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The Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization: To List or not to List?

The legislation proposed by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Diaz-Balart to designate the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) could be viewed from multiple angles. One of those angles is legal. To join the list an organization needs to fulfill certain criteria. It should be involved in terrorism that effects US national interests. An administrative record should be submitted to the Secretary of State who has the last word in listing a certain group in the FTO.

Another angle is simply populist. As it is fashionable today to use anti-Islam views in order to promote a wider outlook to country and world, and as this view smells bigotry, hatred and exclusion, it, nonetheless, proves helpful to spread extreme right and racist views even in a country like the US which is built on a set of universal rights and profound values.

A third view is political. For many rising star in the extreme right in the West, a group like ISIL, with its barbarism and savagery, is an opportunity to gain popularity and potentially a larger part in government if not all of it. The anti-civilization practices of ISIL are hence met with an anti-civilization outlook in the West. Much of what ISIL, and similar groups, say about Christians in the Middle East is parroted in the West by only repeating what ISIL says, almost word by word, but after replacing the word Christian with the word Muslim. It is a copy and paste.

A fourth view is strategic. And it is here that the issue of listing the MB as a terrorist organization should be debated. And here too we are faced with a preliminary question: What is precisely the worth of the FTO, that is from the US’s national interests angle?

If the main feature of the FTO is that it is a tool of diplomacy and pressure, it should not be freed of legal restrains. It should also be based on a clear view of what makes the US a unique experience in human modern history: The universal principles of freedom and equality upon which this republic was built. This should be the essence of any legal, political, ideological and strategic view of the FTO.

Should the MB be listed, therefore, in the FTO list?

We have to examine this organization on three levels. The US universal principles, the US national security, and the legality of listing this particular entity as a FTO.

From American national security perspective, the focus should be directed  in a way that can provide answers to a couple of simple questions: Does the MB play any role, as it is said to do, in building a wall against the violent Jihadists? And does the MB contribute to a stable, democratic and peaceful Middle East?

In the history of recent strategic thought in the US and other Western country, the MB was presented as the spare-tire in the Middle East. If the existing order collapses for any reason, the safety net, which will prevent chaos-that is the MB- will be ready to take over and caliber the tone.

Some historians go as far as saying that the availability of the spare-tire and its restlessness, coupled with the nature of US foreign policy then (spreading democracy, nation-building, etc.) encouraged the Obama administration, for one example, to rush changing tires that did not appear to have consumed their life-span yet. This may not be totally accurate inasmuch as it simplifies the process and reduces it to conspiratorial lexicon. However, certain events were supportive of this assumption.

Mubarak was told to leave prematurely, Gaddafi was killed, Assad was told to step-down, all the while coordination with the alternative-that is the MB-was placed on the front burner in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia.

So far, it was a new territory for both the Middle East and the US. One can sincerely understand the euphoria which accompanied seeing the people of the region, at long last, make themselves relevant and share in the process of building their own governments. But soon, it became clear that, in fact, it was not the people of the region. Those people were pushed aside by the MB.

As the only organized political force, and as it bases itself on popular interpretations of Islam, the MB which progressed full speed to grab political power, all the while marginalizing the rest of the political groups and popular trends. The organization did not waste time to make its step to power the end of any future rotation of this power. It started a period of upheaval just when it was hoped it will put an end to another period of upheaval.

Yet, the Obama administration believed that the MB’s rush to power does not contradict its legal or national-interest prerogatives. The organization would be “legally” elected and has strong ties to the US administration. But what about the value criteria? And what about hopes for stability?

The “spare tire” soon proved to be a flat tire, not only in legal and national interests accounts, but also in any value based evaluation. The group quickly moved according to its “Tamkin” doctrine, that is to empower only Islamists in all aspects of life be it government agencies, media, education institutes, police force or even laws and legislations.

Let us just ask any group of objective Egyptian, Libyan or even Tunisian academics to provide a list of MB’s violation of basic human rights. Burning Churches, beating peaceful protesters to death, suspending the constitution and giving the MB President in Egypt absolute powers and mushrooming media networks promoting basic rights violations like 12 years-old allowed to be married or teaching Jihad as the highest of religious obligations. With all those things documented, the extent of the ugliness of the picture will start to become clearer. The MB was spreading those ideas among Muslim populations, susceptible to follow ideologies that teach hate and violate all basic universal rights.

But essentially, the objection to empowering the MB stems from two important pillar of its ideological structure: its rejection of the nation-state. The MB believes instead in the necessity to build an Islamic Caliphate that transcends the nation-state concept.

This particular predicate implies decades of political turmoil in the Middle East. So, while the Obama administration placed its bet on the black horse of the MB, the horse proved to be a donkey. It was carrying with it a prescription of turmoil and wars. And while the administration sought political stability through the MB, it was in fact supporting the very group that will spread instability.

The second pillar is that the basic idea of building an empire ruled by Sharia implies using all possible tactics to reach that end. If violence is not helpful at a stage, democracy can be used. But in all cases, the very justification of the activity of any member is to build the Caliphate at the end.

However, the view of the MB seems to admit that there is a division of labor to reach that end. They say: “Some groups use violence, let us see if they will make progress. We prefer “democratic” methods as we see that it fits more the conditions of the world today”. But basically, there is no final-objective differences between all those groups, violent and non-violent. Those who are non-violent can convert to violence in a minute as we saw in the case of hundreds of MB in Egypt and Syria.

Documents since the rule of King Farouk in Egypt (before 1952) and until today show clearly that the MB resorted to terror and assassinations in multiple occasions. But the main argument here is that ultimately, the MB aims at building a society ruled by Sharia as it understands it. In this society, violence will be justified by the ideology of the state which is exclusivist, oppressive and reduces the society and the world to only black and white.

Then: to list or not to list?

On all accounts, the MB deserves to be listed until it fulfils certain criteria that turns it to a political party guided by the general principles of religious ethics, accept the nation-state, approves of the principle of rotation of power and vows to respect the basic universal human rights.

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