As Egypt Calls Muslim Brotherhood ‘Terrorists,’ Petition to WH Remains Unanswered

By Patrick Goodenough | December 26, 2013 | 12:05 AM EST

Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood protest in Cairo on Dec. 20, 2013. Some of the Arabic reads, "Morsi will be back." (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

( – Egypt’s interim government on Wednesday declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, an appeal to the Obama administration to make an equivalent designation under U.S. law continues to languish, unanswered, on the White House petition site.

Under its “We the People” initiative, the White House undertakes to respond formally to any petition which within 30 days attracts 100,000 signatures. The 30-day deadline for a petition calling for Egyptian Islamist group to be designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) was August 6, and by that date it had received almost 190,000 signatures.

More than four months later, the petition has still brought no response from the White House. It now has just under 197,000 signatures.

Of a total 78 petitions currently on the site, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) one has by far the largest number of signatures – almost 50,000 more than the next best supported one.

The White House does not commit to respond to petitions within a certain period of time, but it does say, “We will do our best to respond to petitions that cross the signature threshold in a timely fashion.”

It adds that responses may be delayed, however, “depending on the topic and the overall volume of petitions.”

The petition was first created just four days after the Egyptian military removed President Mohammed Morsi from power, following protests by millions of Egyptians demanding an end to his one year-old MB administration.

The petition said the MB has “a long history of violent killings,” direct ties with terrorist groups, and “has shown in the past few days that it is willing to engage in violence and killing of innocent civilians in order to invoke fear in the hearts of its opponents.”

“This is terrorism,” the petition stated. “We ask the U.S. government to declare MB as a terrorist group for a safer future for all of us.”

Under U.S. law, the requirements for FTO designation are that a group is foreign; that it engages in terror activity or retains the capability and intent to do so; and that the activity threatens the security of American nationals or the national security of the U.S.

Terror activity is defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetuated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

The MB has never been listed as an FTO although its Palestinian wing, Hamas, has been a designated since 1997. Hamas was set up in 1987 with a founding charter that says all Muslims are duty-bound to join a jihad to destroy Israel. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing control from the larger Palestinian faction, Fatah, six years ago.

Also, the U.S. has barred entry to the MB’s spiritual leader, Yusuf Qaradawi, and the U.S. Treasury Department in 2008 added the Union of Good, a coalition of charities led by Qaradawi, to a list of organizations sanctioned for links to terrorism.

The department said at the time some of the funds raised were going to Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, and some had “compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.”

Qaradawi, a prominent and controversial Sunni cleric, has voiced support for Palestinian suicide bombings, calling them justifiable “martyrdom operations.”

An Egyptian policeman stands guard at the scene of an explosion at a police headquarters building that killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 100 in Mansoura on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ashraf)

Senior terrorists with ties to the MB include al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, a former top member of the Brotherhood in Egypt; 9/11 architect Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who joined the organization’s Kuwait branch;  and Egyptian cleric Omar Abd al-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (When Morsi took office he pledged to work for Rahman’s release.)

In its announcement Wednesday declaring the MB a terrorist group the interim government said the decision was taken by the cabinet in line with an article in the penal code relating to terrorism.

The government linked the decision to a suicide bombing Tuesday of a police headquarters in Mansoura, north of Cairo, which killed at least 15 people. A jihadist group active in the Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government – along with some state- and privately-owned newspapers – blames the MB.

Obama administration and the Brotherhood

Formed in Egypt in the 1920s, the Brotherhood has branches and followers in dozens of countries, including the U.S, and promotes the restoration of an Islamic caliphate. It was officially banned during the Nasser era in the 1950, but was later tolerated and during the Mubarak years members ran for parliament as “independents.”

When President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011 the MB quickly emerged as the best-organized political force in the country and went on to win the election the following year with Morsi as standard bearer.

The Obama administration’s stance towards the MB drew criticism from some quarters in Egypt and at home. After Morsi won President Obama phoned to congratulate him and White House press secretary Jay Carney described him as a leader with “legitimacy,” thanking the military and electoral commission for “supporting a free and fair election.”

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on March 3, 2013, four months before Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Once in power the MB alienated many non-Islamist Egyptians, ushering in a controversial new constitution and using methods reminiscent of the Mubarak era to intimidate opponents and clamp down on free expression. Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority was especially fearful for the future.

Although the Obama administration did criticize Morsi’s government for some policies and conduct, it was viewed by many Egyptians as supportive of the MB, and both Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, were met with those complaints when visiting Cairo. The then-U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, was accused in particular of being pro-MB.

After the military ousted Morsi, the administration after a review announced it was withholding some aid to Egypt, citing actions “not consistent with inclusive democracy and nonviolence.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow