“Political Islamic groups” like the Muslim Brotherhood are the “best firewall” to support the democratic process, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said.
In a series of written responses to questions posed by the Foreign Affairs Committee’s sixth report the FCO added that it “did not support military intervention as a way to resolve disputes in a democratic system,” in what appears to be a clear rejection of the military coup that occurred in Egypt when the first freely-elected President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in 2013.
In its report released December 2016, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) were highly critical of the findings of the Sir John Jenkin’s report on the Muslim Brotherhood, released in December 2015 and commissioned by the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
The report, which was only released in a 12-page summary, not in full, concluded: “For the most part, the Muslim Brotherhood have preferred non-violent incremental change on the grounds of expediency.”
However, it accused the movement, which has been proscribed and declared a “terrorist” organisation in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates but is legal in the UK and the rest of the world, of being prepared to countenance violence – including, from time to time, terrorism – where gradualism was ineffective.
The FAC questioned the veracity of the Jenkins report given that the removal of the democratically elected government was concluded by the killing of hundreds of its supporters in protest sites by Egyptian security forces but no mention was made of this in Sir John Jenkin’s report.
The committee expressed disappointment and called on the foreign office to explain why these key events were excluded from the review’s terms of reference.
A vehicle for change
For its part the government agreed with the premise that the Ennahda party in Tunisia was an example of a “political Islamist group” that had adopted a model of consensual democracy.
It also agreed that individuals need a vehicle through which they can address grievances to avoid those locked out of the political process turning to violence if they are unable to change their situation.
The FCO went on to admit: “Political Islamist groups, including their senior leaders have a crucial role to play in ensuring that this happens in the Middle East and North Affairs region.”
The new, more positive, stance of the FCO has been greeted warmly by the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, Mohammed Soudan, who told MEMO:
“The Brotherhood has never refused to engage with any authority or government to explain its ideology.”
“I am encouraged by the fact that the Foreign Affairs Committee have spoken to some of our leaders and even to academics about the guiding principles of our non-violent movement.”
He also welcomed the call by the Foreign Affairs Committee for the UK government to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in exile despite the “sensitivities” of the Egyptian government who have outlawed the movement and imprisoned its leadership – many of whom face life imprisonment and the death penalty.
However, Soudan told MEMO that he did not expect the Egyptian government to give up trying to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood or attempting to persuade US President Donald Trump to restrict the movement’s operations: “Trump is an unknown quantity, we do not know what he is going to do, but the US is not a ‘one man’ show, we will have to wait and see what will happen.”