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Britain's treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood is spectacularly cack-handed

July 2, 2014 at 9:27 am

This country appears to have a major problem in identifying good role models for some young Muslim men – or so the Government believes. Certainly, the YouTube footage of young Britons all dressed up to kill in Iraq tells its own story: for several hundred of our citizens, murder in the desert brings validation in ways that pushing paper into a ballot box at home can’t seem to match.

These crackpot young killers are, of course, demented, but they are also very dangerous. More than that, they are the product of failure on a heroic scale, emerging from British neighbourhoods and British schools with a hatred of rationality, reason and suffrage.

Doubtless there are complex reasons for this, and no single cause can plausibly bear all the blame for these young people’s descent into nihilism and violence. But one thing we should certainly look at is the mixed messages they receive, and the harm these can do.

For example, during the very same week that saw Al Jazeera reporters jailed for seven years in Egypt, the Prime Minister of Australia congratulated the new regime in Cario on its “crackdown” on the Muslim Brotherhood. By this Tony Abbott presumably meant the kidnappings, disappearances and systematic torture of democratic politicians that have scarred that country in recent months. His comments also, one supposes, represent a metaphorical pat on the back for the mass death sentences passed after farcical one-hour trials – and a round of applause for the bloody overthrow of the first elected government in Egyptian history.

But we can also look closer to home – not least to David Cameron’s recently announced “review” of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is headed by Sir John Jenkins, our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, which, of course, has its own powerful reasons for detesting democracy.

Naturally, a government is entitled to review anything it wants. But the background noise accompanying Mr Cameron’s announcement seemed a little stilted. The security services, we were told, were concerned. There were hints of threats to UK security, and murmurings of links to unspecified plots abroad.

What was absent was any acknowledgment that just over two years ago, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party had overwhelmingly won a free and fair election, only to be overthrown in a military coup 12 months later. Democracy had come at last to Egypt, but when the army kicked it down, we didn’t hear too much gnashing of teeth in the citadels of freedom in the West.

It would be a great mistake to think that this sort of double standard goes unnoticed, or that it doesn’t play its full part in the disillusionment and chaos seen in places like Iraq. In the modern world, you can’t be a hypocrite in secret.

Of course the management of a great nation’s interests abroad is bound to be hard-eyed. And governments will often have to compromise where perhaps they’d prefer not to. But even with that caveat, the review into the Muslim Brotherhood seems spectacularly cack-handed, in both conception and timing.

To cast the democratic victims of violent military overthrow as a threat, even as you building bridges to the generals who deposed them, is hardly a commitment to people struggling to build democracy in tyrannies abroad. And when the objects of such calculation happen to be democrats who are also Muslim, you’d better wear a hard hat when you go preaching parliamentary values in parts of East London or Bradford.

The United States is not known for the kindness of its assessments when it comes to political violence and terror in the Middle East. But a senior American official travelling last week with Secretary of State John Kerry was very clear when he spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood. Showing more expertise in recent Egyptian history than the Australian premier – and less willingness to do the House of Saud’s dirty work than Mr Cameron – he roundly declared that there was no evidence to link the Brotherhood with terrorism.

He was surely right. For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has been an advocate of peaceful change in the region – and when an election finally became possible, its party stood and won with ease. There isn’t much sign of an attachment to universal suffrage in the Middle East. Where we find it we should nurture it with care.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC was director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, and is advising the Muslim Brotherhood on the Government’s review. This article was first published by The Telegraph.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.