State Dept. Official Advises Against Conflating 'Islamists With Terrorists'

Patrick Goodenough | June 9, 2014 | 8:39pm EDT
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Assistant Secretary for the Near East Anne Patterson delivers a keynote address at the 2014 U.S. Islamic World Forum on Monhday, June 9, 2014. (Photo: Brookings/Steven Purcell)

( – The desire of some elements in the Middle East to “eliminate Islamists entirely from the political scene” was complicating the fight against violent extremists, a senior State Department official said on Monday, citing the tendency of some to “conflate Islamists with terrorists.”

The remarks were made in Doha by Assistant Secretary for the Near East Anne Patterson, whose tenure as U.S. ambassador to Egypt was marred by allegations that she was too cozy with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood before the military ousted it last July.

“The United States is well aware that there are deep differences among our friends in this region about the future of Islamist politics and we understand the need for new thinking to address the intensity and depth of sectarian issues that threaten regional peace,” she said.

“Some people in this region conflate Islamists with terrorists and desire to eliminate the Islamists entirely from the political scene,” Patterson said. “Our difficult fight against violent extremists is made more complicated by this viewpoint. The need for compromise is underscored by political experience in the Arab world as well as our own.”

Patterson was giving the keynote speech at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, an annual event sponsored by the Brookings Institution and Qatar’s foreign ministry.

While diplomatically nuanced, those comments amounted to a challenge both to Egypt under newly-sworn in President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, and to some of Qatar’s neighbors, which have fallen out with the small, petroleum-rich state over its pro-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) policies.

In March Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar to protest its support for the MB. The Gulf states’ unelected leaders view the Brotherhood, a group with branches across the region from Libya to the Gaza Strip to Syria, as a security threat.

Further, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in March declared the MB to be a terrorist organization. Egypt’s military-backed interim government took the same step last December. Patterson’s remarks about conflating Islamists with terrorists and a desire to “eliminate” Islamists from the political scene were likely directed, at least in part, at those measures.

Defaced images of then-U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, top left, were seen during mass anti-Muslim Brotherhood protests in the run-up to the military takeover in July 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Patterson, a career foreign service officer, served as ambassador to Pakistan from 2007-2010 and to Egypt from 2011 to Sept. 2013.

During her posting in Cairo, she came under fire from quarters who saw her and the Obama administration in general as overly sympathetic to the MB administration under then-President Mohammed Morsi.

Patterson’s image even began appearing on placards used during the massive street demonstrations in the run-up to the military takeover. One large banner photographed in the crowd featured photos of President Obama and Patterson and accused them of “support[ing] terrorism in Egypt.” Another placard featured a blown-up news photo of Patterson meeting with Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohammed Badie, with the words, “We know what you did last summer.”

Patterson also drew strong criticism for saying that she and the U.S. government were “deeply skeptical” that the protests against Morsi’s MB administration would be fruitful.

The State Department at the time said repeatedly that the U.S. was not taking sides in Egypt.

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