Is the Muslim Brotherhood a benign political/social organisation or something far more sinister is the question the British Prime Minister David Cameron wants answered. And to that effect, he has tasked Whitehall officials to liaise with MI5 and MI6 in order to probe the Brotherhood’s ideology, activities and possible links to terrorist groups in response to reports by intelligence agencies that the Brotherhood was behind the bombing of an Egyptian tourist bus in February. The prime minister has also received intelligence that the Brotherhood is plotting against other countries from British soil.
Those questions have already been answered by Egypt and Saudi Arabia that have designated the Brotherhood “terrorist”—a move that is seemingly applauded by the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain—and that was rubber-stamped, albeit in a couched manner, by the Arab League.
Cameron’s decision has elicited a mixed reaction. Elements of the left-wing United Kingdom press are convinced the PM has bowed to pressure from Saudi Arabia, citing the prominent role of Sir John Jenkins, a former British ambassador to Riyadh, within the investigating committee. A former spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Islam Abdul Raham, has accused the Saudis of putting pressure on Qatar and Turkey [countries that openly support the Brotherhood] by withdrawing certain investments. “You cannot exclude the possibility that they put pressure on London,” he said. Downing Street has denied Saudi involvement. “This inquiry has been driven by the Prime Minister wanting to get an understanding of the group,” said one of Cameron’s advisors.
Others fear that putting the Brotherhood under a spotlight may fuel radicalism. Certainly the organisation is not amused when just a few months ago, fugitives from Egypt were welcomed and were free to set up headquarters in the London suburb above a kebab shop. In response to Egypt’s controversial branding, the Foreign Office earlier issued a statement clarifying that Britain had no intention of blacklisting the group. Initially, the Brotherhood announced its full cooperation with investigators on the grounds it had nothing to hide. However, last Thursday, the organisation issued a warning to the British government that it intended to challenge, through UK courts, “any improper attempt to restrict its activity.”
Hoda Abdul Moneim of the Freedom and Justice Party leapt to the defence of her co-ideologists, saying: “They are people who believe in hard work and who love their countries. They have always been peaceful, religious and condemn violence.” Abdul Moneim is flat wrong and she knows it.
Let us look at the Brotherhood’s ideology. One of its founders, Sayyid Qutb, considered to be “the Father of modern fundamentalism,” whose ideas have been embraced by Al Qaida, urged Muslims to take up jihad against fellow Muslims “steeped in jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance).” Qutb labelled various Muslim regimes ‘infidel’ and incited their violent overthrow. Another of its founders, Hassan Al Banna—considered generally to be more moderate than Qutb—said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” It is worth noting that the Brotherhood is firmly entrenched in more than 60 nations today.
In January 2010, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohammad Badie—currently behind bars in Egypt—described the US as an infidel country that “does not champion moral and human values” and is one of “the Muslims’ real enemies” that should be combated “by raising a jihadist generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.”
As for its so-called “peaceful” record, in 1954, the Brotherhood unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser. His successor Anwar Sadat, who looked relatively kindly on the group, became its target when he made peace with Israel. A conspiracy between the Brotherhood and its sister organisation the Jamaa Islamiyya brought an end to Sadat’s life in October 1981.
Known for its secrecy, the Brotherhood has cleverly constructed a public image that belies its core intent. However, subsequent to the ousting of its man Mohammad Mursi on July 3 last year, its true colours have been revealed. Its followers were instructed to go on a rampage so as to hold Egypt’s future hostage. They torched dozens of churches, police stations and killed security personnel as well as civilians. While the Brotherhood disavows having planted bombs—for which a little-known Sinai-based terrorist group, Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, invariably takes credit—Egyptian authorities are convinced they are one and the same.
A credible and in-depth British probe that sends the Brotherhood packing will encourage European countries to follow suit and, thus, embarrass US President Barack Obama who has been leaning on Cairo to free the Brotherhood’s top brass and ensure the political roadmap “is inclusive.” There is a risk in this. If it goes the other way, the UK’s relationship with some of its Arab allies will be chillier than the country’s worst winter.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.