According to reports, President Donald Trump met with staunchly anti-Islamist Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi earlier this month and is now working to formally deem the Muslim Brotherhood — the international Islamist group that serves as the mother’s milk for much of the Sunni extremism that plagues the Arab world — a terrorist organization. The move would bring the United States in line with many anti-Islamist Arab allies, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — each of which also formally designates the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
Per The New York Times:
The White House directed national security and diplomatic officials to find a way to place sanctions on the group after a White House visit on April 9 by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, for whom the Brotherhood represents a source of political opposition. In a private meeting without reporters and photographers, Mr. el-Sisi urged Mr. Trump to take that step and join Egypt in branding the movement a terrorist organization.
Such a designation imposes wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on companies and individuals who interact with the targeted group. The president responded affirmatively to Mr. el-Sisi, saying it would make sense. Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have interpreted that as a commitment, officials said.
Importantly, though, The Wall Street Journal reports that it is not “immediately known whether the Trump administration’s designation would apply only to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, or to the set of Islamist movements across the world that are informally referred to as the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Opponents of the Brotherhood — for which the genocidal, Jew-hating Sunni jihadist group Hamas notably serves as the Palestinian branch — will surely hope for a broader designation that is not merely limited to el-Sisi’s Egypt. El-Sisi, who took over in Egypt following the short-lived Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, is known as a staunch opponent of both the Brotherhood and of Islamism, in general.
Perhaps predictably, there is internal discord on the issue within the Trump administration. Specifically, as The New York Times reports, there is a disconnect between some of Trump’s high-level appointees and some careerist mandarins within the firmly embedded “deep state”:
John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, support the idea, officials said. But the Pentagon, career national security staff, government lawyers and diplomatic officials have voiced legal and policy objections, and have been scrambling to find a more limited step that would satisfy the White House.
The designation could undermine U.S. relations with Turkey — a nominal NATO “ally” and erstwhile proudly secular state that has drifted in a strongly Islamist direction under current dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Along with the pro-Islamism, pro-Muslim Brotherhood emirate of Qatar, Turkey currently serves as one of the main regional boosters of the Brotherhood and Hamas.
Many conservatives, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have long supported designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The Counter Extremism Project describes the Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State as “shar[ing] more than deep ideological underpinnings,” and further notes that the groups’ “similarities far outweigh their differences.”