March 31, 2016

The Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) is pleased to send you this report on: 

The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015?    

Implications for Egypt and the Region

March 17, 2016
National Press Club 
Washington, DC



On Thursday March 17th, the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) held a Conference on 'The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act:  Implications for Egypt and the Region." Ebrahim Rasool, former South African Ambassador to the US, Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, Neil Hicks, Director of Human Rights Promotion at Human Rights First, and Radwan Masmoudi, Founder and President of CSID, reflected their opinion on how this Congressional bill would affect Egypt and the region. 

The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act passed by the House Judiciary Committee on February 24.  The vote was along party lines (17 Republicans voted for it, and 10 Democrats voted against it). It calls on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.  In case the State Department rejects the bill, it should provide for sufficient evidence on why the MB is not a terrorist group. The proposed bill is seeking to back the current repressive Egyptian regime which ousted the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July, 2013, and issued a decision which designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool,  believes that this bill will increase tensions in the Middle East. Quelling political dissent and labeling certain groups as terrorists will cause extremism to rise. According to Rasool, Nelson Mandela was previously designated by the US Congress as a terrorist even after he became a President. The designation was later removed when Barak Obama became a President.  Rasool believed that the persistence of authoritarian regime in Egypt can be attributed to four mistakes that the US committed in Egypt. In regard to the first mistake, Rasool believes that the US had laid the foundation for a long period of dictatorship in Egypt by giving Egypt a $1.3 billion annual  aid. This aid is not allocated to serve the Egyptian economy, it is rather directed to the military apparatus. The second mistake committed by the U.S President when he addressed the Muslim World in 2009 from Cairo. Obama put much emphasis on the need for the Muslim world to enter a new era of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. However, it seems that Obama talks democracy and supports dictatorship. Following the coup which took place in 2013, Obama  addressed UN General Assembly and maintained that, President Morsi was democratically elected but proved unwilling to govern in a way that is fully inclusive. By justifying the military coup, Obama returned to the politics of order rather than the politics of democracy in the Middle East. The third mistake committed by the U.S is the inappropriate silence in "the face of atrocities ". According to Rasool, the recent suppressive measures which the current regime has taken in Egypt against peaceful protestors, torture, extra-judicial killing, and forced disappearance have prompted the European Parliament to issue a resolution against Egypt and recommend the suspension of military aid to Egypt. However, the U.S remained silent towards those atrocities and continued to support the Egyptian dictator. This policy was explicitly articulated by the U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry in Sharm Al Sheik conference when he stressed the U.S commitment to the security and the prosperity of the Egyptian people, with no mentioning of democracy and rule of law.

Rasool also believed that the Islamists failure to accommodate the secularists and form an inclusive government, was a key factor that allowed the return of dictatorship in Egypt. Following the 2013 coup and the crushing of the protestors in Rabaa Square, extremist seized the opportunity and worked to convince the Islamists that democracy was a failure and Jihad was the only road for change. Rasool also believes that the recent congressional bill reflects its proponents' inability to see the nuance between extremism and Islamism. Rasool finally maintained people may think about the proposed bill as an attempt to destroy the Islamic identity and consequently, pursue the way of Jihad as the only remaining alternative. 

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Amb. Ibrahim Rasool
Amb. Ebrahim Rasool

Nader Hashemi, argued that Egypt is becoming another breeding ground for Islamic extremism. When the opposition to the Arab Spring came in full force, the promise of peaceful change ended and led to more extremism and violence in the region. Hashemi discredited the recent congressional bill and described it as counter-productive, misguided, and a gift to ISIS and Qaeda, which will use it to further destabilize the region. According to Hashemi, the widely held belief that dictatorship promises continued stability is an optical illusion. For him, the collapse of long -standing dictators; Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, is a clear evidence of the instability of dictatorship. Hashemi also believes that the argument that dictatorship is an alternative to chaos is not consistent with the Arab Spring which teaches us that the deeply rooted authoritarian regimes backed by the West are fragile and unstable. Authoritarian regimes usually create conditions that lead to their collapse. Hashemi further maintained that the U.S administration had never publicly uncovered its grand strategy towards the Middle East and the Arab World and that its current stand against Islamists can foster radicalism.

Hashemi stated that the Arab spring led to the defeat of the Salafists and the Jihadist whose central ideological principle of armed struggle against dictator regimes, has been challenged by the success of Arab Spring's peaceful protests. During the post Arab Spring elections, Ayman Al Zawahiri expressed his dismay with the thousands of young men rallying before the ballot box instead of lining up to fight for the cause of God.   However, the violent crushing of the peaceful protesters in Rabaa Square in Egypt and the killing of thousands protestors in few hours had instigated more violence. For instance, before the 2013 coup, Egypt faced 90 terrorist attacks, however, the number of terrorist attacks increased to 700 after the coup. Finally, Hashemi concluded his presentation with president Kennedy's statement "He who makes peaceful revolution impossible makes violent revolution inevitable".

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Professor Nader Hashemi
Prof. Nader Hashemi

Neil Hicks  argued that the designation of MB as a terrorist organization is harmful to U.S interests and will increase instability and violence in Egypt and the Middles East. Some members of the MB such as Hamas, have been involved in terrorist attacks but others have participated in non-violent electoral processes. Tunisia exemplifies the non-violent faction of the Islamist parties. Ennahdha Party in Tunisia, managed to compromise with other political parties so as to push and accelerate Tunisian transition to democracy. Moreover, Muslim brothers have served in governments with which U.S has friendly relationship eg. Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco.  According to Hicks, when given the opportunity to organize freely, Muslim Brothers showed diversity and commitment to pluralism and democratic practices. Hence, designating the Muslim brothers as a terrorist organization will strengthen the argument of Isalmists who believe peaceful democratic politics is failing. Hicks also believed that the U.S has no interest to take sides in a conflict which includes its allies, it sided with Muslim Bothers in their fight against the Houthi in Yemen and against Al Assad in Syria. 

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Mr. Neil Hicks, Director, Human Rights Promotion at Human Rights First
Mr. Neil Hicks

Radwan Masmoudi,  started his speech by asserting the fact that he is not affiliated with the Muslim Brothers. Masmoudi disagrees with many of the Muslim Brotherhood's policies, but that in no way justifies the military coup or designating them as terrorist organization. When a group makes political mistakes, they should pay at the ballot box, not by taking away their human rights. This event is not intended to defend the MB, but it rather seeks to support and defend democracy which is the only mechanism to solve the problems of Egypt and the Middle East, Masmoudi added. He also underscored the suffering of the region for 60 years under dictatorships which have been corrupt and unresponsive to public needs. When young people who form 60% of the population in the region lose hope in the political process, the possibility that those young people join extremist groups will increase and that definitely poses numerous threats and intensifies instability. Masmoudi, believed that the U.S should refrain from supporting repressive regimes in the region and side with the aspiration of the people for freedom and democracy. But, democracy should be inclusive and the exclusion of the MB from the political process will mean the end of democracy and can not in any way lead to a genuine and smooth transition.  Political participation in the elections had severely declined after the 2013 coup, 90% of the voters abstained from voting despite threats. 

The MB have been actively participating in the political process in most of the Arab countries. Islamism parties are the largest or the second parties in many countries such as Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait and Egypt. Tunisia provides a good example where both the secularists and Islamists managed to reach a compromise and worked together to pass the constitution and build real stability. Masmoudi said that the designation of the MB as a terrorist group would serve as a recruiting tool to extremist groups and prompt many young people to seek refuge in violence and join those groups which consider democracy as anti-Islamic. 

Masmoudi believed that the bill was passed to serve some domestic political goals. It was sponsored by Ted Cruz who appointed Frank Gaffney as his National Security Advisor. Both men have been consistently promoting for Islamophobia for many years. Finally, Masmoudi maintained that the current U.S policy and the recent proposed bill does not help construct understanding and co-operation for better future between the U.S and the Muslim World. He urged the participants to contact their representatives in Congress and convince them to vote against the bill.

Click here to watch the video:

Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID
Dr. Radwan Masmoudi

Questions & Answers:

  • What is the best way to pressure the US and Europe to push for human rights in the Middles East?
Rasool : We can do this when the U.S becomes oil independent and when Netanyahu is out of office. U.S interest with the Gulf oil states and its commitment to protect the security of Israel, puts it in an Embarrassing situation and pushes it to adopt a watered down approach towards democracy and freedom in the region. The U.S should act in consistency with it democratic values when approaching the region.
  • Why the state department and john key performance have been terrible in this issue, what is going on inside the state department?
Hicks : after the July coup, the administration started to condone the authoritarian regime in Egypt. Though Sisi regime is not stable and is exporting instability through the region, the U.S finds it embarrassing to pressure dictator regime with whom it has strategic interests.

  • Do you deny that elements of the Muslims brotherhood have been involved in terrorism activities regardless of the current designation?
Masmoudi : MB is an international school of thought and each group acts independently in each Arab states. Therefore, to come and claim that all groups associated with the MB are terrorists is a big fallacy. Many MB's affiliates are already legal political parties in many countries; Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The MB in Egypt for example never advocated violence, it is possible that some of its members, specifically young people have been involved in violent acts, but this does not mean the MB endorses violence. Masmoudi also added that the term Jihad does not mean violence but refers to struggle including peaceful struggle against dictatorship and injustice.

  • What process is taking place to keep young MB's away from extremism?
Rasool: When the U.S provides aid to dictators that means it shares a degree of complicity. The U.S should trust democracy and freedom to bring about change and should have been patient with the previous democratic President Morsi who was not given sufficient time to bring about tangible change.