David Cameron has been a competent and in many ways an underestimated prime minister, especially when dealing with domestic policy. However, he brought negligible experience of foreign affairs with him into Downing Street. As a result he has largely been out of his depth (and very easily swayed) in foreign policy.
The latest example of the Prime Minister’s naivety concerns his decision to order an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood, and its alleged links to “violent extremism” in Britain.
The timing of Mr Cameron’s statement is strange and troubling. His announcement looks very much like a political stunt designed to protect Britain’s trading relationship with Saudi Arabia.
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.
Certainly Mr Cameron’s move will delight the Saudis: it is 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. The Prime Minister should nevertheless be aware that the autocrats who run Saudi Arabia are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood because it offers a democratic alternative to the Saudi kingdom’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.
There is a third troubling point concerning timing. The military regime which now runs Egypt officially declared the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation on Christmas Day last year. Meanwhile Britain has yet to call the Saudi backed military strike which removed the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi last July for what it was: a coup d’etat.
I know and respect Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has been asked to lead this review into the Muslim Brotherhood. But it will be very hard indeed for Sir John to produce a disinterested report while carrying out his duties as our man in Riyadh, and therefore engaging with a regime which regards the Muslim Brotherhood as a mortal enemy. In a press release issued this morning the Brotherhood announced its intention to “engage openly” with the British government review: at the least it is essential that Sir John takes up this offer.
But if Mr Cameron had really wanted an independent review he would never have invited Sir John: he would have commissioned a judge. It looks very much as if the Prime Minister believes that there are gains for Britain by allying ourselves with Egypt’s bloodstained generals and Saudi’s playboy princes.
Perhaps there will be. But over the long term, Downing Street’s loose use of language may do great damage to British interests. And if Mr Cameron really is concerned about the inspiration for “violent extremism” in Britain, he would be much better off commissioning an investigation into the Saudis.
This article was written for and published first on The Telegraph
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.