(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. should designate the Muslim Brotherhood – or at least some of its factions – for terrorism, experts told a congressional panel on Wednesday, weighing in on a long running debate about the threats posed by the Islamist movement.
Experts testifying before the House Oversight national security subcommittee offered different approaches to address the issue, but agreed the organization, formed in Egypt 90 years ago but with branches across the Middle East and beyond, is a problem.
The only Muslim testifying, American Islamic Forum for Democracy president M. Zuhdi Jasser, called for the toughest option. He recommended that the Muslim Brotherhood be designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) – first in Egypt, and then on a country-by-country basis, with branches in Libya, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen “the most obvious follow-ons.”
Jasser argued that much of the conversation about the MB “has been obstructed, muted, marginalized, deferred, minimized by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers or their allies here in the West.”
He urged Congress to “help us modern-minded, secular, liberal Muslims” marginalize the MB’s influence by declaring it to be what it is – a terrorist organization.
“Nothing would be more pro-Muslim than the marginalization of the Muslim Brotherhood and its direct affiliates,” he said. “Making the Muslim Brotherhood radioactive would allow the light to shine upon their most potent antagonists in Muslim communities – those who reject political Islamist groups and believe in liberty and the separation of mosque and state.”
Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior vice president Jonathan Schanzer argued for a targeted approach, using the Treasury Department’s terror financing authorities rather than the State Department’s FTO list, “which is a bit more political in nature.”
“The Brotherhood appears homogenous in its adherence to a hateful, bigoted, and radical ideology, but it remains heterogeneous when it comes to violence,” he said in written testimony.
“The right move is for the U.S. Treasury to take the lead in targeting overtly violent factions and those that finance terrorism, pursuant to Executive Order 13224.”
Under E.O. 13224, a post-9/11 tool designed to disrupt funding to terrorists, Americans are prohibited from doing business with people or entities designated as “a “specially designated global terrorists” (SDGTs), and any assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen.
Early this year the U.S. government did designate two relatively new MB offshoots in Egypt, Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM), as SDGTs, citing attacks including bombings and assassinations.
Schanzer said two others, Hizb al-Watan in Libya and the al-Islah Party in Yemen, should probably be next in line, based on the Treasury Department’s criteria for designation.
‘Force for moderation’ or ‘real threat’ to US national security interests?
The question of whether political Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood should be fought or engaged with has long been debated in the U.S.
In 2012-2013, the organization under President Mohammed Morsi ruled Egypt until ousted by the then military chief, now president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
While in power the Obama administration viewed the MB as a legitimate political party and cooperated with it. After Sisi’s coup it withheld U.S. aid for two years.
“Thankfully the Trump administration has discarded the Obama-era policy of treating the Brotherhood as a potential ally,” said Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), chairing the hearing.
In his testimony, Hudson Institute senior fellow Hillel Fradkin summarized the debate, especially since 9/11, around the MB and threat it represents.
“The crux of this controversy was the suggestion that by comparison with al-Qaeda and other similar organizations, the Brotherhood was moderate and could be a force for moderation,” he said.
Proponents of that argument contend that the MB had moved away from the radical views of its jihad-espousing founder, Hassan al-Banna, was ready to take part in ordinary politics, and that doing so would further moderate it.
But the MB’s year in power in Egypt, Fradkin said, provided an “important test of these benign hopes and they have proven to be false.”
“While in power it attempted to establish a new regime in Egypt that would more or less conform to its founding radical vision.”
Since its overthrow in Egypt the MB has been outlawed not just there but also in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar, traditionally a key supporter of the MB, fell out with its Gulf neighbors, among other things over its refusal to sever ties with the group.
Its other main state sponsor is Turkey. Schanzer said in his testimony Qatar and Turkey were viewed as U.S. allies but “both continue to support a movement that is anti-American and extremist at its core.”
“Washington should make it clear to both countries that investment ties, military sales, and security benefits could be in jeopardy if such support continues,” he said.
DeStanis acknowledged that experts differ on how best to use terrorist designations to address the threat posed by the MB, but said ignoring it was not an option.
“Between the radicalism of its hateful ideology, the danger of its theocratic rule as seen in Egypt, its networks including Hamas and HASM, and its powerful state sponsors, it is clear that the Brotherhood constitutes a real threat to the national security interests of the United States,” he said.
“We can debate the best way to counter this threat, but simply ignoring the threat is not an acceptable answer.”