Don't Put the Muslim Brotherhood on the Terrorist List

Does she look like a terrorist?

Photographer: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s advisers are reviewing a plan to officially designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. While some members of the group are certainly terrorists, adding it to the official list would be a mistake.

That’s because the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t a single organization so much as a collection of loosely affiliated groups in dozens of countries, each deciding on its own policies and programs. In some places, it is purely focused on social services and humanitarian issues. In others, it is constructively engaged in politics; its Tunisian offshoot, called Ennahda, is central to the coalition now desperately trying to make that country the first true Muslim democracy. In Syria, members are battling against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Some affiliated groups, such as Hamas in Gaza, are revolutionary and violent. But Hamas is already on the U.S. terrorist list, indicating that Washington is capable of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood on a case-by-case basis. Those chapters and individuals proved to be engaging in terrorism or supporting murderous jihadist groups should be placed on the list, maintained by the State Department, and subject to related sanctions -- freezing money the groups have in the U.S., for instance, or cracking down on front groups that funnel money to terrorists.

The downside of a blanket designation is equally clear. First, it would not likely pass legal muster: The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the government cannot criminalize affiliations with foreign political movements unless it can prove that money given to them is reaching terrorist groups, and there is no evidence of that for most chapters. In addition, designating the entire group it would undoubtedly inflame anti-Americanism in places where the Muslim Brotherhood is legal and performs valuable public services, such as U.S. allies Jordan and Morocco.

Instead of painting with a broad brush, Trump and Congress should ask the State and Treasury departments to determine which Muslim Brotherhood branches are violent and which could be allies in the fight against extremism. Just as there can be no doubt of the danger extremist groups pose to the U.S., there should be none about the value of moderate groups in joining the fight against terrorism.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.