Experts Weigh In on Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization

February 2017

“I think it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do, the top reason being that it’s not a terrorist group.” Daniel Benjamin, former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. State Department (Politico)

“If credible evidence of terrorist activity is not forthcoming, it would quite simply be illegal for the United States to designate the Brotherhood on purely ideological grounds. To be sure, the Egyptian Brotherhood pursues an illiberal agenda in a democratic framework, but that is not a lawless act. Criminalizing the group for a set of ideas, by contrast, would be a lawless act.” William McCants, Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy and Director, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World and Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies (Brookings Institution)

“What you have is a disparate network of groups that may or may not meet criteria […] It’s trying to hit a grand slam and it’s probably going to lead to a strikeout.” Jonathan Schanzer, former Treasury Department analyst; Vice President for Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (Politico)

There is no “evidence that senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders have ordered or condoned [recent violent acts], or that the Brotherhood has carried out any of the major terrorist attacks that have wracked [Egypt].” Designating the Brotherhood as an FTO would, in effect, “[force] its leaders in that direction [of terror] because all other political and legal avenues will be closed to them.” Michele Dunne, Senior Associate and Director of Middle East Program and Nathan Brown, Nonresident Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“A U.S. designation would probably weaken [Brotherhood] leaders’ arguments against violence and provide ISIS and al-Qa’ida additional grist for propaganda to win followers and support, particularly for attacks against U.S. interests.” – January 2017 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Memorandum (Politico)

“This would signal [the U.S. government is] more interested in provoking conflict with an imaginary fifth column of Muslims in the U.S. than in preserving our relationships with counterterrorism partners like Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, or with fighting actual terrorism,” Tom Malinowski, ​former Assistant ​Secretary of ​State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (New York Times)

“If there’s no pushback from leadership, I worry that we could be manipulated by countries that are just trying to enlist us in their campaigns against their political opponents.” Tom Malinowski, ​former Assistant ​Secretary of ​State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (Politico)

“…a failed Brotherhood designation might ultimately afford the Brotherhood a more generous hearing in certain political and policy circles. So the administration should be wary of overplaying its hand: it could legitimate the Brotherhood in ways it doesn’t intend and in ways that Brotherhood organizations hardly deserve.” – Eric Trager, Esther K. Wagner Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (The Cipher Brief)

“The deep concern here is that designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, whatever that is and how it is defined (which is a complicated question in itself), could result in government attacks on American Muslim civil society by opening the doors to the use of over-broad and unfair legal regimes relating to designation and designated entities.” – Hina Shamsi, Director of the National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union (Politico)

“Designating all Muslim Brotherhood groups worldwide, or even just the entire Egyptian Brotherhood, to be terrorists based on the actions of a few might well push the debate over using violence in the wrong direction. So it could actually increase the threat of terrorism against Americans as well as Egyptians rather than diminish it.” – Michele Dunne, Director, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (The Cipher Brief)

Designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization “would be seen by many Muslims as another attempt to vilify adherents of Islam.” – The New York Times Editorial Board

“If the Brotherhood is designated a foreign terrorist organization, the [U.S.] government could bring criminal charges against Muslims, Arabs, and their institutions by invoking dangerously broad and expansive material support of terrorism laws. […] These laws can be easily exploited and manipulated for political gain, as even the most remote connection to the Brotherhood could pass muster in a court of law.” – Arjun Singh Sethi, Civil rights lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and Vanderbilt University Law School (Washington Post)

“A U.S. government designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization … would threaten the rights to association of Muslim groups in the United States. Such a designation would also undermine the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members and supporters to participate in democratic politics abroad.” Human Rights Watch

“Escalated repression of moderate groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (as well as liberals and progressives) will likely, and ironically, lead to an increase in support for more extremist groups as the latter become the only venue for political opposition. Without various Muslim Brotherhood groups operating throughout the region, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda will have the monopoly on Islamist politics in many countries.” – Jillian Schwedler, Professor, Hunter College (Lawfare)

“There is another threat more specific to academic researchers and analysts: Those who conduct research on the organization could find themselves at risk of prosecution for ‘material support’ of terrorism.” Andrew March, Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University and Associate Professor (Adjunct) of Law at Yale Law School (Washington Post)

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