The United States is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, the White House said on April 30. The designation would result in sanctions against Egypt’s oldest radical Islamic terrorist group.
“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 a statement.
Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have already designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked President Donald Trump to make the designation in a private meeting during a visit to Washington on April 9, according to a senior U.S. official.
Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and was elected president the following year, has overseen a crackdown on radical Islamic terrorists, as well as liberal opposition in Egypt.
White House national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo support the designation, but officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have been opposed and have been seeking more limited action, the senior official said.
The Brotherhood, which estimates its membership at up to 1 million people, came to power in Egypt’s first modern free election in 2012, a year after long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising. But the movement is now banned, and thousands of its supporters and much of its leadership have been jailed.
The United States currently designates 96 groups as terrorist organizations. The vast majority of the groups are Islamic extremists.
The Egyptian government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for a 2013 suicide bomb attack on a police station that killed 16 people. The Brotherhood condemned that attack and denies using violence.
In 2018, radical Islamic terrorist groups carried out 1,980 attacks around the world, killing 11,777 people and injuring roughly as many, according to an open source tally maintained by The Religion of Peace website, which describes itself as “a non-partisan, fact-based site which examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.”
Some conservatives have argued for years that the Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 and sought to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate by peaceful means, has been a breeding ground for terrorists.
Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization could complicate Washington’s relationship with NATO ally Turkey. The Brotherhood has close ties with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, and many of its members fled to Turkey after the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.
“If President Trump designates the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist org, it will be the biggest hit to the global Islamist movement. [The Brotherhood] has the most organized network of institutions, politicians & banks. This will shake their empire. Do it,” Mohamad Tawhidi, a reformist imam and peace advocate, wrote on Twitter.
The Trump administration first debated the terrorist designation for the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after Trump took office in January 2017. Last year, a congressional committee weighed options for designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is a militant Islamist organization with affiliates in over 70 countries,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said on July 11, 2018. “There’s no question that the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliates are involved in terrorism.”
Some branches of the Brotherhood, including the Hamas terrorist group, have already been designated as terrorist organizations by the United States. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, was once a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Reuters contributed to this report.