The Trump administration on Monday was on the verge of naming the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), but held off in the face of concerns from within the US government.
President Trump and the White House strongly back the proposal, according to The New York Times, but “career officials at the State Department and the National Security Council” are delaying the designation.
“Former officials said that they had been told the order would be signed on Monday, but that it had now been put off at least until next week,” the paper reported Tuesday. The Times said objections were lodged by the career officials because they claim the order has “no legal basis” and the potential to “alienate allies.”
The new label for the Brotherhood, the Times noted, was also expected to come alongside a terrorist label for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Elements within the elite Iranian military group are already considered terrorist organizations by the State Department.
Many Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas.), back an FTO designation for the Muslim Brotherhood. Cruz finished second in the Republican primary, riding a wave of Islamophobic sentiment—calling, at one point, for the policing of “Muslim neighborhoods.”
The Brotherhood has featured prominently in unsubstantiated allegations made by Republican officials and aides. Frank Gaffney, for example, who served an adviser to Cruz during the 2016 primary, has promoted claims about Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin being a clandestine member of the Brotherhood.
“Some advisers to Mr. Trump have viewed the Brotherhood for years as a radical faction secretly infiltrating the United States to promote Shariah law,” the Times also noted. Those include former Breitbart editor and top White House political strategist Steve Bannon.
In his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lashed out at the Brotherhood in the same breath as the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, describing it as “an agent for radical Islam like al-Qaeda…and certain elements within Iran.”
Critics say an FTO designation for the Brotherhood is too broad, noting offshoots of the organization exist in many forms—from groups operating within parliamentary systems, in countries like Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is already considered an FTO by the State Department.
Abdullah Al-Arian, an assistant history professor at Georgetown University, said that one problem with an FTO label 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,” Al-Arian said, “likely by design, as the ambiguity affords officials the flexibility to take action against any organization, entity, or individual deemed to fit.”
An FTO label for the Brotherhood would also have grave implications on the dissemination of information, in the wake of the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Supreme Court ruling. The decision, in 2010, broadened the legal interpretation of what constitutes material support for terrorism.
“To designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is to potentially designate any NGO, think tank or charity organization with any link to the broad Islamist movement as illegal,” noted Andrew March, a Yale University associate professor.