Trump Weighs Labeling Muslim Brotherhood a Terror Group

  • Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards also may be labeled
  • Issue may be discussed when Netanyahu visits next week

U.S. President Donald Trump.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s administration is weighing whether to list the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorist organizations, according to people familiar with the matter, as the White House seeks to zero in on groups it can label Islamic extremists.

Trump may discuss the issue with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits next week, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified before a decision is announced. There’s still no time frame for taking action and no certainty the administration will go ahead with the plans, the person said.

Asked about the possibility of such designations, reported earlier by the New York Times, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that he wasn’t going to get ahead of any announcements.

“But make no mistake -- the president understands the threat that our nation faces,” Spicer said. State Department officials declined to comment.

Labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group would be a contentious move for several reasons. While Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has pressed the U.S. to do so as part of his own crackdown against the group -- whose elected leader he helped oust from the presidency in a military takeover in 2013 -- the Brotherhood formally renounced terrorism decades ago and plays a political role in some countries including Jordan, a U.S. ally.

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“It is hard to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and if they are, then it will be seen as a political act and hurts the credibility of the program,” said Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The designation will encourage them and raise their profile at a time when they have suffered setbacks in Egypt and elsewhere.”

The move has support among Republicans in Congress such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has offered legislation asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Doing so would make it a crime to support the group and would freeze its assets in U.S. financial institutions.

“It is time to call this enemy by its name and speak with clarity and moral authority,” Cruz said.

The move against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards would fit the administration’s push to get tough on Iran’s government, saying it sponsors terrorist groups and is developing a ballistic missile program in defiance of the United Nations. Iran says its missile program is permitted because it isn’t aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Last week, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said the U.S. was putting Iran “on notice” after it launched a ballistic missile, and the administration imposed new sanctions on Iranians, including a group linked to the Revolutionary Guards, over its connections to Hezbollah.

The Revolutionary Guards play a large role in Iran’s economy, and a designation could complicate Iranian efforts to jump-start business with the rest of the world after many sanctions were removed as part of the 2015 Iran’s deal with the U.S. and five other nations to halt its nuclear program.

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