Was it a bizarre tribute to the dictators in the Middle East who appear to be able to influence decision-making at the heart of the British Government or was it just a desperate measure of throwing out some Whitehall rubbish in the hope that no one would notice on a “good day to bury bad news”? Whatever it was, it almost worked. Leaving absolutely no time for debate, just hours before MPs left Westminster for the Christmas recess, British Prime Minister David Cameron published his government’s long-delayed review into the Muslim Brotherhood.
While accepting that the Brotherhood is a legitimate political group, in a brief statement the prime minister said that officials will “intensify scrutiny of the views and activities” of the movement, some aspects of which, it is alleged, “run counter to British values”. The review, of course, was “requested” by the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. All three display traits which certainly do run counter to Cameron’s take on “British values”.
That, though, matters not in Cameron’s sleazy political world wherein human rights take second place to lucrative arms and oil deals. He and his ministers are apparently ready to do anything and everything to placate petulant princes from the corrupt monarchies and dictatorships which litter the Middle East.
So what was all the fuss about? Well, the summary of the report is 12 pages long, is poorly written (English values, anyone?) and is short on evidence, facts and footnotes. As an academic paper it’s a shoddy piece of work which would earn a “must try harder” in any sixth form college.
That the Muslim Brotherhood Review: Main Findings has been published in its current form on the Number 10 website speaks volumes about the lack of gravitas and intellectual excellence demanded by the latest incumbents of Downing Street. As much as Margaret Thatcher and her life-ruining, family-destroying, community-wrecking policies were despised by many, she would never have allowed such a flimsy document to cross her desk and it certainly would not have earned her seal of approval in its present form.
I hazard to suggest that the authors of the report — Sir John Jenkins, until recently HM Ambassador to Riyadh and Charles Farr, Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office — would have been verbally castrated by the Iron Lady after a serious hand-bagging had they dared to submit it to her. Members of Thatcher’s cabinets such as Douglas Hurd, Michael Heseltine and Tom King; backbench MPs and peers; and people who worked for her behind the scenes at 10 Downing Street have all testified about how their boss combined meticulous attention to detail with a firm grasp of strategic issues. The same cannot be said of today’s bunch; Downing Street has certainly been dumbed down.
The evidence for this can be seen within the pages of the Brotherhood document. In short, it is an embarrassment and the timing of its release says a lot about its content. It is no coincidence that the Cameron government chose to release the report along with 36 ministerial statements. The blizzard of last day of term bad news, headlined by the Brotherhood report, includes a damning dossier on the failed bedroom tax; details of police cuts; the high costs of special advisers; David Cameron’s travel expenses; and an increase in court charges. It is obvious that the Downing Street press office decided to overwhelm Westminster watchers with an avalanche of material in the hope that at least some of it would escape too much scrutiny. Sorry to disappoint, but the Brotherhood document wasn’t one such item.
The origin of the investigation and review makes for uncomfortable reading thanks to some investigative work by the Guardian newspaper. We know, for example, that it was conceived after Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, met Cameron at Number 10 and was briefed to express the UAE’s “concern” after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was declared Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012. No doubt a great deal of diplomatic language was used but, in essence, it appears that Cameron agreed to commission a report on the Muslim Brotherhood to pacify the UAE, which offered Britain some lucrative business deals in return.
In documents seen by the newspaper, it appears that the Emirates dangled lucrative arms and oil deals in front of Cameron, likely to generate billions of pounds for BAE Systems and allow BP to bid for drilling rights in the Gulf.
On a visit to Abu Dhabi in 2014, Sir John Jenkins was apparently told that the trust between Britain and the Emirates “has been challenged due to the UK position towards the Muslim Brotherhood [because] our ally [Britain] is not seeing it as we do: an existential threat not just to the UAE but to the region.”
The plan backfired when news leaked out that nothing sinister had been found by the review team; it was then rumoured that the report had been consigned to a dusty shelf in the hope that it would be forgotten. However, both friends and enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood were determined to see the report published and, after an unexplained delay, it tumbled out as a parliamentary statement almost buried under an avalanche of other government announcements.
The content pretty much pleases nobody, and upsets many, especially in Britain’s charity sector. The authors of the report claim that, “A complex network of charities associated with the Muslim Brotherhood has developed here over many years.” No evidence for this claim is provided to support the allegation. Some charities in this “complex network” had been raising money for “the Brotherhood”, but there’s nothing to support that ambiguous claim or that “others have been linked to Hamas”. Such a serious charge surely requires the insertion of the word “allegedly” somewhere, as no British charity has ever, as far as I know, been linked to any illegal activity associated with Hamas.
Clearly, neither Jenkins nor Farr have read Essential Law for Journalists or the chapter on defamation; and who is advising the government’s lawyers? Such schoolboy howlers in a government document could be regarded by some as truly shocking.
To be fair to the named authors, though, they may not have actually written the review summary, although I would have expected them to check it before publication. As the summary appears to be hell-bent on making unsavoury links that are not there, or implying by omission that they are, I have no doubt that some of the UK’s top defamation lawyers will soon be briefed.
Nothing illustrates that the government probably had little of substance to include in the Brotherhood review than the fact that it made mention of a “controversial” charity therein simply to pad the text out. Interpal — the charity in question — is not a Muslim Brotherhood organisation; it has no links to any political parties at home or abroad, so maybe there was an ulterior motive for mentioning it which is linked more to its work for Palestinians in desperate need than anything to do with the movement under review. Such a conclusion is given further credence by the repetition of the now stale allegation that the “chairman of Interpal has written openly in support of the death penalty for homosexuality and stoning to death of married men and women found guilty of adultery.”
This accusation arose a couple of years ago on pro-Israel websites; they refer to a booklet written by Ibrahim Hewitt in the early nineties — almost a quarter of a century ago — called What does Islam say? The title itself is a bit of a giveaway. Despite around 50,000 copies of the book being sold neither the publisher nor the author had ever received any complaints about the content until that Zionist intervention in 2013. The “story” was picked up by right-wing media outlets and Hewitt issued personal statements pointing out his belief that he has never called for anyone to be targeted and attacked for their sexual orientation or peccadilloes, and that what people get up to behind closed doors is none of his or anyone else’s business. Such clarification has been ignored by the authors of the review.
I should declare a personal interest here as Ibrahim Hewitt is a friend of mine. We were first introduced 30 years ago and not once have I heard him utter anything homophobic or call for the punishment of adulterers. Quite why or how the deliberate demonisation of this man has been thrown so randomly into the report is bizarre, bordering on surreal; he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or any other political party or organisation.
The review authors should be ashamed of themselves for doing this, and for producing the most flimsy, badly-written document peppered with assertions that are simply not true. Standards certainly are slipping at Number 10; at the time of sending this article for publication, the Downing Street Press Office had still not returned my calls asking for a comment. I’m sure, though, that Shaikh Al-Nahyan and his mates in Cairo and Riyadh will be happy. As they’re the people who pushed David Cameron to set the review in motion in the first place, that’s at least one objective in which it will have been a success. In everything else, it’s an abject failure.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.