PM Cameron meeting President Morsi, Head of Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Egypt
Elham Asaad Buaras
Prime Minister, David Cameron’s decision to launch an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood, has been branded a “political stunt” designed to bolster Britain’s trade relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE but will more than likely backfire.
The review will include an assessment by MI6, the foreign intelligence service, of claims that the group was behind the murder of three tourists on a bus in Egypt in February and a spate of other recent attacks. However, the killing of tourists was not done by the Muslim Brotherhood but has been claimed by Ansar al-Jerusalem, an al Qa’ida group.
According to reports MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, is to be asked to investigate how many senior leaders are based in this country after last year’s military coup in Egypt, which deposed Leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood) Mohamed Morsi, who became Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president.
Many analysts including the Daily Telegraph’s, Chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, highlighted the substantial Saudi connection to the investigation: “The announcement comes just six weeks after the British defence firm BAE Systems finally agreed to a deal on the price of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets it is selling the Saudis, with the announcement coming during the Prince of Wales’s visit to the kingdom.”
He added that the news of the probe comes, “just three weeks since the Saudis themselves declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation and Mr Cameron’s announcement gives legitimacy to this arbitrary and illogical decree.”
Former Director of Research at the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank, Rosemary Hollis, said the investigation could backfire on Cameron who she says: “has created a trap for himself. If his investigation finds grounds to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood it will alienate millions who never espoused violence in the first place. If it concludes that the Brotherhood’s values and philosophy are not a problem, the Saudis will no longer be appeased, and the whole exercise will look like a farce.”
Downing Street officially denied that the inquiry is a product of Saudi pressure, insisting it is driven by a desire to “to get an understanding of the [Muslim Brotherhood].”
However, the resolve that the investigation will be independent from Saudi interference is hampered by the Cameron’s decision to ask Britain’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, to head the review.
“Under normal circumstances, this inquiry would raise a few eyebrows. It isn’t normally the Prime Minister’s job to initiate terrorism investigations, nor would the ambassador to Saudi Arabia normally be put in charge, as happened here – particularly given that the Muslim Brotherhood is not alleged to have perpetrated any acts of terrorism in that country,” wrote Tom Dale of the Global Post.
The Brotherhood is Egypt’s oldest and largest organisation and has inspired similar movements around the world with its combination of political activism and charity work.
Now officials say it is “possible but unlikely” that the organisation will join the list of groups banned in Britain because of their links with terrorism.
The Government is understood to have been presented with evidence that the leaders of the organisation, which says it is committed to the non-violent, democratic promotion of Islam, held a meeting to decide its strategy in London late last year.
Long-suppressed in the Middle East, the Brotherhood sprang to prominence during the Arab Spring and won Egypt’s first democratic election in 2012. It has since been driven underground following violent street protests in which more than 1,000 were killed after last year’s military takeover.
Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute, a UK-based think tank, explained that Saudi Arabia has designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, based on dubious information provided by the Crown Prince of the UAE, Mohamed bin Zayyed, who “handed the Saudis a file of supposed Brotherhood transgressions and Qatar’s involvement with them, and the Saudis believed it.”
The file was supposedly based on concrete evidence. “I’m not joking,” Stephens says, “but some of this ‘concrete evidence’ is newspaper clippings from pro-Sisi [Egyptian] newspapers.”
Egyptian newspapers are notoriously unreliable, including those that support former military chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The Egyptian military, with Sisi at its head, overthrew former President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Government last July, and Sisi is now on course to win the forthcoming presidential elections.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood said that it would co-operate with the Downing Street review. “It is a religious obligation for any Muslim Brotherhood member who lives whether in his homeland or any state to respect its system and laws,” he said.
However, speaking to The Muslim News, Freedom and Justice Party Foreign Relation Secretary, Mohamed Soudan, said the investigation “looks like a political message” to please some countries. The Muslim Brotherhood in the UK has had a very good, clear vision with all governments for the last 40-50 years. All thoughts and philosophy of Muslim Brotherhood has been studied in many universities in the UK and other parts of the world. They have not taken up violence in spite of imprisonment of their members in Egypt or in other Arab countries. They have not changed their peaceful strategy to resist dictatorial regimes.”
He added that Sir Jenkins’s Saudi connection places an element of doubt about his impartiality. “We wish that he will be unbiased during his investigation, but from where did he get the experience about MB; and Saudi Arabia has banned MB for a long time However, they were the first country to support the military coup in Egypt since July 3, 2013.”