Who are the terrorists?

by Ahmed Humayun

Egypt_MuslimBrotherhood_banner_Torn_downTwo weeks ago the United Arab Emirates (UAE) put dozens of Muslim groups around the world on its terrorism list. While the list includes organizations such as Al Qaeda, al-Nusra front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which is uncontroversial, it also includes many other cultural and civic organizations in the United States and Europe, such as the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS).

The inclusion of this second group of organizations has perplexed Western governments, who have asked the UAE for an explanation. There is no real mystery here, however. The UAE alleges that these groups are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which tops the UAE list, and is the dominant Islamist organization in the Middle East. In outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations that are alleged to be connected to it, the UAE is following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, which declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in March.

The antipathy of the dynastic Arab rulers to Islamists is well established. Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood call for political reform but Arab tyrannies see this as the end of their stranglehold on power. Hence, the opposition of the Gulf states to the Muslim Brotherhood after its success in the 2011-2012 elections in Egypt, and their subsequent support for the overthrow of Mohammad Morsi, the elected President. Of course, Islamists are far from Jeffersonian Democrats and they are illiberal on many issues, but they represent an ideological alternative to the status quo that has local appeal, a terrifying prospect for the current crop of Arab rulers.

This terrorism designation, then, is a signal to Muslim groups worldwide that they should align with the Arab status quo or else expect to be stigmatized, even when they are an innocous organization like CAIR, which has actively worked to counter terrorism in partnership with American law enforcement.

So much for the politics of this ‘terrorism' list. That the rulers of countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE think they can define terrorism and be taken seriously is extraordinary in itself. It is well and good that they condemn ISIL today but they provided the key financial support that fueled ISIL's conquest of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq as part of their war against Shiite influence in the region.

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