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Washington wants to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, but why? And why now?

May 2, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Jordanian police stand guard as protesters wave Palestinian and Muslim Brotherhood flags during a demonstration against the US president’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on 29 December, 2017, in the Jordanian capital Amman [AFP PHOTO/Khalil MAZRAAWI/Getty]

According to various rumours, the Trump administration in Washington is heading towards a declaration that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation. If and when it is put on the US terrorist list, there will be a number of implications for the movement. Although the decision has not yet been made, and it is causing arguments in the White House, most predictions are that it will happen, perhaps sooner than we expect. This would be consistent with the actions of Trump and his team since taking the reins more than two years ago.

Why take such a decision, and why now? Who inspired it? What are the broader implications and will they affect Jordan?

There is no doubt that Muslim Brotherhood groups have been under the microscope of Western security agencies for a long time, especially since the 11 September attacks in 2001. They have come under even more scrutiny since the military coup that ousted Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. However, these agencies have hesitated about adding the Brotherhood to their black lists in the face of demands from the Arab world to do so. There are a number of reasons for this.

For a start, there is no solid evidence of the movement’s involvement in terrorism. Some of its wings in some countries may have been involved in it to some extent; some of its branches may have formed secret armed security organisations; and some jihadist movements may have stemmed, emerged or separated from the organisation. However, the organisation as a whole is the broadest, oldest and most popular political Islam group in the Arab and Muslim world and has not been involved in terrorism. This is what the investigations by the British, French and German governments concluded, and this is what the opponents of US President Donald Trump’s new approach are citing in their arguments.

READ: Top US newspapers warn against designating Brotherhood

What’s more, adding the group to the terrorism list will create many problems for international policies within the Middle East and for some countries beyond it. The group maintains alliances with many governments around the world, such as Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar to name but a few, while various branches are governing or participating in the governance of Morocco, Tunisia and the Gaza Strip. Others are fighting alongside US-backed forces in Yemen and are part of the Syrian opposition sponsored by Washington and backed by its allies. It is also a part of the “legitimate government” in Libya and has a presence in the parliaments of a number of America’s friends and allies, such as Jordan and Bahrain. Above all, the organisation still has a strong presence on the street in the Arab and Muslim world, and adding it to a terrorist list will “deprive” US diplomacy of many political opportunities and could even jeopardise its roles in many crises and countries.

Furthermore, including the Muslim Brotherhood on the terrorism lists means, among other things, that the West will lose channels of communication and security and political cooperation with the one major movement that includes hundreds of institutions and organisations under its umbrella. These institutions include advocacy, social, educational, financial and economic organisations in the West. For the sake of preserving its presence therein, the Brotherhood cooperates with Western intelligence agencies and provides information about “terrorist networks”. The West has always viewed the group, since its creation almost a century ago, as one of its go-to options in the confrontation with nationalist, left-wing and communist groups of the past. It has also considered the group as an option in the challenge of the Iran/Shia threat or as a potential alternative to the exhausted and illegitimate regimes, such as in the Arab Spring context. Declaring the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation will deprive the West of these possibilities.

Why now? Look at who has inspired Washington to make this move. It is known that a number of America’s closest allies have already beaten the US in declaring the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. They view the movement as a serious threat to their own future and have made it a top priority to target it. It seems that Trump has become convinced that it is necessary to please these allies. We do not know if he will receive something in return or if this is linked to the “deal of the century” or some astronomically-high finance deals.

READ: Trump weighs labeling Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

For us here in Jordan, the US decision comes at a very inconvenient time. Jordan has succeeded in bearing the pressure to declare the group a terrorist organisation and to crack down on it, which has left a positive impression and impact on the Jordanian Islamic Movement, prompting it to offer more moderate and reconciliatory initiatives and rhetoric. Soon, we will feel the pressure from our “strategic ally”, as if we are not already facing enough threats and challenges as a result of the “deal of the century”. This adds new burdens to those we are already bearing.

If such a dangerous development were to occur, it would require deep political discussions to reach an understanding and acceptance of the arrangements, as well as its consequences. We would need to invest in the new winds that have come with the Islamic Movement’s rhetoric and references, as well as the developments in the relationship between our political system and the Islamic movement. This will allow us to succeed in preserving our Jordanian “distinction” that stems from the rationality and wisdom of the various parties involved in our country’s political process.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 2 May 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.