By David D. Kirkpatrick
April 30, 2019
President Trump wants to designate the
Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist movement, as a terrorist organization.
The designation would impose sanctions on the group and those who do business
Officials in the Pentagon and State
Department have raised objections to the plan, saying that the Muslim
Brotherhood does not meet the legal definition of a terrorist group and that
its designation could have unintended consequences in allied countries where
the Brotherhood fields prominent political parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood has frequently
denounced terrorism and violence.
Here’s a brief guide.
What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood is a missionary
movement founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a schoolteacher working
in the town of Ismailia, near the Suez Canal. He argued that an Islamic
religious revival would enable the Muslim world to catch up to the West and
shake off colonial rule.
But he was sweeping and contradictory about
the mission of the group, and largely avoided spelling out what an Islamic
government might look like.
Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher,
founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928.
His teachings spread far beyond Egypt, and
today widely varying Islamist political movements — including missionary,
charitable and advocacy organizations as well as political parties in many
countries — trace their roots to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Some of these
groups use the name Muslim Brotherhood and others do not.
Political parties explicitly linked to or
descended from the Muslim Brotherhood are recognized in many countries allied
with the United States, including Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco,
Turkey and Tunisia.
Is The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
No. Even experts critical of the
Brotherhood agree that the organization does not meet the criteria for a
Under the British-backed monarchy in the
1940s, the Egyptian Brotherhood was one of several factions to create
paramilitary wings. In 1948, a 23-year-old veterinary student who belonged to
the group assassinated the prime minister. Two weeks later, another member of
the outfit was arrested for attempting to bomb a courthouse.
Mr. al-Banna denounced the perpetrators and
their actions. “They are neither Brothers nor are they Muslims,” he said.
In the 1960s, a small circle of Muslim
Brothers were arrested for plotting to re-establish an armed wing. That is when
the Brotherhood formally codified its opposition to violence in a tract titled,
“Preachers, Not Judges.”
Historians say there has been no evidence
since then that the Egyptian Brotherhood, as an organization, has engaged in
The government of President Abdel Fattah
el-Sisi has classified the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and
routinely accuses it of being behind terrorist attacks. The Brotherhood has
consistently denied any involvement.
Since the military takeover of Egypt’s
government in 2013, some members of the Brotherhood have broken off to form
organizations that carry out acts of violence against the military-backed
Two of those groups, Hasm and Liwa
al-Thawra, have been designated as terrorist organizations by the United States
A rally in Gaza City last year in support
of Hamas, an Islamist group descended from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Have Branches Of The Muslim Brotherhood
Outside Of Egypt Engaged In Terrorism?
Yes. The militant Palestinian Islamist
movement Hamas, for one, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has
carried out kidnappings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilian
targets, which the Muslim Brotherhood considers legitimate resistance to Israeli
occupation. The United States has designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
Beyond that, the many Brotherhood
affiliates around the world operate independently and identify only loosely
with the Egyptian original, so it is difficult to speak categorically.
Is The Muslim Brotherhood Related To
Groups Like Al Qaeda?
Many people who are frustrated with the
Muslim Brotherhood’s nonviolence have quit the group for more militant
organizations such as Al Qaeda.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who helped
found and now leads Al Qaeda, is a former Brotherhood member. He wrote a
book-length jeremiad called “The Bitter Harvest” denouncing the Brotherhood’s
nonviolence, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has consistently and
repeatedly denounced Al Qaeda.
Does The Muslim Brotherhood Support
Calls for democratic elections are now a
hallmark of Muslim Brotherhood movements across the Arab world, putting them at
odds with the authoritarian governments of the region as well as with more
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt began
winning seats in the almost powerless Parliament in the 1980s, under President
Hosni Mubarak. After his ouster in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood won a plurality
in Egypt’s first free parliamentary election and a senior figure in the group,
Mohamed Morsi, won Egypt’s first free presidential election. But the military
dissolved Parliament in 2012 and ousted Mr. Morsi in 2013.
After the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia,
a Brotherhood-style political party won the first free parliamentary elections
there, and then relinquished power peacefully after losing the next vote. The
party, Ennahda, continues to play a major role in the legislature.
What Is The Argument For Labelling The
Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist?
The main international advocates for the
designation are Mr. el-Sisi of Egypt and his authoritarian allies in Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Alarmed that Muslim Brotherhood parties
might rise to power through elections, all three governments have cracked down
on the Islamists and pressed their allies to do the same.
They argue that the Brotherhood’s Islamic
ideology makes it a threat to the idea of the nation-state and thus a threat to
the region’s stability. They also argue that the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda are
essentially part of the same movement since both envision societies grounded in
The Trump White House had considered the
designation during the first weeks of its administration in 2017 but dropped
the idea. At a White House meeting three weeks ago, Mr. el-Sisi urged Mr. Trump
to make the designation and Mr. Trump agreed that it made sense.
Britain, under pressure from its Persian
Gulf allies, also investigated designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a
terrorist group but decided the group did not qualify.
Can President Trump Simply Declare The
Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist?
No. The administration must show that the
Muslim Brotherhood engages in terrorist activity that threatens the United
States or its interests. After counterterrorism agencies prepare written
evidence, the secretary of state must consult with the attorney general and the
treasury secretary before making a designation. Congress would have seven days
to block it, and then the Muslim Brotherhood would have 30 days to appeal to a
federal court in Washington.
But even experts who consider the Muslim
Brotherhood sinister say that they have never seen enough evidence to convince
a court that it was a terrorist group. The Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians “do
not understand the ins and outs of the U.S. system,” said Jonathan Schanzer of
the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has often criticized the
Amr Darrag, a former official of the Morsi
government who is now in exile in Istanbul, predicted that any court case would
end in defeat for Mr. Trump.
“The designation may be bad for the Middle
East, but it would be a big win for the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, “a clear
statement from a court that the Brotherhood is not a terrorist group.”