Britain’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee is at daggers drawn with Britain’s Foreign Office. That is to say, the Members of Parliament who form the influential Select Committee that monitors foreign affairs have taken up cudgels against the government department, headed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, responsible for formulating and implementing UK foreign policy.
The spat is all over how Britain should relate to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was sparked by a review, commissioned by the government in April 2014 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to examine whether the Muslim Brotherhood put British national security at risk. The report was issued in December 2015.
In accepting its conclusions, Britain’s then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: “Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism. The main findings of the review support the conclusion that membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.”
Three months later the Foreign Affairs committee announced its intention to inquire into ‘political Islam’, its characteristics, and “how well the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has understood and engaged with ‘political-Islamist’ groups.” The very terms of its self-formulated remit indicated a clash of opinion, even before the committee had begun its work. After nine months gestation, the committee gave birth to a report which thoroughly castigated the FCO review. It was particularly scathing about the appointment to lead the review of Sir John Jenkins, the UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, which has proscribed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
“Notwithstanding his knowledge, experience, and professional integrity, Sir John Jenkins’s concurrent service as UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia made his appointment to lead the Muslim Brotherhood Review misguided. It created the impression that a foreign state, which was an interested party, had a private window into the conduct of a UK Government inquiry…This has undermined confidence in the impartiality of the FCO’s work on such an important and contentious subject.”
Some, however, might characterise this particular criticism as the pot calling the kettle black. The chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is Crispin Blunt – “a Muslim Brotherhood-oriented man,” according to Dalia Youssef, a member of Egypt’s parliament.
“Blunt was here in Egypt in 2013,” said Youssef, “and he decided to join the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Rabaa El-Adaweya in Cairo. Blunt stayed in Rabaa for four days, eating and drinking and living the Muslim Brotherhood experience without shame and without reviewing their radical speeches delivered throughout the day.”
What lies at the heart of the clash of opinion inside the British establishment about the Muslim Brotherhood? Liberal/left wing sentiment opposes Egypt’s counter-revolution of 2013, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which overthrew the unpopular but democratically elected Brotherhood and its president, Mohamed Morsi. It is prepared to take the Brotherhood at its word that it is a populist movement fully engaged in the democratic process, and overlook or downgrade the deeper religio-political agenda that underlies its operations.
The Foreign Affairs Committee report contends that “the need to appeal to a broad range of the electorate in order to win elections, and the need to work with other political perspectives in order to govern effectively, will serve to encourage Islamist groups to adopt a more pragmatic ideology, and an increasingly flexible interpretation of their Islamic references.”
Others may maintain that views like these are a triumph of hope over experience. For the evidence of the Brotherhood’s active involvement in terrorism is overwhelming. It is set out in some detail in the Bill submitted by US Senator Ted Cruz in November 2015, requiring the Secretary of State to report to Congress on designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Its operating philosophy is that the end – the establishment of a world-wide caliphate – justifies the means, and the means can extend from involvement in democracy and social welfare, to militancy, jihad and terrorism, as expediency requires. Its founding belief, as expounded by al-Banna, is that: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”
In the UK, liberal-left wing suspicion of Saudi Arabia extends well beyond the Muslim Brotherhood issue. In September 2016 the four parliamentary committees that make up the Committees on Arms Export Control were due to publish a report into British arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In the event the four could not agree on a proposal, backed by two of them, to condemn Saudi Arabia for civilian casualties caused in Yemen’s civil war, and to cease all exports of British defense equipment to Saudi until the conclusion of a UN investigation. As a result the Foreign Affairs Committee released its own findings, and the Defence Committee opted out altogether.
The International Development and the Business Committees, however, published a joint report calling for the government to cease exports of all weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the conflict with rebel forces in Yemen until a yet-to-be set up independent international investigation reports on claims that civilian targets such as hospitals and schools were bombed in violation of humanitarian law.
The report makes no mention of Saudi’s own investigation into failings in their chain of command structure that led to the loss of innocent life. Nor does it refer to war crimes committed by the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers who together have plunged the country into bitter conflict. It fails, also, to mention that the Saudis, putting aside their differences with Turkey and Qatar – both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood – established a coalition of Sunni Arab states which, with the backing of the US and Britain, seeks to prevent Shia Iran from seizing control of Yemen.
Government reaction was swift. Four ministers, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, issued a robust joint statement pledging to continue British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, regardless. Perhaps Brexit (to say nothing of Trump’s triumph) foreshadows a less spineless approach by the British establishment to all-too-pervasive political correctness.