Are the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists, or would that official designation go overboard and imperil U.S. alliances in the Middle East?
Dating back to 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is a controversial Islamic organization based in the Middle East. The loosely-affiliated group has sent extremely mixed messages, with some people committing acts of violence in the group’s name, while other factions of the group are American allies.
In April 2019, the Trump Administration announced it planned to officially name the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pressed President Trump to do so. However, it appears the move was never finalized. Saudi Arabia has also officially designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
While few American politicians or experts actually defend the Muslim Brotherhood, many argue that the organization is not actually a terrorist group, but rather primarily involved with political activism. Both al Qaeda and ISIS have denounced the Muslim Brotherhood.
What the bill does
The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act wouldn’t officially name the group a terrorist organization, since only the State Department can do so — but it would express a “sense of Congress” that the designation should be made.
It was introduced in the House on April 30 as bill number H.R. 2412, by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL25).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and affiliates have been designated as terrorists, with the umbrella organization being the logical next step.
“This bill recognizes the simple fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamic terrorist group,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in a 2015 press release upon introduction of a previous version of the legislation.
“For years, American presidents of both parties have correctly designated the Brotherhood’s various affiliates, such as Hamas and Ansar al-Sharia, as terrorist groups,” Sen. Cruz continued. “They have designated individual Muslim Brotherhood leaders [including Shaykh Abd-al-Majd Al-Zindani and Sami Al-Hajj] as terrorists.”
“Now we can reject the fantasy that their parent institution is a political entity that is somehow separate from these violent activities,” Sen. Cruz added. “A number of our Muslim allies have taken this common-sense step, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the Muslim Brotherhood is not truly a terrorist group, and such an official designation would complicate U.S. alliances and relations throughout the Middle East.
“A minority of MB [Muslim Brotherhood] members have engaged in violence, most often in response to harsh regime repression, perceived foreign occupation, or civil conflicts,” an internal CIA memo leaked to Politico read.
“MB groups enjoy widespread support across the Near East-North Africa region and many Arabs and Muslims worldwide would view an MB designation as an affront to their core religious and societal values,” the memo added. “Moreover, a US designation would probably weaken MB leaders’ arguments against violence and provide ISIS and al-Qa’ida additional grist for propaganda to win followers and support, particularly for attacks against U.S. interests.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 32 House cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Passage is unlikely in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
Previous House versions introduced by Rep. Diaz-Balart attracted 71 bipartisan cosponsors in 2015 (69 Republicans and two Democrats) and 77 Republican cosponsors in 2017. Neither received a vote in the full chamber, although the former was approved in committee.
Previous Senate versions introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) received seven Republican cosponsors in 2015 and four Republican cosponsors in 2017. Neither received a vote. It does not appear that a Senate version has yet been introduced in the current session.