(CNSNews.com) – Monday’s meetings between President Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came amid an energetic lobbying battle over how the new administration should deal with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The subject was not mentioned during brief remarks to the press before their one-on-one meeting, as the two men expressed strong support for each other.
Trump said Sisi has “done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” while the Egyptian praised Trump for efforts “to counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations, and that is terrorizing innocent people.”
Sisi’s government is fighting an insurgency by an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) affiliate in the Sinai, but also views the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist movement.
The Islamist group’s Mohammed Morsi served as Egypt’s elected president for a year before the military, then headed by Sisi, ousted him in mid-2013, amid widespread anti-Morsi public protests. The Obama administration, which had cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood government, withheld aid for two years after the military takeover.
Sensing new opportunities in the Trump era, two Egyptian delegations in the lead-up to Sisi’s visit advocated in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood being designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) under U.S. law.
One delegation comprises lawmakers focused on foreign policy while the other, dubbed the “popular diplomacy” group, is made up of political party representatives. In their interactions with U.S. lawmakers, U.S. Coptic representatives and others, they have been driving home claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has deep and wide links to terrorism.
Muslim Brotherhood figures including Ayman al-Zawahiri were instrumental in establishing al-Qaeda, as well as the precursor to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which in turn morphed into ISIS. The Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, Hamas, has a long history of deadly terrorism against Israel.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and prominent Sunni cleric Yusuf Qaradawi.
(Qaradawi, who has himself dogged controversy, revealed Baghdadi’s links in a 2014 television interview, as reported by Middle East Forum fellow Cynthia Farahat in the latest edition of its Middle East Quarterly.)
The leader of “popular diplomacy” delegation, Ahmed Fadaly, told Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily that it provided lawmakers with “reports and videotapes documenting the terrorist nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and showing that it is the mother of all radical and militant Islam movements, particularly ISIS.”
‘Agents of radical Islam’
Legislation aimed at having the Brotherhood designated as an FTO has been introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), with four Republican co-sponsors; and in the House by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), with the support of 46 co-sponsors, also all Republicans.
U.S. critics of the Brotherhood were buoyed by then-Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing assertion listing the Egyptian group together with al-Qaeda and elements in Iran as “agents of radical Islam” which the U.S. should focus on once ISIS is defeated.
The Muslim Brotherhood has reportedly been fighting back, however.
Hussein Gad, an Egyptian lawmaker and member of the visiting parliamentary delegation, told Al-Ahram that the Brotherhood “has been spending millions of dollars to lobby Washington officials and Congress members to avoid being designated a terror organization.”
Gad said the lobbying has resulted in the publication of articles “extolling the group and conveying a message that it is not a terrorist organization.”
Al-Monitor translated a 62-page Muslim Brotherhood document which it says was first prepared a year ago and is being used again now to lobby against the FTO designation push.
The document includes responses to key allegations directed at the group, saying for example that its concept of jihad “does not depart from the conventional concept of war and the right of legitimate defense based on international humanitarian law and the United Nations Charter.”
(The Brotherhood’s logo features crossed swords and a Qur’an, and an Arabic motto translated, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our exemplar. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”)
On links to al-Qaeda, the lobbying document cites criticism of the Brotherhood by al-Zawahiri and says that ISIS too regards the Brotherhood as an “infidel” group.
It argues that the fact former Brotherhood members left to join extremist groups should be seen as “evidence that Muslim Brotherhood rejects extremism and strictness and doesn’t accept extremists to be its members.”
On the Brotherhood’s official English website, a statement not directly referencing the U.S. FTO push says that “any attempt to accuse [the group] of terrorism is a desperate attempt to escape the results of democratic elections by those who were unable to win through the ballot boxes and are trying to replace them with blatant lies and trumped-up accusations.”
Also posted on the official website is a statement, attributed to the so-called “Anti-Coup Pro-Legitimacy National Alliance,” that makes clear its views on both Trump and Sisi:
“The treasonous coup commander is preparing to meet an equally repulsive leader: American president Trump, who is shunned by most, yet the floundering general seeks more solace and support in the face of rising Egyptian public anger against him at home …”
‘Crackdown on civil liberties’
Meanwhile the U.S.-based organization Coptic Solidarity is advocating Washington’s support for Egypt’s fight against terrorism, but also drawing attention to the Sisi government’s poor human rights record.
“The U.S. needs to partner with Egypt to combat terrorism, and advance national security while simultaneously promoting religious freedom and equal civil rights for the oppressed religious minorities,” it said in a statement.
“Mr. El-Sisi will likely present a whitewashed image of Egypt during his visit. Yet, he has overseen a large-scale crackdown on civil liberties,” it said. “Copts and other religious minorities, the media, and human rights advocates are experiencing oppression unseen even under the [Hosni] Mubarak dictatorship.”
Coptic Solidarity supports the legislation calling for FTO designation for the Muslim Brotherhood. It says its enactment “would help provide a first step in reversing a U.S. culture that has accepted Islamist activities to the detriment of U.S. interests, and that of many other nations around the world.”