The Trump administration's move towards labelling the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation is a culmination of the marriage of counter-revolutionaries in the Middle East and the far-right in the West.
With the news that Donald Trump is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, what we’re witnessing is the culmination of US far-right Islamophobic narratives concerning the group, and propaganda aimed against them that has emerged out of the triumph of counter-revolution in the so-called Arab spring.
On the latter point, you don’t need to guess who has been whispering in Trump’s ear over this, with the email from the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders saying this decision was reached after the president "consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern."
It’s been widely reported that Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who launched a murderous counter-revolutionary coup against an elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood, lobbied Trump on this matter during his April 9 visit.
Moreover, Saudi and the UAE, both of whom backed Sisi’s coup to the tune of billions of dollars, and have subsequently gone on a regional rampage against the Brotherhood, are both known to have pressured or lobbied several governments around the world to join their anti-Brotherhood crusade.
It’s hardly difficult to understand why Sisi, Saudi and the UAE hate the Brotherhood.
In the era of the Arab spring, the Brotherhood have often been on the forefront of protests and revolutionary action against authoritarianism and tyranny. In Egypt, for example, it was the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, that came out victorious in the democracy that emerged out of the January 25 revolution that disposed of Hosni Mubarak.
The FJP became the largest party in the Egyptian parliament, while one of its members, namely Mohamed Morsi, became the country’s first and only democratically elected president.
The Brotherhood became synonymous in the mind of tyrants with the change that was sweeping the region – a change that might very well have sounded their death knell. Discarding their previous commitment to theocracy, the Brotherhood in the 1980s and 1990s began to shift towards supporting what can loosely be described as ‘Islamic democracy’ or ‘democratic Islamism’.
It’s precisely this combination of political values that conjure Islamic identity and democracy that made them the main challengers of regional tyranny.
…And out come the wolves
In Egypt, it’s no surprise then that when Sisi launched his coup, he couldn’t merely stop at forcibly removing and imprisoning the democrat Morsi, but he went on a rampage, involving the massacres of pro-democracy and pro-Morsi activists in Rabaa and Nadha squares. Almost 1000 people were killed in the space of a few hours. Sisi then banned and ruthlessly repressed the Brotherhood and any force deemed to be supportive of it.
All of this was done with the express and concrete backing of Saudi and the UAE. And they knew that the counter-revolution couldn’t simply be confined to the borders of Egypt. The Brotherhood would need to be chased around the globe, wherever they could be found. Of course, despite the tyrannical and, in the cause of Saudi and the UAE, theocratic brutality of these regimes, they had to dress up their anti-Brotherhood agenda in the language of ‘counter-extremism’.
Following suit from Sisi’s absurd counter-revolutionary propaganda that would have you believe the Brotherhood were behind everything from Egypt’s constant power cuts to the rise of Daesh in the Sinai, the propaganda narrative projected by Saudi and the UAE became that the Brotherhood were dangerous extremists akin to Daesh and Al Qaeda.
In this spirit, Saudi and the UAE, who have the necessary economic muscle, began a global witch-hunt of the Brotherhood. This comprised everything from backing and instructing the counter-revolutionary charge of the fascist Khalifa Haftar in Libya (giving that country’s somewhat understandable post-revolutionary strife a brutally intransigent and endless quality), to forcing then British prime minister David Cameron to launch an inquiry into the presence of exiled Egyptian Brotherhood members in England.
One thought this culminated in the Saudi-UAE blockade of Qatar (action that is considered an act of war), a country that, along with Turkey, has tended towards supporting the Brotherhood and its general agenda of Islamic democracy.
But seemingly not. Now they want the US to get in on the act.
Following the coup in Egypt, the US under Obama refused to designate the Brotherhood as a ‘terrorist organisation’, which led to hysterical propaganda in Egypt claiming, and mirroring the racist and Islamophobic attacks of the US right, that Obama was a secret ‘Islamist’. In fact, one ex-Egyptian judge went as far to claim that Obama was the clandestine murshid (Supreme Guide) of the Brotherhood.
US backing of the idea that the Brotherhood were ‘terrorists’ and dangerous extremists akin to Daesh would’ve given Sisi a fully-fledged rubber stamp on his anti-democratic counter-revolution, while ensuring that countries abroad who have given shelter to fleeing members of the Brotherhood would be transgressing against the world’s most powerful country.
Most notably, and now extremely worryingly for many Muslims in the US, this would include various charitable and political organisations within the US that are in some way affiliated with the Brotherhood.
I have long warned that the conditions of counter-revolution in the Arab spring ought not be seen as regional – they are global and, in numerous concrete ways, have had profound effects on the world; from the anti-refugee hysteria that fuelled Brexit, to the rise of the Islamophobic far-right across Europe.
One can see in Trump’s actions the manner in which the counter-revolutionary agenda in the Middle East blends seamlessly with the rise of global authoritarianism and the Islamophobic agenda of the authoritarian far-right.
It would be folly to see Trump’s proposed designation of the Brotherhood as a ‘terrorist organisation’ solely through the lens of foreign policy. Though it certainly aligns with the agenda of counter-revolution emerging out of the Arab spring, it also forms a key part of the agenda of the Islamophobic alt-right in the US and around the world.
The US right have long held their own conspiratorial obsessions with the Brotherhood. Frank Gaffney, who believes that there is a byzantine Brotherhood plot within the US to impose ‘sharia’ on the country, has key ties to several Trump administration officials, including his National Security Advisor John Bolton.
By targeting the Brotherhood, Trump is effectively targeting much of what could be described as the civil-political sector of American Muslim life. Any Muslim charity or group or institution that had dealings with the Brotherhood (and that counts for most of them) would suddenly become liable to the charge of providing ‘material support to a terrorist organisation’.
Even non-Muslim organisations and individuals who host or associate with peaceful figures associated with the Brotherhood could be prosecuted on these grounds.
Trump could very well wield this proscribing of the Brotherhood as a means to disenfranchise American Muslims and further curtail their participation in US civil society. In this way, Trump could persecute peaceful politically active Muslims while claiming that he’s simply working against a ‘terrorist organisation’ and ‘extremism’.
Muslims who oppose the tyranny of Sisi, Saudi, the UAE and even Assad, could find themselves pushed away from peaceful organisations like the Brotherhood.
Trump’s move isn’t just the long-awaited official rubber stamp of Sisi’s brutality and Saudi and the UAE’s wider counter-revolutionary crusade, but it could be a definitive signal to the currents of global Islamophobia, including within the increasingly anti-immigrant EU, to follow suit.
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