On Muslim Brotherhood, Trump Weighs Siding With Autocrats and Roiling Center East

WASHINGTON — President Trump was solely days into workplace in January 2017 when he first started contemplating a transfer with the potential to ignite a firestorm within the Center East: designating the Muslim Brotherhood, a sprawling group that reaches from Morocco to Malaysia, a terrorist group.

Mr. Trump’s hard-line nationwide safety adviser on the time, Michael T. Flynn, began a assessment of whether or not the US ought to impose sweeping sanctions on thousands and thousands of individuals throughout the Center East. However solely weeks later, after Mr. Flynn was fired, the proposal was quashed by Protection Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the subsequent nationwide safety adviser.

Authorities legal professionals had warned that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t meet the authorized standards to be designated a terrorist group. And in a risky area the place American troops had been already battling Islamist extremists, the three males believed, taking over the Brotherhood was one struggle too many.

These males are actually gone. So when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, a strongman who views the Muslim Brotherhood as a supply of political opposition, visited the White Home on April 9 to resume his longstanding requires Mr. Trump to focus on his foes, he discovered himself pushing on an open door.

The Trump administration has resurrected the proposal to model the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, prompting a fierce debate between the federal government’s political appointees and its profession specialists.

[Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group?]

The designation would impose wide-ranging American financial and journey sanctions on firms and people who work together with the loose-knit Islamist motion that was based in Egypt and is acknowledged as a reliable political entity in lots of Muslim-majority governments.

It’s the president’s newest main overseas coverage resolution that seems to have been closely influenced by autocratic leaders with out first being totally vetted by profession American authorities officers.

On the identical time that he was assembly with Egypt’s president, a senior administration official stated, Mr. Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, had been being prodded by leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who additionally revile the Muslim Brotherhood as a political opponent.

Mr. Trump spoke by phone with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on April 9, the identical day he met with Mr. el-Sisi.

Three days earlier, Mr. Trump had spoken with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the de facto chief of the United Arab Emirates; they talked once more on April 18.

After that collection of conversations, the White Home additionally introduced one other reversal of American overseas coverage: In an announcement on April 19, Mr. Trump publicly endorsed Khalifa Hifter, an aspiring strongman in Libya, in his battle to depose the United Nations-backed authorities in Tripoli.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all help Mr. Hifter as somebody they consider will stabilize Libya, partially by holding Islamist political events from gaining energy.

In Washington, the renewed marketing campaign in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood is way from assured.

A half-dozen present and former American officers and overseas diplomats accustomed to the push mentioned it on the situation of anonymity, a number of of whom stated it confronted authorized and coverage hurdles and will take weeks to resolve.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the present nationwide safety adviser, had been already on board with the proposed terrorist designation for the Brotherhood earlier than Mr. el-Sisi’s go to to the White Home, the officers stated.

Victoria Coates, the senior director of Center East coverage on the Nationwide Safety Council whose crew is main an interagency course of to discover the coverage shift, additionally helps the designation. She is a historian of European artwork who was employed on the White Home after serving as a overseas coverage adviser to Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican with hard-line views on Center East points.

It isn’t clear the place the appearing protection secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, stands on the Brotherhood. On Friday, he informed reporters that he deliberate to debate the problem with Mr. Pompeo earlier than he expresses his views.

However, Mr. Shanahan stated, considerations about American troops in states the place the Muslim Brotherhood is considered favorably are “essential factors.” The Pentagon has relied closely on partnerships with Qatar and Turkey to struggle the Islamic State or tackle different army priorities within the area; each governments are the area’s strongest supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Opposing the terrorist designation are United States counterterrorism, intelligence and protection officers, who fear it could divert sources from demonstrated terrorist threats, together with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and roil American relations within the Center East.

Administration legal professionals have argued strongly that federal courts would overturn the designation and that the factors for designating a terrorist group aren’t match for the Muslim Brotherhood, provided that its members name for a society in accordance with Islamic regulation and customarily don’t advocate for violence.

Past Turkey and Qatar, the Brotherhood or offshoots are additionally a acknowledged political celebration or represented in governments in Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Branding it a terrorist group wouldn’t solely jeopardize diplomatic or army relations with any of these nations, but in addition “politicize the designation course of, which might undercut the energy of precise designations in opposition to terrorist teams,” stated Andrew Miller, a former State Division official now on the Mission on Center East Democracy, a analysis group in Washington.

However some former Muslim Brotherhood members and offshoots — most notably Hamas, the Palestinian group whose said purpose is the destruction of Israel — have carried out assaults. America designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997.

And a few advisers to Mr. Trump have for years considered the Brotherhood as a radical faction that’s secretly infiltrating the US to advertise extremist Islamic regulation. They see the proposed terrorist designation as a chance to lastly take motion in opposition to the motion.

In its frenetic first weeks, the Trump administration had weighed whether or not to difficulty the terrorist designation in opposition to each the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an arm of Iran’s army. However the proposals misplaced steam after profession authorities officers objected, and in opposition to a fierce public backlash to Mr. Trump’s journey ban on guests from a number of predominantly Muslim international locations and different brazen early insurance policies.

One former American official stated the State Division has discovered no new proof during the last two years that will make the Muslim Brotherhood a stronger candidate for the designation. Profession diplomats and longtime overseas coverage officers inside the State Division don’t favor making the designation, the official stated.

Officers within the Obama administration had additionally seemed on the potential for designating the Muslim Brotherhood, however discovered no foundation for it.

The State Division controls the record of designated terrorist organizations and, as a matter of coverage, Mr. Pompeo can override authorities legal professionals and the suggestions of different companies. The State Division declined to touch upon the persevering with assessment of the proposed Muslim Brotherhood designation.

On April eight, the day earlier than Mr. el-Sisi visited the White Home, Mr. Pompeo abruptly pushed by means of the terrorist designation and sanctions in opposition to the Revolutionary Guards in Iran.

A senior Trump administration official stated the designation for the Revolutionary Guards had fueled the White Home effort to model the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. However, the official acknowledged, the transfer in opposition to the Brotherhood was an growth of how administrations have historically used the terrorist designation course of.

The official described the interior debate as “a particularly unglamorous course of,” however insisted it was a excessive precedence for Mr. Trump that finally can be completed.

Administration officers are additionally contemplating whether or not a narrower designation may survive a authorized problem.

One choice can be to impose the terrorist designation in opposition to solely the principle Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt, since that’s the one in every of best concern to Mr. el-Sisi.

However even that will be problematic, officers argued, since there have been splits within the group and defining it isn’t straightforward. And in contrast to the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, there is no such thing as a proof that the Egyptian group has known as for, or directed, terrorist assaults in opposition to American pursuits.

Below an alternative choice, Mr. Trump would difficulty an government order in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood utilizing his presidential emergency powers. It could not declare a brand new emergency — just like the one Mr. Trump is attempting to make use of to spend extra on constructing limitations alongside the border with Mexico than Congress has approved — however the order can be connected to an present terrorism-related emergency.

That approach, one official stated, the president may declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group with out going by means of the State Division.

A gaggle of Republican politicians in Washington has for years demanded that the US authorities designate the Brotherhood a overseas terrorist group.

In 2017, Mr. Cruz pushed laws to order the State Division to look at whether or not each the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Muslim Brotherhood ought to obtain the designation.

In late 2015, Mr. Pompeo, then a congressman from Kansas, joined different Republican lawmakers on a measure to place the Muslim Brotherhood on the record of overseas terrorist teams. Critics have seized on that to accuse Mr. Pompeo of anti-Islamic views, which he has denied.

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow on the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, stated some Muslim Brotherhood teams within the Center East not cling to the motion’s dogmatic and transnational roots. He stated designating the group a terrorist group “would nearly in a way penalize them” for the reforms.

“It’s very odd. It’s an anachronistic concept,” Mr. Ibish stated. “It doesn’t appear to acknowledge the massive modifications which have gone on.”

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