The Trump administration is pushing to issue an order to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, bringing the weight of U.S. sanctions against a storied and influential Islamist political movement with millions of members across the Middle East, officials said.
The White House directed national security and diplomatic officials to find a way to place sanctions on the group after a White House visit April 9 by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, for whom the Brotherhood represents a source of political opposition. El-Sissi urged President Donald Trump to take that step and join Egypt in branding the movement a terrorist organization.
Such a designation imposes economic and travel sanctions on companies and individuals who interact with the targeted group. But the proposal has prompted fierce debate within the administration, including at a senior-level meeting of policymakers from various departments convened last week by the White House's National Security Council, officials said.
National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo support the idea, officials said. But the Pentagon, career national security staff, government lawyers and diplomatic officials have voiced legal and policy objections. As a matter of law, officials have argued that the criteria for designating a terrorist organization are not a good fit for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is less a coherent body than a loose-knit movement with chapters. Several political parties in places like Tunisia and Jordan have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood but eschew violent extremism.