Nathan Sales, the American ambassador for counterterrorism, recently announced that the State Department is designating several groups and individuals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists. First among them is Ismail Haniyeh, the chairman of the Hamas politburo—a decision that suggests a move away from the long-held distinction between the group’s political and military “wings.” To Eli Lake, these designations show the beginnings of a new approach to the Brotherhood as a whole:
[T]he Trump administration [seeks] to designate violent chapters of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, but [is] not going after the entire organization. . . . In some ways this approach is not new. The Obama administration managed to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the Arab Spring in 2011 but nonetheless treat its Palestinian wing, Hamas, as terrorists. There are no plans, [however], for the Trump administration to attempt to find common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood. . . .
Another reason the Haniyeh designation is important is because it signals the U.S. will not support efforts at a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the party of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Trump has already threatened to cut off aid to the statelet Abbas runs, and Abbas responded in January with a deranged speech declaring the peace process a dead letter. Now Sales is making clear the U.S. will not encourage a Palestinian unity government, either.
Sales also announced the designations of two relatively new organizations, Liwa al-Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr. The groups, formed in 2016 and 2015, are led by former members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups have taken responsibility for acts of terror. . . .
America must draw a distinction between nonviolent Islamists and those who turn to terror. The designations announced Wednesday are important in this respect. But it’s no substitute for a coherent policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. For that, the Trump administration must devise a strategy for countering, engaging, or ignoring groups that seek to impose Islamic rule through the ballot and not the bullet.