Lofgren statement on the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act

February 24, 2016
Blog Post
Today, we are at war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is a ruthless enemy. They are terrorists who pose a threat to U.S. national security and warrant the "foreign terrorist organization" designation. But the bill we are marking up now is not about ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any other violent extremist organization.

Rather, it is about the Muslim Brotherhood, a complex entity that is primarily a political organization in Egypt, and which also has a presence in Jordan, Kuwait, and other countries in the Middle East. It is reasonable to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood's governing philosophy. I do. They hold retrograde positions with respect to women's rights. They are anti-Israel. They engaged in authoritarian tactics while in power in Egypt. But that does not mean they are terrorists. Countries that have endorsed this idea are listed in the findings of the bill as introduced. They include Assad's Syria, Putin's Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. None of these countries are democracies, and it would not be wise to take our foreign policy cues from them.

In fact, every leading foreign policy expert will tell you that for over 40 years, the Muslim Brotherhood has rejected violence as a tactic. While individual members may have defected and joined or formed their own terrorist groups, that is separate and apart from the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is evidence that over the last year or two some young Egyptians with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood have engaged in violence against the el-Sisi government. This comes after Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood party, who was elected President of Egypt in free and open elections, was deposed. And it follows an intense crackdown against the group. But this violence has been conducted without the authorization or encouragement of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group continues to publicly declare its rejection of violence as a method.

In order to prevail against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the U.S. must be able to differentiate between violent extremists and non-violent political organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, who we simply oppose. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization plays into the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups. It feeds into the ISIS narrative that the United States is engaged in a war on all Islam. It would wrongly indicate that we do not value democracy, human rights, and self-determination, when in fact these ideals are the foundation of U.S. foreign policy.

We certainly should not declare everyone with whom we disagree a terrorist. The Muslim Brotherhood has supporters in Egypt and across the Middle East. This bill would have us alienate millions of Egyptians and other Muslims.

In fact, members of and those with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood have been targeted by Egypt's military government. Hossam Bahgat is a human rights activist and journalist. He was the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights from 2002 until 2013, a Cairo-based human rights organization. He is also the recipient of the 2014 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize awarded by the Santa Clara University School of Law to lawyers who have used their skill, knowledge and abilities to correct injustice. After the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011, Bahgat and his organization helped document violence against protestors and prisoners, and led a campaign against military trials of civilian protesters. He was also instrumental in pushing for new laws and lasting institutional change in Egypt.

Under the Republican bill, Hossam Bahgat and perhaps thousands like him would be deemed terrorists due to their prior statements and affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood. And any American with such connections, perhaps even including my friends at the University of Santa Clara Law School, would be subject to criminal penalties. The priests and faculty at SCU are not terrorists.

As I noted last May when we marked up a bill on designating the Taliban as a terrorist organization, this is an area in which we must tread carefully. The resolution today comes before the Judiciary Committee because it pertains to a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act, but it raises serious questions of foreign policy and national security. Before voting on this measure, we should have hearings and briefings with the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community. None of this has happened.

The terrorist designation should not be used for political reasons – either domestically or to do political favors for regimes in the Middle East. Doing so delegitimizes the designation process, undermining its effectiveness and our security.

As a leading scholar at the Brookings Institution wrote in January 2014 in the Washington Post, "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist movement, at least not currently. But the move by the military-led government to ban it from politics and declare it a "terrorist organization" may become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The same goes for this proposal. I urge my colleagues to oppose the bill. I thank the Chairman and yield back the balance of my t