US President Donald Trump is pushing for the Muslim Brotherhood to be labelled a terror group at the urging of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who visited the White House earlier this month.
“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email.
National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly already support the designation, but officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have been opposed and have been seeking more limited action.
A senior US official confirmed that President Al-Sisi had asked Trump to make the designation, which Egypt has already done, in a private meeting during a visit to Washington on 9 April.
After the meeting, Trump praised Al-Sisi as a “great president”, while a bipartisan group of US lawmakers raised concerns about Al-Sisi’s record on human rights, new legislation to keep him in office until 2030 and planned Russian arms purchases.
If successful, the designation is likely to impact several US mosques and Muslim organisations that have links to Brotherhood-affiliated groups or individuals. The US State Department had previously advised against banning the movement because of its “loose-knit structure and far-flung political ties across the Middle East”.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Civil Liberties Union have both previously condemned the plan as a strategy to stigmatise American Muslims that could lead to a “witch hunt”.
Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group could also complicate Washington’s relationship with NATO ally Turkey. The organisation has close ties with President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and many of its members fled to Turkey after the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood party was founded in Egypt in 1928 and played an instrumental role in the 2011 revolution. It was subsequently elected to power in the country’s first democratic election. Two years later, the group were ousted in a military coup and have since been banned and declared a terrorist group by Al-Sisi’s regime.
Brotherhood leaders, including ousted President Mohammed Morsi, have been imprisoned or executed, and the assets of thousands of individuals and organisations who allegedly have links to the group have been seized, prompting strong condemnation from numerous international human rights organisations.
Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists have been arrested and held without trial, as part of the crackdown, which even extends outside its borders. As one of the countries boycotting Qatar due to its support of the Brotherhood, Egypt also asked Interpol to help find and arrest 30 senior group leaders living in the small Gulf state.
In 2015 the head of the religious sector at Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments, announced that the ministry would burn all the “poisonous books” written by Muslim Brotherhood scholars, including those by founder Hassan Al-Banna, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, and Sayyid Qutb, as well as books written by other Islamist groups.
Despite this crackdown, support for the Brotherhood remains high across the region, with many crediting Al-Banna as the inspiration for a variety of Arab political parties, and the continued popularity of Islamism as a political vision.