President Donald Trump's administration is reportedly weighing whether or not to draft an executive order designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. If signed, such an order would have broad implications for U.S. relations both domestically and abroad.
The Trump administration is currently considering executive orders to list both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as international terrorist organizations.
Both Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and United Arab Emirates crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan have lobbied for Trump to target the Muslim Brotherhood with an executive order, The New York Times reports.
The Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928 and grew notorious for decades of using violent methods to promote Islamist rule. In the 1970s, the group officially disowned using violence and instead opted to operate as a democratic organization. The group is diffuse and varies from country to country. One of its offshoots, the Palestinian group Hamas, has been internationally criticized for mounting terrorist attacks.
The group had been elected the ruling party of Egypt in 2012, but was cast out of power in 2013 after former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed by the military and succeeded by el-Sisi.
The influence of the Brotherhood is felt in most Muslim-majority countries. The group does not have a concentrated power base but instead manifests in affiliated groups. Several U.S. allies, such as Tunisia and Turkey, host groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former assistant secretary of state Tom Malinowski, who had served in former President Barack Obama's administration, has warned that designating the Muslim group as a terrorist organization would alienate crucial U.S. allies in the Middle East.
"This would signal they are more interested in provoking conflict with an imaginary fifth column of Muslims in the U.S. than in preserving our relationships with counterterrorism partners like Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, or with fighting actual terrorism."
In 2015, the State Department asserted that the Muslim group did not meet the legal criteria to be designated as a terrorist group, citing no evidence of the Brotherhood's leadership being involved in ordering violence.
Prominent advisers in the Trump administration subscribe to the belief that the Muslim Brotherhood has been mounting a nefarious conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government and promote Sharia law. White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon previously proposed making a film in 2007 that he claimed would depict the Brotherhood as "the foundation of modern terrorism."
Hugh Handeyside of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization could be a pretense to target American Muslim groups by freezing their assets.
"Any move to designate the Muslim Brotherhood could enable the Trump administration to attack American Muslim civil society because that designation would open the door to using overbroad and unfair laws related to designated entities ... it could have a tremendous effect on freedom of speech," Handeyside told Al Jazeera.
Corey Saylor, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), asserts that far-right groups have been trying to link all American Muslim groups to the Brotherhood and that a terrorist designation would be used to discredit them.
"Every Muslim organization in the U.S. has been subjected to extreme vetting at this point under both Bush and Obama," Saylor said. "If they start coming after us, then the public should know that it's a witch hunt and nothing else."
The White House's possible executive action on the matter has been preambled by bills in Congress. On Jan. 11, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas re-proposed two pieces of legislation that would designate both the Muslim Brotherhood and IRGC as terrorist organizations, according to The Daily Caller.
"I am proud to reintroduce these bills that would codify needed reforms in America's war against radical Islamic terrorism," Cruz said. "This potent threat to our civilization has intensified under the Obama administration due to the willful blindness of politically-correct policies that hamper our safety and security."
The Trump administration's considerations for executive action against the Muslim Brotherhood have reportedly been slowed to the concerns of the State Department and National Security Council, whose officials assert that a terrorist designation has no legal merit and could backfire for national security interests.