The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why the U.A.E. is calling 2 American groups terrorists

An F-15E Strike Eagle taxis to a parking spot May 26, 2014, at Al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates. The aircraft, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, is supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. (Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf/U.S. Air Force)

United Arab Emirates released a list of designated terrorist groups and organizations over the weekend, with more than 80 different groups from around the world blacklisted. The list covers a variety of well-known names, including al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, al Shabab and Boko Haram.

It is the inclusion of two very specific groups, however, that made the list a hot topic on a number of right wing U.S. news sites. Two American groups that represent Muslims — the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society — had been designated terrorist groups by the Gulf state.

Neither CAIR nor the Muslim American Society are designated terror groups by the U.S. government, which is a major ally and trading partner of the U.A.E., and their inclusion on the list surprised many analysts — especially when more established groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon were left off. CAIR put out a statement that said they were seeking clarification on their "shocking and bizarre" inclusion on the list, while the Muslim American Society said that they had had "no dealings with the United Arab Emirates" and were "perplexed by this news."

CAIR and the Muslim American Society are not alone in their shock. Diverse groups across Europe were also added to the list, leaving many observers perplexed at the scope and sheer scale of the list. Norway's foreign ministry has already publicly requested an explanation as to why one of the country's largest Islamic groups, the Islamic Organization, was included, and on Monday, the U.S. State Department said they would be seeking more information from the U.A.E.

It's true that some of these groups have been involved in controversy in the past. For example, CAIR, an  Islamic civil liberties advocacy group, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007 trial of the Holy Land Foundation in Texas. Officials from the Holy Land Foundation were later found guilty of diverting funds to Hamas, which has led some American lawmakers to refer to CAIR as a terrorist organization. As The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler pointed out as far back as 2011, this is unfair: CAIR has never been charged with any criminal activity and operates in a tax-exempt status.

U.A.E.'s list seems to be driven by something closer to home, however: The very first name included is the U.A.E. Muslim Brotherhood, and a significant number of the more surprising inclusions on the list appear to have ties to the transnational Sunni Islamist group: The Muslim American Society, for instance, was founded by Muslim Brotherhood members in the 1990s. Rumors about links to the Muslim Brotherhood have also dogged CAIR.

The U.A.E. has long been vocal in its criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, and earlier this year jailed dozens of people over their alleged links to the group, a conviction that earned the criticism of groups such as Amnesty International. The type of political Islam advocated by the group is at odds with the federation of hereditary absolute monarchies that rule the emirates, and the U.A.E. appears to have been shaken by the Muslim Brotherhood's quick ascent to power in Egypt.

The move also plays into regional politics: Neighboring Qatar has been criticized by its neighbors for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, prompting a backlash from countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of whom had preempted U.A.E. in listing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, recently told The Post that such accusations were unfair. “We cannot say everyone who is an Islamist is a terrorist," he said.

With the new terrorism list, it seems that U.A.E. is pushing the polar opposite viewpoint: That Islamist groups are part of a larger ecosystem and are thus dangerous in themselves. For the United States, which often favors dialogue with moderate Islamist groups and has recently found a strong partner in  the U.A.E., that might be a problem.