Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization? The Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order designating the group as exactly that. I’ve struggled with how to respond to this question. Responding with facts, as researchers are rightly tempted to do, is important, but it misses the point and presumes that this is, in the first place, a question in search of facts.
There is quite literally not a single American expert on the Muslim Brotherhood who supports designation. Moreover, there is no plausible argument to be made for labeling the group a terrorist organization, at least according to the relevant legal criteria, as Will McCants and Benjamin Wittes lay out. They sum it up quite well: designation “would be illegal.”
It’s fine to think that the Muslim Brotherhood is bad, terrible, authoritarian, or illiberal (in my book on the Egyptian and Jordanian Brotherhoods from the 1980s till today, I highlight the group’s illiberal nature at length). Eric Trager, who I have disagreed with quite strongly on matters relating to the Brotherhood, has called it more akin to a “hate group.” But even he has written against designation. The Brotherhood’s badness, one way or the other, has no bearing on whether or not it is a terrorist organization. Being a terrorist organization involves, among other things, ordering your members to commit terrorist attacks, something no one argues the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing.