Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, Amman, August 8, 2014. .
The possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood will be designated a terrorist organization by the US government has fueled warnings by critics of the Trump administration that such a move will be the first step in a crackdown on Muslim-American civil society groups.
But the possibility is also viewed with trepidation by some liberals in the Arab world, including the West Bank and Gaza, who, although they differ with the Brotherhood, argue that it is folly to equate it with Islamic State and that designating it as terrorist will open the door wide to greater human rights violations by Arab regimes.
According to US media reports, the administration is currently weighing an executive order on the matter. Alternatively, the White House could decide to simply throw its weight behind a legislative effort spearheaded by Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) that calls on the State Department to determine whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a foreign terrorist organization.
Cruz said the Muslim Brotherhood espouses “a violent ideology with a mission of destroying the West” and that the terrorist designation will “enable the United States to take action that could stifle the funding they receive to promote their activities.”
For supporters of the terrorism designation, the group is a violent, destabilizing terrorist force akin to Islamic State abroad and is bent on subverting American society at home.
Frank Gaffney Jr., founder of the Center for Security Policy, recently told The New York Times, “The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood are exactly the same as the Islamic State, exactly the same as the Taliban, exactly the same as you know, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Al Nusra Front, on and on, al-Shabab. It’s about Islamic supremism. It’s about achieving the end state that is their due.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed the Brotherhood in the same category as al-Qaida during his confirmation hearings, deeming it an agent of radical Islam.
While alarming most Muslim- American groups, the designation is backed by Muhammad Hajj Hassan, founder of the American-Muslim alliance who criticizes the group for advocating and practicing violence.
He told Fox News that “President Trump must go ahead with his listing of the Brotherhood. This group since its inception has practiced killing crimes and terror attacks in the Arab world.”
But closer to home, at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, political scientist Samir Awad warns that designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist would signal regimes that they are free to intensify human rights abuses against their opponents. “The Middle East is full of countries that are dictatorships that used to have some kind of precaution when it comes to civil rights and human rights and now they will not. If Donald Trump designates the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist, these regimes will feel he has given them carte blanche for attacking and imprisoning people from the Muslim Brotherhood and saying they are a terrorist group.
I know they are not a terrorist group, and the regimes know that, so whatever the regimes do will be over and above their usual dictatorship practices.”
“I’ve known Muslim Brotherhood members in Jordan and they are not against the regime, they are not a terrorist group, they are not a threat to anyone.
Lately they renounced violence and restated their position that ‘we are a group concerned with how people think and behave and we won’t use or condone violence at any stage.’” “They’re not anything like Daesh or Nusra, which are terrorist groups. If a person can’t see the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh, then his eyesight is blurred,” Awad said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
“I’m opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood but I know they don’t aim to change society through violence. They’re not terrorists,” he said.
In the view of Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza, designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization will actually fuel extremism. “I am afraid it will increase the voice of extremists like the ban on the [immigration from] the seven countries has. There are many extremist movements like Daesh and Nusra. You have to defeat them by using the Brotherhood against them. The effective strategy is to separate between these movements and the Brotherhood.
“It is fruitful to make the Brotherhood more moderate.
It is better for the interests of everyone to make them more moderate, not to encourage them to go the extremist way,”he said.
Commentator Ahmad al-Hile, writing in the London- based Al Khaleej online, raised the specter of a civilizational war if the US designates the group as terrorist.
“This will spread the culture of religious wars and bring back the memory of crusader wars and call up a civilizational collision between Islam and Christianity. It will lead to a turning point in the thinking of moderate Islamic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the young sectors in this movement, encouraging them to reassess their methods and tools as a result of designating them as terrorist.
“Any American measures mean targeting large groups of Muslims-parties, academics, intellectuals and businessmen and targeting thousands of charitable organizations in the US, Europe and the world on the pretext of linkage to the Muslim Brotherhood based on politicized intelligence reports. This will create a sharp crisis in western societies teeming with millions of Muslims and destroy the idea of coexistence and assimilation and raise the wall of racism based on religion and cultural identity. It will release wild nationalist extremist movements in the West.”
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