The UK has rejected Egypt's call for London to shut down “pro-Muslim Brotherhood news media” operating from the British capital, pledging to respect the principle of freedom of speech.
“Media organisations are of course free to operate in the UK, in accordance with UK laws and regulations,” a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told Ahram Online.
The UK believes a free and robust press is the bedrock of democracy, he added.
These remarks come a day after the Egyptian foreign ministry called on European countries, including the UK, to “monitor extremist websites that incite violence and terrorism, and to halt broadcasting channels linked to the Muslim Brotherhood."
The UK hosts Alarabi and Al-Hewar TV stations and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, which are widely believed to be supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and are accused by Egyptian authorities, politicians and media of being tools to incite and promote terrorist activities in Egypt.
In a meeting with European ambassadors Tuesday, Hatem Seif El-Nasr, the Egyptian foreign minister's aide for European affairs, asked those gathered to deliver messages to their governments “not to deal with the illegitimate groups affiliated to the terrorist organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood)."
However, the FCO spokesperson denied any political support for any groups or news media.
“We don’t agree with all that they (the media) say,” he added.
Answering Ahram Online's questions about why the UK government allows these media to operate from its soil, the spokesperson said, “The UK is committed to the principle of freedom of expression and speech.”
During his meeting with EU representatives, Al-Nasr distributed video footage and text documents “summarising the evidence that terrorist groups and their affiliated media channels incite violence and killing.”
The FCO spokesperson said any violations of the UK's media laws and regulations should be reported to concerned authorities in the UK.
“FCO ministers regularly raise the importance of freedom of speech in Egypt with members of the Egyptian government, most recently during [Middle East] Minister [Tobias] Ellwood’s visit to Cairo on January 12-16,” she added.
The UK hinted that some media are being persecuted in Egypt, leading them to operate from abroad.
“We will continue to urge the government of Egypt to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of speech, including the right of journalists to operate without fear of prosecution,” the spokesperson said.
El-Nasr said, in an official statement, that the meeting — which comes less than a week after deadly attacks in North Sinai that killed at least 30 people — aimed to inform the international community of the reality of conditions in Egypt.
She added the attack is part of Egyptian's ongoing war against terrorism and will only increase the determination of Egyptians to move forward with the country’s political roadmap.
Sinai-based Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, who are now part of the regional militant Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, the deadliest in recent times.
The UK condemned the attacks and reiterated its support for Egypt in fighting terrorism, pointing out that it “will stand with the Egyptian people in confronting violent terrorism in the Sinai and defeating the poisonous ideology that inspires it.”
“The UK and Egypt have strong shared interests in defeating terrorism and supporting stability in the region,” the spokesperson said. She added the UK foreign secretary and his Egyptian counterpart have discussed “the need for close partnership on countering terrorism, including to defeat and degrade ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and the threat it poses in the region.”
"Terrorist groups are governed by a single radical ideology that stems from Muslim Brotherhood ideology since its inception in 1928," El-Nasr was quoted as saying.
In December 2013, the Egyptian government outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, to whom ousted president Mohamed Morsi belongs, as "terrorist organisation."
The UK government has rejected frequent Egyptian calls for the UK to ban the group and expel some of its leaders.