Spring has arrived in Washington DC, and a sure sign of the change in seasons is the annual parade of Islamist lobbyists who come to the US capital in March and April to advocate, under the guise of human rights, for Islamist causes and to misrepresent the beliefs held by ordinary Muslims.
Just a week before American Islamists descended on Washington to push for Islamist-friendly policies during the fifth annual National Muslim Advocacy Day, their Egyptian Islamist allies did the same.
On 24 and 25 March, “Egypt Advocacy Day” took place in Washington, when, sponsored by Democratic Party congressman Tom Malinowski, Egyptian activists and Western lobbyists came together to warn policy-makers against Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and encourage the US government to ensure Egypt works “to uphold the democratic principle of peaceful transfer of power,” according to a statement.
Representatives of rights organisations Human Rights Watch, the Project on Middle East Democracy and Human Rights First were happy to take part in this effort, seemingly unconcerned that the organisers were prominent members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, removed from power in Egypt in 2013 following enormous popular protests against its abuse of power.
The main organising body behind the Advocacy Day was the Freedom Initiative, a group founded by prominent Muslim Brotherhood activist Mohamed Sultan.
He was imprisoned in Egypt for nearly two years on terrorism charges, until former US president Barack Obama pressured the Cairo authorities to release him in 2015 after he gave up his Egyptian citizenship.
While critics claimed that Sultan was the victim of political persecution in Egypt, he had a long history of involvement with hard-line Islamist activities in both the US and Egypt, openly expressing support for the designated terror group Hamas and leading chants praising the killing of Jews, for example.
Other sponsors and supporters of the Advocacy Day included the Egyptian Human Rights Forum, of which Sultan was among the founders. In previous years, a key Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood proxy in the US, Egyptian-Americans for Freedom and Justice (EAFAJ), has also been closely involved in the annual Advocacy Day. This year, its officials took part in the lobbying, but the organisation’s name and logo were nowhere to be found on the literature.
Perhaps this was a result of articles and reports exposing the EAFAJ’s extremism, particularly that of its leading officials Hani Al-Kadi and Ayat Al-Orabi.
The Project on Middle East Democracy, for example, which sponsored this year’s Advocacy Day, notes on its Website that “a number of experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have spoken out regarding the EAFAJ’s lobbying efforts and condemned Al-Orabi’s views in particular.”
On Twitter, analyst Mokhtar Awad referred to Al-Orabi as “a raving sectarian lunatic.” He also posted a video of Al-Orabi calling for an economic boycott of Christian businesses, where she states that “[Christians] must be made to understand that the [Islamic] crescent must be on top of the cross.”
In the days and weeks after this year’s Advocacy Day in Washington, the EAFAJ held further meetings with congressional staffers and policy-makers to express support for the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi and encourage lawmakers to force the Egyptian government to release those it labelled “political prisoners” – in other words, jailed Muslim Brotherhood operatives and terrorists. One report alleges that the EAFAJ even met with Democratic Party presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Leading the delegation was EAFAJ President Hani Al-Kadi, a New Jersey-based activist who is referred to in the Arab media as a Muslim Brotherhood “leader” in the US. Al-Kadi openly supports violent jihadist organisations in Egypt and routinely publishes anti-Semitic and pro-Islamist rhetoric on his social media accounts.
He was a particularly vocal supporter of Mohamed Kamal, the late jihadist leader behind the US-designated terrorist organisations Liwaa Al-Thawra and Hasm. Kamal was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Egyptian police in October 2016.
Along with anti-Christian and anti-Semitic activist Ayat Al-Orabi, Al-Kadi was accompanied by Amr Darraj and Ahmed Shehata. Darraj is wanted by the Egyptian authorities on charges of coordinating terrorist activities in Egypt from his home in Turkey.
Shehata, meanwhile, is a prominent Islamist activist in the US who is closely involved with Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, another key Muslim Brotherhood organisation, as well as the international aid charity Islamic Relief and the community organisation the Muslim American Society, both of which serve as flagship institutions of Muslim Brotherhood-influenced Islamism in the US.
The visit by President Al-Sisi to Washington on 9 April led to an angry response from Muslim Brotherhood operatives involved in the recent lobbying efforts.
At a protest outside the White House, the EAFAJ, along with other supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, wore Brotherhood insignia and held up placards of Mohamed Morsi.
The Washington Post gave Mohamed Sultan column inches to denounce Al-Sisi and criticise the Trump administration in the US for hosting him. No mention was made of Sultan’s radical Islamist affiliations, with his by-line merely noting that he is “a human-rights advocate and founder of the Freedom Initiative.”
It is baffling that US politicians, human-rights organisations and media outlets should offer their support and give their time to these Islamist activists, given the violence and oppression that swept through Egypt under Morsi’s rule. Admittedly, the involvement of Malinowski is not surprising.
He was a vocal critic of plans to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, and he condemned Trump’s very cordial and successful meeting with Al-Sisi on 9 April.
Opposition to Al-Sisi or any other leader should not mean support for a violent Islamist movement. In December 2017, the Muslim Brotherhood officially declared the United States an “enemy state” on its Arabic Website, and as if that were not enough to encourage Western officials to stay away, Brotherhood members and splinter groups have wreaked havoc in Egypt over the past seven years, supporting attacks on Coptic churches and involving themselves in terrorist attacks and assassinations.
The Brotherhood’s sister organisation, the designated terrorist organisation Hamas, needs no introduction here.
For many in the Arab world, it is a bitter irony that a movement responsible for such widespread terrorism, violence and hate in the Arab world is now paraded around the halls of the US Capitol as a hearty advocate of human rights, democracy and justice.
Too often, naïve Western activists and policy-makers still offer legitimacy to extremists, leaving ordinary people to suffer the consequences.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The Brotherhood goes to Washington