Brothers in arms?

Last week I was asked to speak at the Canadian Military Intelligence Association annual conference in Ottawa. The speakers’ list included the Canadian National Security Advisor (and former Director of CSIS) Richard Fadden and Chief of Defence Staff General Vance. The day was well attended by members of the Canadian intelligence community.

On the tables in the room at the old Ottawa City Hall was a “terrorism quiz” put together by one of the conference’s sponsors, TSEC (full disclosure, I had never heard of TSEC before that day ). The “quiz” was a list of questions in Canada about terrorism, both past and present. What struck me were the first two questions, both of which related to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), with a strong implication that the MB was a terrorist organisation and posed a threat to Canada (not just a threat but the biggest threat).

Wrong and wrong. The MB is not terrorist organisation in Canada (or anywhere for that matter in my opinion) and has thus never been listed as a terrorist entity in this country (NB I worked for a while on terrorist listings at CSIS and know very well how the listing process works).  It poses no threat to Canada.  The reason why the group has not been listed is simply this: it doesn’t deserve to be so.  TSEC clearly disagrees with me as it has written a 202-page report saying the opposite – see it here.

I know about the history of the MB and its role in ousting the British from Egypt. I am well aware of its goal to bring what it sees as true Islam to Egypt and its stated intention to do so through jihad (but not necessarily armed jihad – there is a difference). And yes I know that the MB was alleged to have had a role in the assassination attempt of Egyptian President Nasser through its Jihaz al-Khass (special apparatus).  And that groups such as Hamas, which are terrorist organisations, stemmed from the MB.

But being a terrorist group once (if the MB was even once so) does not imply being one today. If it did, we would list Sinn Fein in Ireland, the African National Congress in South Africa and many members of the Israeli government (like Menachem Begin) who fought for the Irgun.  Terrorists and terrorist groups can be brought into the political process, under the right conditions.  Interestingly, what Egypt – and with TSEC’s support it appears – is doing to the MB by banning it and arresting (and in some cases executing) its members will go a long way to MAKING the MB a terrorist group (See? We kill them and then they kill us – THEY’RE TERRORISTS!!).  I don’t think their turn at running Egypt was very effective, but if lousy governance was a criterion for being a terrorist entity the line would be long indeed!

The fact remains that the MB has a solid presence in Egypt and has to be allowed to play a role in civic society.  Remove that right by force and violence ensues – just ask the Algerians about this (they banned the Front Islamique du Salut after the group won the first round of national elections in1992 and a bloody decade-long civil war resulted).

So in my opinion, the MB is NOT a terrorist group and their presence in Canada is not, to quote the TSEC paper “a greater existential (!!) and systemic threat to North American civilization and society than violent extremist movements such as Al Qaeda”.

They are not “brothers in arms”: that remains the title of a very good Dire Straits album in 1985.  As it should be.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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