Blacklisting Muslim Brotherhood ‘may backfire’


Proposals to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood are raising questions about appropriate strategies to counter violent extremism, The Wall Street Journal reports:

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in particular, is a strong supporter of the group and has allowed the Egyptian Brotherhood to set up offices and TV stations in Istanbul. Mr. Erdogan’s own party stems from Islamist roots and he has refused to recognize the legitimacy of President Sisi. Elsewhere in the region, a member of a Brotherhood spinoff serves as the prime minister of U.S. ally Morocco, and another Brotherhood offshoot is a key part of the governing coalition in Tunisia. Brotherhood affiliates are represented in the parliaments of Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait.

“Muslim Brothers are part of the society. If you go and try to make pressure against them, you are supporting the violence. You are supporting ISIS.  You are supporting al Qaeda,” said Mohammed Dallal, a Kuwaiti lawmaker affiliated with the Brotherhood. “Those kind of terrorist people will be saying: ‘We told you so.’ They will never accept democracy. They will never accept your participation in elections.”

Designating the group a foreign terrorist organization may actually backfire, say two prominent analysts.

“Would it be wise to declare the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, effectively forcing its leaders in that direction because all other political and legal avenues will be closed to them?” Carnegie analysts Michele Dunne (right) and Nathan Brown ask in Carnegie’s Diwan journal:

Thus the sweeping measure to declare the Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization now being contemplated not only does not accord with the facts, but is also more likely to undermine than achieve its ostensible purpose and could result in collateral damage affecting other U.S. policy goals. The greatest damage might be in the realm of public diplomacy, as using a broad brush to paint all Muslim Brotherhood organizations as terrorists would be understood by many Muslims around the world as a declaration of war against non-violent political Islamists—and indeed against Islam itself.

Although political and social scientists have extensively debated the causality between state repression and radicalization, there is ample evidence that the two are correlated in the cases of Algeria, Chechnya, Egypt, and Libya, notes Khalil al-Anani, of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. In some cases, such as China, Kazakhstan, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, scholars have found that severe repression can reduce dissension and rebellion. In others, such as Egypt, it provokes radical and violent behavior, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

The impact of Sisi’s authoritarian policies goes beyond Egypt’s borders and entails regional and global risks. In the fall of 2016, Wilayat Sinai brought down a Russian plane over Egypt’s Sinai Desert, killing all 224 people on board. It also claimed responsibility for bombing the Italian consulate in Egypt in July 2011, killing at least one person. Most recently, the Egyptian authorities pointed out that traces of explosives were found on the bodies of passengers of EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on May 19, 2015, killing all 66 people on board. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the crash, but it isn’t unlikely that terrorists were involved.

“It is impossible to deny that radicalization has become a bigger problem in Egypt since the coup of 2013, and it would be naive to expect the problem to go away without addressing the Sisi regime’s role in it,” adds Anani, the author of Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2016). “Put bluntly, the longer Egypt’s government maintains its repressive policies, the more radicalized and violent its Islamists will become.”

Unlike the unfounded accusations leveled against human rights activists and pro-democracy groups that they have been out to impose chaos in Egypt since 2011, it is the new authoritarianism that undermines stability and security, argues Carnegie’s Amr Hamzawy:

Since 2013, the list of public enemies and conspirators has been expanding in the discourse of the security-controlled public and private media outlets. Besides the Muslim Brotherhood and oppositional Salafi movements that were classified as “enemies of the nation” from the outset of the coup, the list also includes human rights activists and pro-democracy civil society leaders who have condemned the government’s repression and refused to remain silent in face of terrifying abuses. The list has come to include groups of young Egyptians, students, industrial workers and civil servants whose peaceful activism has not diminished despite police brutality and other repressive measures.

There is still strong antipathy toward the Brotherhood, whose tendency to use protests for its own parochial interests deters others from organizing or joining demonstrations, according to Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Activists noted, for example, that calls for a “Revolution of the Poor” on November 11 fizzled as soon as the Brotherhood declared its support for it, he writes for Foreign Affairs. Although the Brotherhood has faced a significant crackdown since Morsi’s overthrow and is barely visible on the ground, it remains a deeply polarizing force within Egypt on account of Morsi’s failed and divisive yearlong presidency, adds Trager, author of “Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days.” “The Muslim Brotherhood is still poisonous,” an activist told me. “Whenever it looks like people might mobilize, Brotherhood statements kill it.”

Blacklisting the Brotherhood isn’t something that can happen immediately, cautioned Shadi Hamid, a specialist on political Islam at the Brookings Institution in Washington, The WSJ adds.

“There is definitely an intention of doing it. But the terrorist designation process is a difficult one and requires a high evidentiary threshold,” he said. “It’s not something that can be done overnight just because you feel like it.”

Islamist Movements in the MENA: Adaptation and Divergence

In the post-Arab uprisings political landscape, Islamist movements across the Middle East and North Africa are adapting in unique ways to face challenges from the evolution of Salafi-jihadist movements to local insurgencies and repression, the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) adds:

Some – like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood under President Sissi – have faced severe domestic and regional repression disrupting their organization, ideology and strategy. Others have found new opportunities, whether in formal politics or as members of military coalitions. These structural changes have produced an intriguingly diverse array of responses at the ideological, strategic and organization level.

This panel of top scholars will seek to address timely questions such as: what explains the variation in the ways in which Islamists have adapted to these new challenges and opportunities? To what extent have Islamist parties, movements, members or intellectuals engaged in significant strategic adaptation, ideological rethinking, or internal reorganization? What are the appropriate historical or cross-national comparisons to make sense of the current political moment?


Moderator:  Marc Lynch, George Washington University  Thursday, January 26, 6:00pm – 7:30pm   Elliott School of International Affairs, room 602 1957 E St. NW Washington, DC 20052 RSVP This event is sponsored by the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS).

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