O Brotherhood, What Art Thou?

How to Classify the Islamist Group

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood during a protest in front of al Tawheed mosque in Cairo, August 23, 2013. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

Over the last few years, there has been increasing debate in the West over whether the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with broad influence in the Middle East, should be considered a terrorist group. In the United Kingdom, Brotherhood-affiliated groups were once allied with the government in its fight against terrorism. But in 2014, then British Prime Minister David Cameron changed course, commissioning a critical inquiry into whether various Brotherhood-inspired organizations in the United Kingdom were a threat to national security. The report concluded that “membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism," but did not recommend outright banning the group.

Cameron's move had apparently been influenced by the decisions of United Kingdom's Middle East allies to deal harshly with the Islamist organization. In 2013, after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was deposed in a coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the group was banned. In 2014, Saudi Arabia designated the group a terrorist organization, as did the United Arab Emirates. Jordan, too, has been cracking down on the Brotherhood.

The United States is now also debating whether to label the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. In 2015, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida attempted to push the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act through Congress, which would have barred Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated organizations within the United States. The act, however, stalled in the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and was shelved for some time. Then in January, a week before the inauguration of Donald Trump, Cruz reintroduced the bill before a Republican-dominated Congress and with an incoming president who had signaled his intentions to make the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism” a priority. Indeed, the president considered banning the group just last month.

Such a ban, however, is wrong on a number of levels. Cruz’s proposal begins by listing other countries that have outlawed the Brotherhood, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and

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