The Trump administration is considering designating the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, the White House said on Tuesday.
The Egypt-based Brotherhood is an influential Sunni Islamist organization with millions of members across the Middle East, and is already considered a terrorist organization by a handful of countries including Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“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 a statement.
According to a Tuesday report in The New York Times, the White House tasked national security and diplomatic officials with exploring ways the US could sanction the group following an April 9 meeting between US President Donald Trump and Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
During the private meeting at the White House, Sissi reportedly urged Trump to join Egypt in designating the Brotherhood, his main political opponents and the ideological progenitors of the Palestinian terror organization Hamas, a terrorist group.
Sources told the paper that Trump responded to Sissi’s request “affirmatively,” saying that a US terror destination would make sense. Some of Trump’s advisers interpreted the response as a commitment; however, the move faces some opposition within the White House.
Designating the Brotherhood a terrorist group would have far-reaching economic and political ramifications for American citizens and companies that interact with the group.
The designation, which would come weeks after the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terror group, has sparked debate among senior administration officials.
The NY Times said hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed the move, but the Pentagon, national security staff, government lawyers, military officials and diplomatic advisers are objecting to the change in policy.
Those in opposition say the Muslim Brotherhood does not fit the US criteria for terrorist groups, and have been working to draft other measures the US could take without making the formal designation.
Administration officials have also voiced concern the move could worsen tensions with Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Brotherhood supporter and leads a party, AKP, that views the group as an ideological ally.
Sissi came to power in 2014 after removing his predecessor, Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt following the ouster.
Under Sissi, authorities have waged an unprecedented crackdown on the group and other political dissidents that has left hundreds of protesters dead and thousands in jail while freedom of expression and the media were eroded, according to rights groups.
Despite the criticism, Sissi has argued the measures were necessary to maintain stability and fight terrorist organizations in the country.