'Political Islam' and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Contents
‘Political Islam’ and UK policy
‘Political Islam’ is not a clearly defined phrase, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) uses it to describe a broad array of groups. These range from groups that the FCO describes as embracing “democratic principles and liberal values”, to those that it says hold “intolerant and extremist views”. The UK’s opposition to the latter is clear, but its commitment to the former must be clarified. The FCO should publish a clear set of standards for the political philosophies that the UK is committed to engaging with, and we suggest three criteria:
i)Participation in, and preservation of, democracy. Support for democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat.
ii)An interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values.
iii)Non-violence, as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment.
We used these three criteria to assess political Islamists, and to assess the policies of the FCO towards these groups. We found that:
- Some political Islamists have embraced elections. Electoral processes that prevent these groups from taking part cannot be called ‘free’. But democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—where we focused our inquiry—must not be reduced to ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and the FCO must encourage both political Islamists and their opponents to accept broader cultures of democracy.
- The Muslim Brotherhood is a secretive group, with an ambiguous international structure. But this is understandable given the repression it now experiences.
- Some communications, particularly from the Brotherhood, have given contradictory messages in Arabic and English. And some of the responses that the group offered to our questions gave the impression of reluctance to offer a straight answer. The FCO is right to judge political Islamists by both their words and their actions.
- Some political Islamists have been very pragmatic in power. Others have been more dogmatic. But fears over the introduction of a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’ by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Egypt were partly based on speculation rather than experience.
- The UK has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. We agree with this stance. Some political-Islamist groups have broadly been a firewall against extremism and violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood Review
Our scrutiny of the Muslim Brotherhood Review was hindered by the Government. Its published Main Findings had significant shortcomings that have damaged the UK’s reputation:
- The Review aimed to understand the Brotherhood, but its Main Findings neglected to mention the most significant event in the Brotherhood’s history: its removal from power in Egypt in 2013, the year after being democratically elected, through a military intervention. Another omission is the FCO’s assessment that understanding the Brotherhood “did not require” an examination of events following this removal from power, including the killing in August 2013 of large numbers of protesters who sympathised with the Brotherhood, and the continuing repression of the group in Egypt and elsewhere.
- Sir John Jenkins’s appointment to lead the Review, while he served as UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was misguided. It created the perception that Saudi Arabia, an interested party that had designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation the month before the Review was announced, might have undue influence over the Review’s report.
- The Government should immediately publish as much as possible of the evidence given to the Muslim Brotherhood Review.