While David Cameron, the British prime minister, ordered a probe into the ideology and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the UK and its links with organisations in the UK and abroad, the outcome was as expected: a shy attempt from the British government to meet the concerns of close allies with regards to the Brotherhood group. The report was commissioned in April 2014 and was completed by July 2014. However, it only became public in December 2015.
The report mentions the Muslim Brotherhood’s links with other Muslim organisations inside the UK and its ideology, its activities, and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on other groups in the UK, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), as well as on mosques. It also noted that some members of the Muslim Brotherhood have sometimes characterised the UK as hostile to the Muslim faith and identity, and have expressed support for terrorist attacks conducted by Hamas.
The report asserts that aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities run counter to British values of democracy, mutual respect and tolerance among different faiths and beliefs. In addition, other elements of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics in this country and overseas are contrary to British national interests and the national security of the UK.
Cameron said that the review’s findings support the conclusion that membership in, association with, or the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as possible indicators of extremism. He added: "We will therefore keep under review the views that are promoted and activities that are undertaken by Muslim Brotherhood associates in the UK, in Arabic as well as English." He also said: "We will consider whether any action under the Counter-Extremism Strategy or as part of our wider work may be appropriate, including action in line with the new engagement policy the government will develop to ensure central and local government does not inadvertently provide legitimacy or a platform for extremists."
The British government will continue to refuse visas to Brotherhood-linked extremists.
The report mentions other matters, like the significant differences between Muslim Brotherhood communications in English and Arabic. Furthermore, it found little evidence that the experience of power in Egypt has caused a rethinking in the Muslim Brotherhood of its ideology or conduct.
Finally, it was found that much about the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK remains secretive, including membership, fund-raising and educational programmes. It was not considered a terrorist group and is not banned in the UK.
The Muslim Brotherhood has not welcomed the findings, which they consider as damaging to the group’s reputation. Mohamed Sudan, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders in the UK told this writer, "It was not expected from a democratic country such as the UK to put restrictions on freedom of thought and belief" in light of the report's conclusion that membership or association with the Muslim Brotherhood might be considered a possible indicator of extremism. However, he added that Sir John Jenkins, the chair of investigation, was fair and impartial in conducting interviews with the group’s representatives in 12 countries.
I would argue that this review included several shortcomings that make it insignificant and more of a political show. First, the review lasted only three months, between April and July 2014. This is not enough time to produce a serious report on the Muslim Brotherhood’s complexity and its wide range of contacts across more than 85 countries. Some of the report's conclusions are also vague, such as "membership or association with the Muslim Brotherhood might be considered as a possible indicator of extremism."
Second, the report was commissioned in April 2014 and expected to be released alongside the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy in March, but it was not published until December 2015. Indeed, it was published on the final day for government statements before Christmas. The UK government, especially Cameron, would like this review to be forgotten during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Third, while the Muslim Brotherhood's public narrative has emphasised engagement and not violence, the group has used violence on occasions to achieve its goals. The report mentions that the Muslim Brotherhood has never disowned Qutb’s views on jihad institutionally. In addition, the group is prepared to use violence where peaceful ways are ineffective. Muslim Brotherhood-related organisations and individuals in the UK have openly supported the activities of Hamas. People associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK have applauded suicide bombing by Hamas. This reality was not translated into any recommendations on tackling this notion of the acceptability of using force — if only as a last resort — as espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fourth, several members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood moved from Egypt and the UAE to the UK since 2013, after Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Therefore, talk about stopping some members of the Muslim Brotherhood from coming to the UK is too little too late in the eyes of critics of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fifth, Mr Charles Farr, who helped John Jenkins in this report, said that groups and people in the UK linked to the Muslim Brotherhood had in the past held out the prospect and ambition of an Islamic state in this country as elsewhere. However, he found that there was no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood itself held this view or at least openly promoted an Islamic state in the UK. I would argue that political correctness and naivety intervened in reaching this conclusion, since this aspiration falls silently under the desire to establish an Islamic Caliphate across the whole world, being one of the main cornerstones of the Muslim Brotherhood since its founding by Hassan Al-Banna.
Sixth, the report found that literature in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the UK continues to reflect foundational Brotherhood ideology, notably that Western society is inherently hostile to the Muslim faith and Muslim interests. Other organisations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood are against the values of British society. For example, the UK based chairman of Interpal (the Islamic Palestinian Relief and Development Fund charity organisation) has written openly in support of the death penalty for homosexuality, and stoning to death of married men and women found guilty of adultery. The UK Islamic Mission has continued to explicitly claim that it is not possible for an observant Muslim to live under a non-Islamic system of government. In 2010, a television documentary showed members of the Islamic Forum for Europe privately advocating Sharia law in Tower Hamlets, and actively seeking influence in the local council.
Finally, laws in the UK and the European Convention of Human Rights will weaken any potential steps taken by the British government to challenge the ideology and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. Added to the vagueness of the outcomes of this probe, indicates are that it will not enable authorities to act on the ground. Notions of Islamophobia and political correctness will also hamper any actions if the Muslim Brotherhood crosses the line.
The writer is an expert on Islamic movements.