The chairman of a US House of Representatives subcommittee on national security said on Wednesday that the Muslim Brotherhood has committed numerous acts of terrorism and that the “jihadist ideology” has continued to fuel the group despite its renunciation of violence decades ago.
Ron DeSantis said during a hearing held to examine the potential threat the Brotherhood poses to the United States that the group's one year in power in Egypt under president Mohamed Morsi had produced "chilling" results.
"Morsi’s government used state institutions to promote Islamic radicalism, rolled back freedom of the press and launched a wave of blasphemy prosecutions," DeSantis said at the hearing, which was broadcast live on the committee's official website.
DeSantis said that even after the Islamist president's ouster in 2013, "the Brotherhood and its affiliates continue to advance their agenda across the Middle East and throughout the world."
He said that the group has incited violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt, referring to a series of church bombings and other attacks by Islamist terrorist groups after Morsi's removal.
The issue of whether to designate the Islamist group – which was founded in Egypt 90 years ago – as a terror organisation has been a topic of debate in the United States in recent years and has been under consideration by President Donald Trump's administration.
DeSantis said that the group's networks have raised money in the United States to support terrorist activities by its Palestinian offshoot Hamas.
Zuhdi Jasser, the head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said in his testimony during the hearing that the Brotherhood’s time in power in Egypt, which ended in June 2013, "proved that it was not a functional moderate democratic organisation, but rather a radical militant Islamist organisation which produced and continues to produce many terrorist offshoots in their network of organisations and individuals."
Jasser was one of four people who testified at Wednesday's hearing, which was dubbed ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Threat.’
Past efforts – which started in 2015 – by Congress to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist group failed under the Obama administration. While the Trump administration has designated various splinter groups of the Brotherhood as global terror groups, the organisation as a whole has escaped the same fate.
"There is no better time than now for the United States to declare its support for freedom loving Muslims by calling out one of the most insidious and dangerous terror threats within global Muslim communities; the Muslim Brotherhood," Jasser said.
He referred to what he regarded as the piecemeal handling by the US of the threat posed by the Brotherhood's offshoots.
"We have for too long been playing a whack-a-mole programme against byproducts of Muslim Brotherhood ideologues rather than directly countering the primary cancer cells of the Muslim Brotherhood operations."
While Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, the group continues to function within mainstream government and society in other Arab countries including Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey and Kuwait.
Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding Daniel Benjamin said at the hearing that he does not believe the Brotherhood should be designated a foreign terrorist organisation and should not be regarded a global threat.
Benjamin warned that a "hardline approach" to Muslim Brotherhood groups and their members could "well do significant harm," referring to Washington’s negative global image among Muslims due to Trump's travel ban and negative comments about Muslims.
He said that such move may further alienate Muslims living in the US and "accelerate radicalisation at home."
"Unwise actions to target Muslim Brotherhood groups will only deepen the animus against America, and we should not be doing anything that helps our enemies attract more recruits," he said.
Another witness, Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that developing a policy to address the challenge of the Brotherhood is not easy, given the various ties to violence of the group's factions and that "their backers are US allies."
Schanzer put forward a number of recommendations including: designating the violent actors while keeping a close eye on non-violent ones, using the Treasury’s financial warfare tools to reinforce existing designations, highlighting to countries such as Turkey and Qatar that any support for the Brotherhood would jeopardise ties with the Washington, and calling on the US to continue its assessment of the group.