names Popular Resistance Movement (PRM) and Revolutionary Punishment Movement (RPM). These attacks happened just after the Brotherhood's official website, then managed by Kamal's faction, promised "a long, unrelenting Jihad" to end military rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Shariah Committee published The Jurisprudence of the Popular Resistance to the Coup in Arabic that same month which said: 

"Peacefulness is not a fundamental of Islam or the group [Muslim Brotherhood], and special operations work does not mean total confrontation... [T]he Jihadi tendency settled as a doctrine in the foundation of Imam al-Banna's methodology and the acculturation of the Muslim Brotherhood."

"Peacefulness is not a fundamental of Islam or the [Muslim Brotherhood]." - The Jurisprudence of the Popular Resistance

A website linked to the Kamal faction claimed responsibility for killing Egyptian Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat in June 2015. Egyptian authorities also reportedly found evidence linking the Hamas Qassam Brigades to the assassination. Earlier that month, the RPM killed a man because he had helped police round up 40 leaders of pro-Brotherhood protests in Helwan. 

A year later, in May 2016, PRM and the ISIS Sinai Province claimed responsibility for killing eight Egyptian police officers in Helwan province near Cairo.

State Department officials designated Hassm and Liwa al-Thawra as foreign terrorist organizations in 2018. And both groups emerged from Kamal's wing of the Brotherhood, according to Mada Masr.

Hassm members trained in Hamas camps with help from Turkish and Qatari intelligence, Egypt's Youm 7 newspaper reported last July. The paper also said Hassm is controlled by exiled Brotherhood leaders abroad.

[caption id="attachment_178448" align="aligncenter" width="1152"] Demonstrators hold up four fingers, a symbol of their solidarity with the the destroyed sit-in protest known as Rabaa, which means four or fourth in Arabic, Cairo, August 23, 2013. (H. Elrasam for VOA)[/caption]

According to Samuel Tadros, the best thing the U.S. can do now is to have the Treasury Department sanction Brotherhood entities which finance Hassm and Liwa al-Thawra.

"It will bring the whole thing down, but without the overly political victory for them," Tadros said. "It's a very slow process, but it brings an end to any monies ... for the organization."

Opponents to U.S. action against the Brotherhood argue that designating the movement could open the door to terrorist designations being made for political reasons.

"In this very vein, adding the Brotherhood to the watch list subjects the designation process to our value judgments and political whims, undermining the legitimacy of existing designations," Vish Sakthivel, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote last month in the National Interest.

Some argue that designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would compromise American bargaining power and diplomatic flexibility.

Sakthivel and other opponents argue that designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would compromise American bargaining power and diplomatic flexibility.

They also contend that it would validate arguments made by ISIS and al-Qaeda that violence is the only valid means to bring about change, even though Brotherhood factions work with these terrorist groups.

The British government's 2015 report found the Brotherhood created one designated terrorist group – Hamas – and its leaders retained control. Top Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in 2009 described Hamas as an inseparable branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. A year later, he pledged his religious fealty and obedience to Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie. Brotherhood members must swear absolute obedience to the supreme guide as part of their membership.

This pledge of allegiance is not isolated: a 2012 video shows Hamas members in Gaza pledging allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood. The original 1988 Hamas charter described the movement as "one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine."

The Brotherhood's Shura Council acts as the international movement's legislature. Its bylaws state that decisions are binding on all Brotherhood chapters.

Former Council on American-Islamic Relations legal director Arsalan Iftikhar argued in an op-ed for the Washington Post that designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is "aimed at American Muslims and controlling them while at the same time continuing to demonize Islam.

"If the Muslim Brotherhood is labeled as a 'terrorist' organization, anyone who is labeled a Muslim Brotherhood supporter will be seen as a terrorist sympathizer by their fellow Americans without any proof needed whatsoever.

The Brotherhood's objectives constitute a threat to the United States and its allies.

"Nearly 7 million American Muslims would become the primary domestic target of such a designation."

The most recent estimates say American Muslim population is 3.5 million people – half of what Iftikhar claimed.

In addition, whether the United States designates the Brotherhood as a whole, or limits actions to target its violent branches, criminal law and the threshold for prosecution will not change. Random American Muslims – and even Muslims who support the Brotherhood's ideals – cannot be targeted with criminal violations. The line is material support – aid in the form of money, supplies, or services – provided to the designated entity.

The Brotherhood's objectives constitute a threat to the United States and its allies.

John Rossomando is a Senior Analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.



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