When politics dictate who is a terrorist – and who is not (part 1)

The Muslim Brotherhood (or MB as it is often abbreviated to, not to be confused with MBS, which is Muhammad bin Salman, or ‘Mister Bone Saw’, Saudi Arabia’s powerful king-in-waiting) has been around for a long time – since the 1920s. It is a political party infused with Islamic principles that seeks to govern by those principles. It’s signature phrase is: “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

The use of the word ‘jihad’ and the reference to ‘dying’ are what get people who already dislike the MB in a tizzy. These two words must mean that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation, no?

Not necessarily. Jihad has multiple meanings in Arabic and Islam, only one of which refers to killing. And as for dying? Lots of people are so wedded to their faith that they would die for it. That the MB is a terrorist outfit is not a ‘slam dunk’ (Oops! Not a good term to use in US government circles thanks to former CIA Director George Tenet’s claim about former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD!).

When I worked in intelligence there was a vigorous debate on whether or not the MB should be listed as a terrorist entity. For the record the Canadian government does not include it in its tally. Neither do any major allied states I used to deal with (Russia does but then again they aren’t really an ally are they?). The US may be about to change this calculus.

Following a visit by Egyptian ‘President’ Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – I put ‘President’ in single quotes since he took power in a coup and has been ‘elected’ in voting that has been far from free and fair – the Trump Administration, no stranger to daft decisions, looks like it is poised to issue an order that would designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organisation.

Gee, I wonder if the Sisi visit has anything to do with this? Let’s think about this. Sisi took power in a coup that overthrew…the MB government led by Mohamed Morsi (who replaced then President Hosni Mubarak in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ in what was an actual free and fair election). The Sisi government has listed the MB as a terrorist entity. The Sisi government has arrested and most likely tortured thousands of MB members and sentenced many to death after ‘trials’ (why do I seem to use a lot of these “‘” in this blog? Hmmmm…) .

I could be dismissive and say that the US plan is just one more example of a President who does not think very deeply and whose policies are dictated by Twitter – or who was the latest guest, especially if that guest happens to be an autocratic leader like Sisi, to tell him something (together with the fawning praise he needs) – and that may be true, but there is more. The move to list the MB will have knock-on effects. Several US allies are governed by, or have significant political influence of, the MB and its cousins and it is unclear what the sanctions that accompany listing will have.

It is also far from clear that this move is necessary. We may disagree about whether the Brotherhood is indeed a terrorist group – I happen to think not – but I think we can all agree that there are many, much worse actors out there. Does the US really need to expend resources on this? Will this detract from far more important tasks, like continuing to track Islamic State? Oh wait, I forgot: the boy president told us that IS was defeated. Silly me!

Overall what bugs me about this is the role that politics is playing in the decisions over who is a terrorist and who is not. The ONLY criterion that should sway these designations is intelligence/information, not kowtowing to the demands of a dictator. Politics and intelligence are poor bedfellows in my experience.

So, no, the MB should not be listed as a terrorist group. But the MeK should – that is the topic of my next blog. Stay tuned.

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.

Leave a Reply