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Blacklisting Muslim Brotherhood Could Complicate US Diplomacy

Designating Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization could pit the United States against new potential enemies

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FILE - Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood set things aflame to block a street during clashes with Egyptian forces following their protest against the government in Cairo's Matariya district, Egypt, June 30, 2015. VOA
 Designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization could pit the United States against new potential enemies in the Muslim world, experts say.

Analysts argue the designation could hamper U.S. Middle East diplomacy and efforts to promote democratic change in the region.

“For America to write off this important part of politics in the Middle East is really to hobble any kind of intellectual debate and the freedom of American diplomats to operate in this region,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“America is going to throw a major spanner [wrench] into the works of any kind of democratic and political evolution in the Middle East if it does this,” he told VOA.

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FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in the Oval Office of the White House, April 9, 2019. VOA

The reaction came after the White House recently said President Donald Trump is mulling over designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email to reporters.

Egypt’s efforts

The U.S. announcement came nearly three weeks after a visit by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to the White House.

El-Sissi, who toppled former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and thrown Morsi and many of the group’s leaders in jail.

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Morsi was the first Muslim Brotherhood president who came to power after winning the 2012 presidential elections in Egypt. Morsi had led the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

But since assuming power, el-Sissi has been urging U.S. officials to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Sunni powers in the Middle East, also have been lobbying Washington to designate the Islamist group.

‘Neo-conservative team’

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FILE – Supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans and raise an image of him after the Muslim Brotherhood called on its supporters to take to the streets on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 25, 2016. VOA

During the first weeks of his administration in 2017, Trump had considered the designation but then dropped the idea.

The current U.S. national security team, however, has been in favor of targeting Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, some analysts charge.

“President Trump has got this new national security team with [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton. This is a much more neo-conservative crowd than the first year of Trump’s [presidency],” Mideast expert Landis said.

“So it’s possible that they could actually entertain the idea of supporting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in sanctioning the Muslim Brotherhood and designating them,” he added.

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Fawzi Soufiane, a Tunisia-based expert on Islamist movements, says there are more radical groups in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East that the U.S. should consider targeting.

“For example, there are Salafis in Egypt who are much more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood. So clearly any potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood won’t be effective in terms of combating terrorism in the Middle East,” he told VOA.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps the least violent group when it comes to the political spectrum of Islamist parties,” Soufiane said.

Extremist ideology

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FILE – Muslim Brotherhood members are seen behind bars during a court session in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 2, 2018. VOA

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt, is a social, religious and political organization that promotes a governance system run by Islamic law.

The Sunni Muslim group has dozens of affiliates across the Muslim world. Although it has used violence to achieve its political objectives in the past, the group currently eschews such actions.

But some experts believe that the Islamist group continues to promote its agendas through violence by aligning itself with more extremist organizations.

The Muslim Brotherhood “has been funding and supporting extremist groups through an extensive network of humanitarian and political organizations in Syria, Libya and elsewhere,” said Majdi al-Daqaq, editor-in-chief of October magazine, a pro-government publication in Cairo.

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“Even if we assumed that Muslim Brotherhood is not involved in armed violence, it is still active in promoting extremist political ideology throughout the region,” he told VOA in a phone interview.

Al-Daqaq added that the Muslim Brotherhood “also has direct ties with the Palestinian militant group Hamas,” which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Financial networks

Designating Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement a foreign terrorist organization would allow Washington to impose sanctions on any individual or group with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Experts say targeting the group’s financial networks overseas could undermine its activities in the Middle East.

“If the U.S. could target the Muslim Brotherhood leadership by sanctioning powerful individuals who have been working with the organization in Middle East, Europe and North America, then the group would be harmed significantly,” said Shafeeq Mamdouh, a political commentator based in Alexandria, Egypt.

“This is a group that heavily relies on funding and donations from Muslim groups in and outside the Middle East. So their financial transactions abroad need to be disrupted,” he added.

What next

If the White House decides to label the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, it must prove that the group engages in terrorist activity against the U.S. or its interests.

The secretary of state then would have to consult with the attorney general and the treasury secretary before making the designation official.

U.S. Congress would have seven days to review the designation, choosing either to block or allow it. (VOA)

Next Story

US: Planned Parenthood Clinics Charging New Fees, Tapping Financial Reserves, Intensifying Fundraising

The fallout is especially intense in Utah, where Planned Parenthood has been the only provider participating

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Misty Dotson hugs her son's at their home Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Murray, Utah. Dotson is a 33-year-old single mother of two boys, ages 12 and 6, who goes to Planned Parenthood for care through the Title X program. VOA

Planned Parenthood clinics in several states are charging new fees, tapping financial reserves, intensifying fundraising and warning of more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases after its decision to quit a $260 million federal family planning program in an abortion dispute with the Trump administration.

The fallout is especially intense in Utah, where Planned Parenthood has been the only provider participating in the nearly 50-year-old Title X family planning program and will now lose about $2 million yearly in federal funds that helped 39,000 mostly low-income, uninsured people. It plans to maintain its services — which include contraception, STD testing and cancer screening — but is considering charging a small copay for patients who used to get care for free.

Planned Parenthood in Minnesota is in a similar situation, serving about 90% of the state’s Title X patients, and plans to start charging fees due to the loss of $2.6 million in annual funding.

The organization is concerned about the spread of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

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FILE – New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. VOA

“We believe there will be a public health crisis created by this denial of care,” said Sarah Stoesz, the Minnesota-based president of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “It’s a very sad day for the country.”

Planned Parenthood and several other providers withdrew from the program earlier this week rather than comply with a newly implemented rule prohibiting participating clinics from referring women for abortions.

Anti-abortion activists who form a key part of President Donald Trump’s base have been campaigning to “defund Planned Parenthood.” Among its varied services it is a major abortion provider, and the activists viewed the grants as an indirect subsidy.

About 4 million women are served nationwide by the Title X program, which makes up a much bigger portion of Planned Parenthood’s patients than abortion. But the organization said it could not abide by the abortion-referral rules because it says they would make it impossible for doctors to do their jobs.

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Misty Dotson, a single mother in Utah, started going to Planned Parenthood as doctors’ bills for treating recurring yeast infections mounted. The services became even more important when she gave up her employer-sponsored health insurance because she couldn’t afford the $500 monthly bill.

She is unsure what she’d do if the family planning services she gets stop.

“It would put me in a very dangerous position,” said Dotson, who works as an executive assistant for an accounting and consulting firm. “It covers so many things: STD testing, emergency contraception, birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings … you name it, they have treated me for it.”

Planned Parenthood said it’s dedicated to maintaining its current services in Utah, but CEO Karrie Galloway acknowledged it won’t be easy and could cause some “pain on all sides.”

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Planned Parenthood clinics in several states are charging new fees, tapping financial reserves, intensifying fundraising and warning of more unintended pregnancies. Pixabay

She said the organization plans to lean heavily on donors to make up the funding gap while staff members assess how they’ll cope. Among the possibilities are instituting copays of $10-$15 per visit, shortening hours and trimming spending. She doesn’t plan to lay off staff, but said she may not be able to fill jobs when people leave or retire.

Minnesota is planning fees as well.

“We’ll continue to offer all services, and keep clinic doors open, but we’ll be charging patients on a sliding scale who we didn’t charge before,” Stoesz said. “Vulnerable people who previously were able to access birth control and STD testing for free will no longer be able to do so.”

Elsewhere, the impact of Planned Parenthood’s withdrawal will vary from state to state.

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Governments in some states, including Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Vermont, say they will try to replace at least some of the lost federal funding. In the Deep South there will be little impact because Planned Parenthood did not provide Title X services in most of the region’s states.

The chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, Rebecca Gibron, said Southern Idaho could be hit hard by the changes, with other health care providers in the area saying they can’t fill the gap if the roughly 1,000 low-income women served by Planned Parenthood in Twin Falls are no longer able to receive care.

“This was not money that can simply be made up by raising dollars from donors,” Gibron said. “We have rent to pay, we have staff salaries … there are limits to what we are able to do in terms of providing free care without the Title X program.”

Gibron said Planned Parenthood is working with Washington state officials in hopes of securing “bridge funding” to keep operating more than 20 Title X clinics serving roughly 90,000 people.

“We’re going to do everything we can to provide care for patients in the same way, but we know that it’s not sustainable and we’re looking at all of our options,” she said.

Among other providers withdrawing from Title X is Maine Family Planning, which oversees a network that serves about 23,000 patients per year and will be losing $1.8 million in annual funding. Its CEO, George Hill, said the organization will rely on reserves and intensify fundraising efforts to bridge the gap while seeking more aid from the state.

In anticipation of the changes, Democrats in neighboring New Hampshire added about $3.2 million in the state budget they passed earlier this year to make up for the federal funding. But that’s on hold after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the budget in June for other reasons.

Planned Parenthood will continue to participate in Medicaid, the federal health-coverage program for low-income Americans. That’s Planned Parenthood’s biggest source of government funding — about $400 million or more annually in recent years. The Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas, Iowa and Missouri have taken steps to block that flow of funds in their states.

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said most Title X clients earn slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford employer-based or private health insurance. (VOA)