STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's talk about another possible change in policy. It involves a terrorist designation for one of the Arab world's oldest political movements. For nearly 100 years, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have been active in dozens of countries. And now some in Congress and close to the Trump administration would like it to be on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Haven't done it yet, but they're thinking about it. Critics of this move say the group is not violent and that it would unfairly target people for prosecution. NPR's Joanne Arraf went to see the Muslim Brotherhood at work in Jordan.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: It's mid-morning in this clinic in a working-class neighborhood in Amman. The waiting room was packed with families in winter coats waiting to see doctors and dentists. A sign on the wall says the clinic was renovated by the U.S. government's Agency for International Development three years ago. Pamphlets by the Muslim Brotherhood publishing house offer advice on being a good Muslim and instruction on how to pray, but it's not really religion that brings people here.
AISHA RADWAN: (Through interpreter) They come here mainly because they only pay a symbolic amount for treatment and all the medication is free.
ARRAF: That's clinic supervisor Aisha Radwan. The patients are mostly refugees and Jordanian orphans. It's one of dozens of clinics founded by the Muslim Brotherhood and now run by the Jordanian government.
The Brotherhood is an international movement. It started in Egypt under British occupation in the 1920s. Six years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt elected a Muslim Brotherhood president. He was toppled in a military coup and is now in jail, like thousands of his followers. In January, Egypt sent an official delegation to Washington to urge the U.S. to put the group on its terrorist list.
But here in Jordan - and in places from Bahrain to Tunisia - the Brotherhood is mainstream. The organization's political wing, the Islamic Action Front, forms the biggest bloc in the Jordanian Parliament. Spokesman Murad Adeleih says putting the Brotherhood on the terrorist list would encourage extremism.
MURAD ADELEIH: (Through interpreter) Frankly, this is dangerous because it constitutes a war on Islam. The organization exists in 92 countries. And in a lot of countries, it's in partnership with the government and parliament. It would be very difficult to implement.
ARRAF: A major British government report concluded that although offshoots of the Brotherhood have engaged in violence, it's not a terrorist group. The organization describes itself as peaceful and dedicated to fostering Islamic ideals. Jordanian political scientist Labib Kamhawi says a U.S. terrorist designation would create problems with the kingdom, one of the strongest U.S. allies in the region.
LABIB KAMHAWI: Jordan would be embarrassed - I mean the government itself, the king. If Trump pursues such policies, it would be very difficult to defend such policy or accept it.
ARRAF: Over decades, the Brotherhood has put down deep roots in Jordanian society through a network of charitable organizations it founded. And it has considerable influence.
Down the hall from the clinic, Mohsen Ramawi meets with caseworkers to go over files of poor Jordanians applying for aid. The money comes from donations, many from people who believe the Brotherhood is less corrupt than the government.
MOHSEN RAMAWI: We would treat people as Islam asks us to treat the people, especially the poor people, the orphaned people. And that's what make our good reputation for all - most of the people in this country.
ARRAF: Maha Gharbouti presents cases of needy families for approval. One of them is a mother of three with an undernourished 4-year-old. Gharbouti's eyes are the only things visible behind the all-enveloping black niqab she wears.
MAHA GHARBOUTI: (Through interpreter) The women can tell me their problems and their feelings. These are the things the government can't help with.
ARRAF: There are a lot of things the government can't help people with in this largely poor country. In a lot of neighborhoods, it's made the Brotherhood part of the fabric of Jordanian society.
Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman, Jordan.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio version of the story incorrectly states that the 2012 election took place six years ago; it has been five years.]
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