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Banning the Brotherhood


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THAT the administration of US President Donald Trump has been busy issuing a host of executive orders in his first few weeks as president is well known. The orders issued have included the infamous one that banned nationals and green card holders from seven Muslim countries for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days (refugees from Syria indefinitely). Enforcement of that order has been stayed because of an injunction issued by a district court judge, whose ruling was recently upheld by a court of appeals.

Other orders have included one that prohibits government agencies from passing any new regulations unless two other regulations are expunged and three orders instruct the Department of Justice to fight drug cartels, fight violent crime and reduce attacks against the police.

President Donald Trump is not done issuing executive orders, however. According to reports from the new White House, one of the orders under consideration for issuance in the near future would designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

One executive order under consideration by the new White House would designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

Those in favour of the designation, which include former presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz, have argued that the group, which operates primarily in Egypt and Jordan, “espouses a violent Islamist Ideology with a mission of destroying the West”. Cruz has also introduced a bill in the United States Senate that aims to do the same thing. Supporters of the bill and the executive order under consideration have further argued that diaspora American-Muslim organisations such as the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the North American Islamic Trust are all front organisations for the Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting that restrictions may also extend to these groups within the United States.

While many Trump advisers and supporters, notably those featured on Breitbart, a website run by now senior White House adviser Steven Bannon, have long opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, the new move has caused concern. Opponents of such a move stress the following: first, equating the group with actual terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group casts too broad a net and deflects attention away from actual terror groups that should be the focus of anti-terror efforts.

Second, the broad transnational and loosely connected group has long participated in elections and supported results. Its candidate Mohammed Morsi won the 2012 presidential election in Egypt before he and his allies were swept from power in a military coup. It is because of this that the previous two US administrations, one led by Republicans, the other by Democrats, have both refused to apply the designation.

Third, given that the Muslim Brotherhood has offshoots beyond Egypt, in countries like Morocco, Jordan and Turkey — countries in which the US has interests — the designation would imperil alliances in which America needs cooperation from allies.

Good reasons, however, are not going very far these days in Washington, D.C. Like the content of most of the other executive orders issued in recent days, the debate on designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation has long galvanised anti-Islam politicians and thinkers, many of whom now enjoy plum posts within the administration.

Among policy experts in Washington, there is widespread disagreement. One of them recently wrote that not a single Muslim Brotherhood expert supported designating the group as a terrorist group. Author Eric Trager took the strongest position, saying that the most he could do is describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a “hate group”, which while repugnant and illiberal is not the same thing as a terrorist group.

The issue of the Muslim Brotherhood’s designation is likely to put American Muslims, particularly those from Arab countries where the Brotherhood has a strong presence, more on edge. With the terrorist designation, money that is sent to people or charities or any entity associated with the Muslim Brotherhood would come under greater scrutiny. Disbursements and connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, even vague ones, could be prosecuted under the US ‘Material Support for Terrorism’ statute, which criminalises any support (even unintentional) to terrorist groups. While there may little truth to the premise that American-Muslim organisations are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood, it is quite likely that the latter’s designation as a terrorist organisation will affect a good number of American Muslims.

While the Muslim Brotherhood does not itself have a presence in Pakistan, several other Islamist political parties do. If the Brotherhood is designated as a terrorist organisation, it indicates the Trump administration’s willingness to cast a very broad net and equate ‘Islamist’ with ‘terrorist’. While this may not be correct, it is worthy of note since what applies to the Muslim Brotherhood may soon be applicable to other groups as well. Even if this does not impact the leadership of these Islamist political parties, it will likely have an effect on all those loosely affiliated or connected to these parties or even sympathetic to their views. Combined with the new ‘extreme vetting’ of all visa applicants and even green card holders entering the country, this would mean that anyone who sympathises with these organisations, in letter or spirit, can expect to be barred from entering the US or be deported following visa revocations if they are already there.

An Islamist political organisation like the Muslim Brotherhood is not the same as terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan or IS. At the same time, one does wonder why those having Islamist political beliefs that do not square with liberal constitutional principles are interested in travelling to and living in the United States.

Still, the overly broad nature of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation is unlikely to accomplish any security objectives for the US. In the near term, it is likely to enable all sorts of wrongful prosecutions of Arab-Americans; in the long term, it will likely make the American-Muslim community even more insular, increasing the possibility of alienation and ultimately radicalisation.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2017

Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

Valiya Feb 15, 2017 09:41am

Then why some gulf countries are already banned them?

Sympathiser Feb 15, 2017 09:43am

Rightly hit the problem: "At the same time, one does wonder why those having Islamist political beliefs that do not square with liberal constitutional principles are interested in travelling to and living in the United States."

rajendra Feb 15, 2017 09:46am

Trump is right.

As head of the state he is securing his citizens.

Sara Feb 15, 2017 10:20am

Trump is doing what he has to do to make USA safe.

iqbal carrim Feb 15, 2017 10:39am

Well done new American administration:another step towards your confirmation as becoming, in the shortest time, the clumsiest throughout its history.

Infi Feb 15, 2017 10:44am

Trump admin is taking the bull by the horns and rightfully so!

LEo Feb 15, 2017 11:04am

He is doing what he think she is right for his country. Our leaders are also free to do so for our own countries !

khanm Feb 15, 2017 11:52am

@Sara what about the world... world is not exclusive for USA only...

Raja Feb 15, 2017 12:46pm

@khanm why trump should worry about world, house first rule....

AS Feb 15, 2017 01:28pm

Don't expect that everything and every time will be only in our favour.

Why the world should be sympathetic and philosophical when their loved ones are dying in terror attacks every month.They have been terrorized in their own country by outsiders.

Reality Feb 15, 2017 02:44pm

@Sara USA can remain safe by keeping its greedy eyes away from resources of islamic countries and by avoiding to interfere with socio-political process in those countries.

Haris Feb 15, 2017 04:34pm

@rajendra and @sara: Is there any evidence that Muslim Brotherhood directly or indirectly bring insecurity to US?

Basit Ali Feb 15, 2017 05:34pm

@Haris read the ideology they preach

Haris Feb 15, 2017 05:46pm

@Raja : US must consider the situation around the World before making jibes. It is her responsibility and it flows through in the same manner she interferes in the internal affairs of the countries around the World.

khanm Feb 15, 2017 05:57pm

@Raja ...Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it. Pal..Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.

mujeeburrahman Feb 15, 2017 06:50pm

First step of disintegration of usa is president Donald Trump .

Osman Feb 15, 2017 08:36pm

The article raises very valid concerns. Thank you, Rafia and DAWN.

Nayak Feb 16, 2017 04:39am

@khanm dimwit, he is planning to ban them in the USA, not elsewhere

DN Feb 16, 2017 07:19am

Now I am confused, recently there was bold article when pakistan administrator are not allowing other community in pakistan then why blame American for doing same. And I like this about DAWN, journalist write free about their believe. Not like some indian channel where 90% news are paid and politics. I personally belief - people are good or bad regardless of their religion and country of origin. People are general busy with their daily life it is big political game. Maybe I am wrong.

Ajay vikram singh Feb 16, 2017 09:25am

@khanm - Very well said.

Junaid Feb 16, 2017 10:12am

Muslim Brotherhood's core ideology originates from the colonial era when the middle east and north africa were occupied by various European nations. Once they left, they ensured that their stooges remain in power either thru kings or dictators. It is also a fact that western powers always supported these regimes and continues to do it. The only struggle of Muslim Brotherhood is to change this century old system by participating in politics and help their people! When Modi who is doing politics based on religion and is accepted by West, then why is Muslim Brotherhood denied this right?

Osamah Aamir Feb 16, 2017 10:44am

It's time we secularize our government and laws. The state doesn't have the right to interfere or dictate an individual's decisions.

akif ghafoor shaikh Feb 17, 2017 04:39pm

My statement can not be convincing, however, a current president is afraid of any further terrorism in the US, therefor he is applying such strategies against Muslim brotherhood of the United States of America.