The Muslim Brotherhood and Trump’s terror list
Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 03 February 2017| 05 Jumadul ula 1438
Outlawing the Brotherhood reflects a total failure to understand the historical complexities of the group’s evolution.
During his short but impassioned inauguration address, Donald Trump listed just one specific foreign policy objective for his incoming administration: The battle against “radical Islamic terrorism”, which he pledged to “eradicate from the face of the Earth”.
To be sure, since George W Bush launched the War on Terror in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, US foreign policy has been largely shaped by the determination to confront militant violence across the Middle East and beyond.
In his last year in office, Barack Obama dropped more than 26,000 bombs – the vast majority of them over Muslim-majority countries.
However, what distinguishes the newly installed Trump team from past administrations is its empowerment of extremist figures who wish to expand the ideological component of this conflict by blurring the lines between militant groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, ostensibly the targets of the American anti-terror offensive, and more mainline Islamic movements that have attempted to influence their governments through non-violent means, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its regional offshoots.
Previous attempts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation were largely limited to the most vociferously anti-Muslim voices in Washington. The bulk of the policymaking community understood the legal and political implications that come with such a label and the constraints it would place on American diplomacy in the Arab world.
Based on some early indications the Trump administration appears wholly unconcerned with such questions. In fact, the designation represents a cornerstone of its intent to pursue a scorched earth policy toward opposition movements in the Middle East.
Defining the Muslim Brotherhood
A central problem with efforts to add the Muslim Brotherhood to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations is that, nearly 90 years after its founding in Egypt, it is unclear who or what is meant by “Muslim Brotherhood”.
Most calls to designate the Muslim Brotherhood are vague and indeterminate in their definitions, likely by design, as the ambiguity affords officials the flexibility to take action against any organisation, entity, or individual deemed to fit the label.
A loose enough definition would allow for the inclusion of the Justice and Development Party that won last year’s parliamentary elections in Morocco, or the Muslim Students Association that has chapters across hundreds of US colleges and universities.
To assess it more accurately, one must distinguish between the Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation, complete with bylaws, a rigid hierarchal structure, and strict membership requirements, and as a movement in society whose ideas have evolved and changed over time.
Founded in 1928 by a schoolteacher in the port town of Ismailia, the Society of the Muslim Brothers sought to shape the emerging political order following Egypt’s nominal independence from Britain.
Hasan al-Banna organised his movement around the basic principle that Islamic values should not be sacrificed during the process of modernisation. He called upon his fellow Egyptians to lead a more virtuous life but believed it was up to the ruler to enforce Islamic law.
Al-Banna directed his critiques toward the three institutions that governed the country during Egypt’s so-called “liberal experiment”, the Wafd Party-led parliament, the monarchy, and the British colonial authorities.
Fearing the breakdown of traditional religious institutions and systems of education, al-Banna developed a robust curriculum of Islamic instruction and organised his followers into study groups that formed the basis of the organisation’s membership. Members elected local leaders who made up a body of representatives that set the organisation’s agenda and executed the directives of the secretariat, led by the charismatic al-Banna, who became the group’s first general guide.
The 1930s witnessed the rise of global economic scarcity, social upheaval, and political turmoil, which spurred the rise of competing ideologies, from communism and fascism to liberalism and, in the case of the Muslim world, Islamism.
Al-Banna believed that the rich legacy of Islamic civilisation carried with it the necessary principles for overcoming the recent challenges of colonial rule, economic exploitation, national divisions, and political weakness.
He developed an organisational model that aimed to orient Egyptians toward fulfilling the tenets of their faith. Al-Banna envisioned the Muslim Brotherhood as an all-encompassing organization. By the late 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood had more than a million members in Egypt, while establishing local branches in several neighbouring countries. But following World War II, Egyptian politics descended into a chaotic battle of competing forces aiming to displace British rule with their own vision for the future.
Like the liberals, communists, and fascists, the Muslim Brotherhood entered the fray through political contestation, social outreach, propaganda wars, and even violent street battles and assassinations.
Veterans of the volunteer corps that participated in the 1948 war in Palestine formed the basis of a “secret apparatus” of Muslim Brotherhood members who prepared for the possibility of military confrontation with other parties.
State security forces assassinated al-Banna in 1949, following the killing of a prominent Wafdist politician for which the Muslim Brotherhood’s secret apparatus was held responsible.
When a group of nationalist army officers overthrew the king and seized power in 1952, it was as much a move against Egypt’s disparate political factions as it was against a corrupt monarchy and exploitative foreign rule.
All independent political activity ceased after the rise of the military regime of the Free Officers. Although the Muslim Brotherhood initially welcomed the military’s intervention, and even attempted to partner with the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, it soon found itself the chief enemy of the state.
Source – Al Jazeera