Senate Muslim Brotherhood bill provokes controversy


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2017 last week in a bid to “fight against radical Islamic terrorism.” The bill notes that “it is the sense of Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist designation.” Nonetheless, since the legislative branch does not have the authority to make such a determination, the measure would require the Secretary of State to submit such an evaluation and report back to Congress within 60 days.

Cruz notes in a press statement, “A grand détente with the Muslim Brotherhood and a blind eye to the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) are not pathways to peace in this struggle; they guarantee the ultimate success of our enemy.”

Jillian Schwedler, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of a book on Jordanian Islamists called the Senate bill “deeply problematic.” She told Jewish Insider, “The terrorist designation really is only appropriate for groups that have been actively engaged in the use of violence towards civilian populations and the Muslim Brotherhood in no way fits that category.” Since the different branches of the organization operate independently and at times in a contradictory manner, such a terrorist designation for all of the Brotherhood across the Middle East lacks “nuance,” Schwedler emphasized.

In addition to the Senate measure, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) have introduced a similar bill in the House. The resolution cites the multiple countries that have labeled the Brotherhood a terrorist organization including the 1979 decision by the regime of Hafez al-Assad in Syria, in addition to Russia banning the organization from operating in the country in 2003. Offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood include the AKP, Turkey’s Development and Justice Party– the ruling group in Ankara— which is considered to have ties with the incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The bill also claims that a chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood operates in the United States but does not offer any additional details.

The terrorist designation is a “worthwhile issue to address,” Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Foundations for Defense of Democracies, explained to Jewish Insider. “It is clear that there is an appetite to address the Brotherhood and whatever potential threats it may pose,” Schanzer added.

Given the escalating tensions between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the timing of the measure is noteworthy.  “It would be taken by the Egyptian regime to vindicate one of the most widespread campaigns of repression in Egyptian history,” Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and Non-Resident Fellow at Carnegie, told Jewish Insider. According to the BBC, approximately 40,000 people have been jailed and 1,000 killed since Sisi came to power in 2013.

In 2014, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) introduced a similar measure to label the group as a terrorist organization. However, her legislation failed to win enough votes to pass Congress. Bachmann had described senior aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Huma Abedin as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a move Senator John McCain called “sinister.”

Yet, Rep. Balart emphasizes that the timing of the Trump’s upcoming administration is exactly the reason why he proposed the bill now. “We have an incoming president who appreciates the threat of terrorism and has vowed to defeat it,” he said.

Experts also questioned how the new bill will impact American ties with allied nations across the Middle East. Citing Jordan, a longstanding US partner who has tried to contain extremism in the country by not placing all Islamists under the umbrella term of terrorists, Schwedler asked, “So, then does Congress hypothetically say we are cutting aid to Jordan until Jordan outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood in its own country?”

In addition to the bill’s affect abroad, Schanzer also noted that the Cruz measure may have an impact in America. “My sense is domestic charities are likely to come under scrutiny again,” he stated. “Some of these US-based charities could have ties with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Schanzer added.

The GOP backed bill appears to fit with the priorities of the upcoming Trump presidency. At the nominee’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson singled out the Islamist organization as a threat. “The demise of ISIS will also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and certain elements within Iran.”

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