The Trump administration is considering officially designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. CIA analysts are warning, however, that doing so may drive some supporters into more violent terrorist organizations (such as al-Qaeda) and hurt relationships with certain U.S. allies, such as Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey.
However, looked at within the larger context of events since Trump’s inauguration, this is part of a wider re-alignment of U.S. interests in the Middle East and a divergence from Obama-era policies.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. supported and helped the overthrow of the governments of Libya, Egypt, and Syria (still on-going). Into the vacuum created by the collapse of the governments of these countries, various various militant Islamic groups moved in, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliated groups (Hamas is now partnering with ISIS and training with them in Egypt).
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood briefly gained power in 2012 after democratic parliamentary elections were held. However, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president (Mohamed Morsi) soon began to implement Islamic practices through fiat. This led to mass protests and the removal of Morsi and his government by the Egyptian military in 2013. The military then sought to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting many within the organization and outlawing it.
So, just what and who is the “Muslim Brotherhood?”
It was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, but greatly influenced by Egyptian author and writer Sayyid Qutd. It is transnational, with members throughout the Middle East. It’s stated ultimate goal is to establish a theocratic government which rules according to Sharia law. Keep this in mind when people try to characterize the organization as “moderate.” It is moderate in relation to groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda (al-Qaeda, by the way, is moderate in relation to ISIS), but it still seeks a similar end goal as do the other radical Islamic groups. The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.” The current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, has also called for the destruction of Israel and for the death of Jews.
Due to its destabilizing influence, radical rhetoric, and violent actions, the Muslim Brotherhood has already been labeled a terrorist organization by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States, under Trump’s leadership, is now considering doing the same. This is where the wider context and re-alignment of U.S. interests comes into play.
The first two countries in that list, Russia and Saudi Arabia, are most interesting. The U.S. and Russia, as has been widely reported and debated, are in the midst of a delicate dance of detente, seeking to work together on matters of mutual concern. Saudi Arabia has been fighting radical Islamic rebels in Yemen, trying to keep the turmoil there from spreading into its own country. The U.S. has launched many missile strikes against terrorists in Yemen, in support of Saudi Arabia. After the recent U.S. special forces raid in Yemen, however, Yemen has said that they will no longer grant permission for U.S. ground raids (allowing, though, unmanned strikes to continue). In response, the U.S. has indicated that it will proceed with weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain which were blocked by the Obama administration. These weapons will allow both countries to continue the fight in Yemen as U.S. proxies.
Thus, as I mentioned above, the Trump administration’s willingness to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is part of a larger picture. The Obama administration’s actions (including overthrowing governments and pulling most U.S. forces out of Iraq), whether intended or not, had the effect of strengthening radical Islamic groups who poured in to fill the void (granted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 eventually helped lead to this as well). The U.S. then tangled with Russia in Syria, stopped weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, and signed a nuclear deal with Iran. This left the majority of the Arab states fearful for their own security, with terrorists and rebels on their doorsteps, and Iran rising in power and threatening the Gulf states.
Trump seems to want to reverse this trend by aligning the U.S. with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others with similar interests in order to counter radical Islam in the Middle East and check Iran’s influence. The issue with the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore just a piece in the larger puzzle of what to do in the Middle East.