Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

After the designation

International responses to the Muslim Brotherhood’s designation as a terrorist organisation have been muted, writes Ezzat Ibrahim in Washington

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Some people in Washington expected that the US reaction to Egypt’s decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” would be different from what it was and that the US administration might use harsh language to oppose the decision. However, the first reactions have been late and benign. They have not given a clear direction to the international media and they have shown that Washington is not willing to risk widening the rift with the new rulers in Cairo.

The soured relationship between the new Egyptian government and the US has left the White House with few grounds for manoeuvre over recent weeks. Western capitals in general have also stopped short of condemning the decision, but they have hinted at the need for an inclusive process in which all parties and groups will have the chance to participate in Egypt.

The muted reactions to the move reflect the ability of the current regime in Cairo to contain criticisms within western political circles, encouraging them to swallow their previous concerns and move towards a new chapter in Egypt’s history without a political Islam component.

In the latest conversation between US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Egyptian Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the US official ignored the Egyptian government’s decision and offered the Pentagon’s assistance in investigating the recent terrorist attacks in Cairo’s Nasr City, Mansoura and Sharqiya governorates in Egypt.

The two men discussed the balance to be struck between security and freedom, and according to a US statement the secretary stressed the role of political inclusiveness in the democratic process. Hagel also expressed concerns about the political climate in Egypt in advance of the constitutional referendum, including the continued enforcement of the restrictive demonstrations law.

The secretary and the minister also discussed “the desires of the Egyptian people for a civilian-led democracy, stability, and economic opportunities.” Despite the fact that John Kerry, the US secretary of state, had earlier expressed “deep concern” over the decision by the Egyptian government to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist group, a US official told Reuters that “the Obama administration has no intention of taking any action against Cairo in response, or following suit in labelling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.”

The official said that Egypt was going “way too far” in its crackdown, however. Prominent experts expect that categorising the Brotherhood as a terrorist group will not end or uproot the group, since the Brothers have been confronting successive Egyptian regimes for almost 80 years. In the world of US think-tanks, some experts showed concern at the decision, while others said that the move had been expected.

“I do not understand all the outrage and commentary about Egypt designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group. That’s what it’s been saying since 3 July,” wrote Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Twitter. However, frustration at the decision has been clear among defenders of the Brotherhood. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings-Doha institution criticised the US administration for failing to deal with recent developments in Egypt, for example. “It is difficult to think of a recent case where the gap between official US policy and the reality on the ground has been so completely divorced,” he wrote the next day on Twitter.

European countries were also cautious in their reactions to the Egyptian move. “The position of France on terrorism is clear and constant. We condemn it with all our strength,” deputy spokesman for the French government Vincent Floreani said. The French government had tried to take a middle way, he added. “It is important that all forces and all political factions participate in the transition process through respect for pluralism, freedom of expression, human rights and respect for all communities in conformity with the commitments made by the authorities. All political organisations must be able to take part [in the transition] as long as they renounce violence and respect democratic principles,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has intensified its efforts within the region and it urged Arab League members on Monday to enforce a counter-terrorism treaty that would block funding and support for the Muslim Brotherhood after its designation as a terrorist group. Egypt also called on League members to hand over any wanted Islamists linked to the Brotherhood.

The Foreign Ministry said that Arab League members that had signed the Counter-Terrorism Treaty of 1988 should now enforce it against the Muslim Brotherhood, with member states refusing to finance the group and handing over any fugitive members.

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