It is neither strange nor surprising that the Egyptian authorities were the first and quickest to welcome British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to conduct an urgent investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and a comprehensive review of their practices, including investigating the accusations made against them of being behind the attack on a tourist bus in Egypt resulting in the death of three tourists last February.
Britain is under great pressure by three major Arab countries that are waging a bloody war against the Muslim Brotherhood and who have classified them as a “terrorist” movement; Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These countries also put pressure on the British government to ban the movement and prevent Britain from becoming a “safe haven” for MB leaders.
The independence of the British judiciary, the “flexible” asylum laws and the generous Social Security benefits system are all factors that have made Britain, London in particular, a magnet for political Islam and its activists. In the 1990s, after the war in Afghanistan ended in favour of the mujahedeen and their fellow Arabs, thousands of them flocked to Britain and settled there, including people who later became Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Khalid Al-Fawwaz, former ambassador for the organisation who publically opened an office in Oxford Street, or Abu Musab Al-Suri (Mustafa Setmariam) and Omar Abu Omar (Abu Qatada).
The three countries mentioned above are afraid of what can be done by the Brotherhood leaders who have taken refuge, or may do so, and settled, and the media centres they can use to mobilise the political opposition and incite them against the governing regimes in their countries because British laws do not impose restrictions on freedom of expression and it easily permits the establishment of television stations and the issuance of daily or periodic newspapers, as opposed to the laws of other European countries.
It is ironic that Saudi Arabia was the first to take advantage of this open media climate when it began issuing its newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat from the British capital, followed by launching its television station MBC in order to address the “public opinion” in its country first, and then the rest of the Arab countries and influence them with Saudi Arabia’s policies. It is also ironic that these influential media outlets were very friendly with the MB movement and their thoughts and supported the jihad in Afghanistan; this position was very apparent through the issuance of the Muslim News newspaper.
However, things changed. The Brotherhood moved from the list of allies to the list of enemies in recent years and has now become a source of threat to governments because, according to its opponents, it changed from a preaching movement to a transboundary political organisation that works by all possible means to overthrow the governments and seize power.
Britain has also changed since the July 2005 attacks on the London Underground carried out by four “suicide bombers” who adopted “Al-Qaeda’s” school of thought, leading to the death of 60 people, the injury of hundreds, the paralysis of economic life and spreading panic across British ranks.
British tolerance towards Islamist groups gradually began to decline and British authorities began to impose restrictions on the entry of prominent Islamic preachers and clerics, such as Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who was refused entry, and Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic movement in the territories occupied since 1948. Also, many mosques and Muslim owned businesses were exposed to attacks and violence, reaching the point that Britain issued laws, for the first time in its history, allowing the seizure of citizenship from any Muslim engaging in acts of “terror”, including fighting against the Syrian regime or in the ranks of militant groups, such as the Islamic group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. As of now, 36 citizenships have been seized, mostly from Arabs.
The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of giving into the pressures of the three countries is that a large number of MB members in Britain are British citizens, as well as the fact that there is a complete separation between the British government and judiciary, which has full independence.
In the early nineties, two Saudi activists sought asylum in Britain, Dr Sa’ad Al-Faqih and his partner in the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, Dr Mohammad Al-Massari. They began political activity in opposition to their country’s government which bothered the ruling family prompting them to threaten to cancel the Yamamah arms deal Saudi Arabia signed with Britain, worth over $70 billion.
British Prime Minister at the time John Major made great efforts to convince the Saudi monarch, King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, that he could not deport the two activists without a court ruling because they obtained the right to asylum and the law prohibits their deportation and extradition.
King Fahd then passed away, and Major retired from political work, as did as his successor, Tony Blair and Cameron will be retiring in a year. However, Dr Faqih and Dr Al-Massari still live in Britain; have its protection and citizenship and their children are studying in its universities.
The British government commissioned an internal government review of the MB’s activities in Britain to send a double message. The first message is to its allies and main trading partners, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, in which Britain says it takes their demands to shut out Brotherhood members and leaders seriously and secondly, to those affiliated with the Brotherhood in the Arab countries to send the message that they are not welcome in Britain.
The order issued by a court in the Egyptian governorate of Minya sentencing 529 people, mostly Muslim Brotherhood supporters, to death ten days ago is the greatest service provided by the Egyptian judiciary and the government, who intervened and influenced the ruling, to the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters. This ruling supports any application for asylum in Britain or any European country. Asylum seekers need only to submit this sentencing to the court to prove their lives are in danger and that the judiciary in their country is unfair and not independent.
Arab governments may issue laws any minute criminalising the MB and putting it on the terrorism list but, in the West, it is different, as they must prove such accusations with documentation and evidence, and I believe this is a very difficult task and may take years of legal deliberations. Also, the commission formed to assess the MB and its activities and practices may need years to submit its report to the government regarding the results of their research and studies.
Our problem in the Arab countries, and even in third world countries, is the absence of a fair and independent judiciary which is an essential part of a democratic system. This is why we believe governments in the developed countries can do whatever they want and issue the rulings they want without being accountable, just like in any third world country.
All forms of pressure and temptation can buy anything except for an independent judiciary in which the judges apply the law equally and justly on everyone, from the sons of lords to the sons of slaves, without any discrimination.
Translated from Raialyoum, 2 April, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.