President Donald Trump's administration is reportedly seriously considering labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, making business political or business contact with the international Sunni Islamist group a punishable offense under U.S. law.
The move would be seen as a victory for conservatives who have long been suspicious of the organization's foreign ties, which span five continents, according to the group's English-language website. The group is known for both its political and social advocacy, sponsoring religious, educational and charity-based efforts around the world. The Muslim Brotherhood calls for an Islamic way of life with one of its popular slogans stating, "Islam is the solution."
Its ties to militant Islamist movements, however, have caused nations such as Russia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates to outright ban its activities. Critics of these bans have argued that the organization acts as a "firewall" against more radical, violent groups.
The Muslim Brotherhood, known in Arabic as "al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun" or simply "al-Ikhwan," was formed in the late 1920s by Egyptian religious scholar Hassan al-Banna. He conceived the group as a force for social good and it later became a powerful opponent of British colonial rule in Egypt. The group remained influential in Egyptian society, but was forced underground in the 1950s after being blamed for violent attacks and the assassination of Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi. One of the organization's most notable members, Sayyid Qutb is credited as the founder of modern jihadist thought.
The organization officially renounced violence in the 1980s, but remained banned in Egypt until the 2011 revolution. The following year, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Morsi, was elected president before being overthrown himself in 2013. Succeeding and current Egyptian President Sisi reinstated the group's designation as a terrorist organization. Trump reportedly spoke Tuesday with Sisi about fighting terror.
The Muslim Brotherhood's ideology has garnered support from across the Middle East and beyond. In the 1980s, the organization's branch in the Gaza Strip formed the influential Palestinian movement Hamas, which now controls Gaza. Other Muslim Brotherhood branches went on to take elected positions in countries such as Tunisia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. However, opposition persisted from across the political spectrum. Secular, pan-Arabist governments such as Syria and Libya under late leader Muammar Gadhafi denounced the group's Islamist ideology, while conservative Gulf monarchies such as Bahrain and the UAE considered the Muslim Brotherhood a threat to their rule.
The Muslim's Brotherhood's presence in the U.S. has not been formally evaluated. After 9/11, federal authorities launched massive investigations of major Muslim organizations in the U.S. and concluded that a number such as the Chicago-based American Muslim Council and the Falls Church-based Muslim American Society were supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology. Neither organization has been found to maintain ties with terrorist groups nor has the Muslim Brotherhood been directly linked to any terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Ted Cruz introduced the "Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act" earlier this month in hopes of adding the Muslim Brotherhood to a list that includes the likes of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State group and Boko Haram. In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nationwide Muslim civil liberties group, alleged Tuesday that Cruz's bill was originally conceived by former FBI Agent John Guandolo, who once accused former CIA Director John Brennan of being a “secret Muslim." Guandolo left the bureau after he began an "intimate relationship with a confidential source" during an investigation, according to CAIR, and has since frequented right-wing and anti-Muslim conspiracy circles. CAIR was joined by several analysts and authors in arguing that the bill was designed to control Muslims in the U.S. and did not effectively serve the interests of national security.
An analysis conducted last month by the Pew Research Center revealed that a 2013 call for the U.S. government to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization was the tenth-most signed petition on former President Barack Obama's "We The People" website with over 200,000 signatures. The Obama administration responded to the popular petition.
“We have not seen credible evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced its decades-long commitment to non-violence,” the White House said in a 2013 statement.