'Political Islam' and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Defining ‘political Islam'

1.National circumstances are certainly a relevant factor for assessing political-Islamist groups, but it is also the case that some of the most significant recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—from the Arab Spring to the spread of ISIL—show the power of ideas that cross national borders. Political Islamist groups in different countries influence one another, and share elements of political ideology and philosophy. (Paragraph 13)

2.The FCO should supplement its country-specific framework for understanding ‘political Islam’ with a thematic basis for analysis, which forms policies towards common global, regional, and political ideologies as well as individual countries. (Paragraph 13)

Our definition of ‘political Islam’

3.We have identified three values that should guide the degree of positive engagement with groups and parties in the MENA region. These values should be applied to political Islamists, but they should also be a benchmark for assessing all political philosophies on an equal basis globally, with the same standards being applied to the Islamists as to all other ideologies in terms of what behaviour is acceptable to the UK and what is not.

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.

The aim of this inquiry is to assess the extent that ‘political Islamists’ fulfil these criteria, and to assess against these criteria the policies and practices of the FCO towards these groups. (Paragraph 17)

4.We partially agree with the FCO’s definition of ‘political Islam’. We agree with their definition of it as a broad phenomenon that encompasses a wide range of different beliefs, but believe that groups engaged in illegal violence should be included in the definition despite them being excluded from overt engagement with the UK Government. The FCO should use more precise language to differentiate between different types of political Islamist. The FCO told us that there is one form of Islamism that embraces “democratic principles and liberal values”, and another form of Islamism that instead holds “intolerant, extremist views”. (Paragraph 18)

5.We consider it inappropriate to place these two types of Islamism within the same, single category and—if the FCO wishes to encourage Islamist groups towards democracy, non-violence, and a flexible interpretation of their faith—then we recommend that it devises a vocabulary that doesn’t group these types together. (Paragraph 18)

6.As the FCO told us, an effective strategy for countering Islamist extremism is vital for the UK’s national interests. But, in addition to outlining the ideologies that the UK is determined to oppose in the MENA region, the FCO should likewise make a clear case for the political philosophies that the UK will commit to engage with. We suggest the above three criteria as a basis for doing so. (Paragraph 19)

Democracy and elections: Winning elections

7.Political Islamists self-identifying as democrats have embraced elections as a mechanism for contesting and winning power. (Paragraph 27)

8.They should be allowed to freely participate in democratic processes, and the FCO should use the ability of political Islamists to take part as one of the key criteria for defining free elections in the MENA region. (Paragraph 27)

Democratic culture: sharing power

9.In their definitions of democracy, political Islamists have sometimes emphasised a highly mechanical understanding that equates democracy with elections, and reduces elections to an outcome of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. There is a risk that this definition fails to take sufficient account of broader aspects of democratic culture, such as power sharing and inclusive governance. In terms of how they have behaved in power, some political-Islamist parties—especially EnNahda in Tunisia—have shown a greater acceptance of broader democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat. (Paragraph 37)

10.The FCO should encourage a broader understanding of democracy, and condemn majoritarian and exclusionary practices whether they are committed by Islamists, their opponents, or other governments. (Paragraph 37)

Democracy and checking power

11.The FCO should have made clearer its concerns over the incompetent, non-inclusive, and narrow nature and behaviour of President Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt. The FCO should also condemn the influence of the military in politics as contrary to UK values. The FCO should not let itself be seen as justifying the way in which the FJP was removed from power in Egypt, and it should be forthright in highlighting to the Egyptian Government the contradictions inherent in forcibly excluding the Muslim Brotherhood from taking part in democratic processes. (Paragraph 42)

Transparency of organisation, and internal structures

12.The repression that the Brotherhood has faced in Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East, makes the group unlikely to be fully transparent about its structure and operations. We have found the Muslim Brotherhood to be a secretive organisation, but not a secret one. (Paragraph 45)

13.The secretiveness of some political-Islamist groups makes it important for the FCO to have a clear understanding of them, and the resources to enable it to do so.
(Paragraph 45)

14.The Muslim Brotherhood has a highly defined organisational structure at both a local and national level in Egypt. But the Muslim Brotherhood told us that, incongruously, its international structure comprises a loose and vague affiliation of like-minded groups. The ambiguity of this international structure makes it more difficult to tell which groups around the world are Muslim Brotherhood. (Paragraph 55)

Transparency of messaging: Arabic and English

15.In terms of their messaging, we have seen evidence that some political Islamist groups vary their message to different audiences and, in particular, that they vary content depending on whether the message is in English or Arabic. This is hardly a trait confined to political Islamists alone. But, in some communications, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood, the English and Arabic messages have proved contradictory. (Paragraph 60)

16.In future, the FCO should take account of this in its dealings with, and analysis of, the Muslim Brotherhood’s communications in different languages in order to assess the sincerity of their public statements. (Paragraph 60)

17.Some statements by the Muslim Brotherhood to us in English gave the impression of reluctance to offer a straight answer to questions, or of playing defensive rhetorical games with fundamental rights (Paragraph 62)

18.The FCO is correct to judge these groups on the basis of both their words and their actions. The FCO must be provided with sufficient resources to maintain the capabilities—particularly in linguistics training and translation—that are necessary to identify when the messaging of political-Islamist groups diverges between different languages. (Paragraph 62)

Pragmatic policies

19.Political Islamists have varied in the policies they have pursued in power. Some have been very pragmatic. Others have been more dogmatic. The PJD in Morocco and EnNahda in Tunisia have generally articulated their Islamist ideology in a broad sense, through the promotion of welfare policies. Fears over the introduction of a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’ by the FJP in Egypt were based on both speculation about the future and on experience. (Paragraph 74)

20.The FCO should see the pragmatism of some political-Islamist parties as an opportunity to engage with them, and to influence their current trajectory, as well as considering their future intentions. (Paragraph 74)

21.We assess that exposure to free and fair elections, 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 political-Islamist groups to adopt a more pragmatic ideology, and an increasingly flexible interpretation of their Islamic references. Moves by them towards embracing certain universal human rights may be slower, and more tentative. (Paragraph 75)

22.The FCO should do all it can to hasten this process, in keeping with its global commitment to defending human rights. (Paragraph 75)

An evolving policy debate

23.The FCO should encourage political-Islamist groups to accept an interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are congruent with UK values, with the EnNahda party in Tunisia being a prime example of one that has moved in this direction. The FCO is also right to look for indications that political Islamists may act to undermine these values. But it should also hold all governments—in the Middle East and North Africa, and around the world—to the same standards, regardless of their ideology. (Paragraph 81)

Involvement in violence and terrorism

24.The UK has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, and we agree with this decision. The Muslim Brotherhood states that it does not aspire to achieve its goals through violence. But we note the Government believes that the group might be willing to consider violence where gradualism is ineffective. However, the evidence so far in Egypt is that if the Muslim Brotherhood supported or condoned violence, then Egypt would be a far more violent place today. (Paragraph 86)

‘Firewall’ against extremism

25.Based on the experience of Tunisia, political Islam could in some countries be a way of providing a democratic alternative for political, social, and economic development and a counter-narrative against more extremist ideologies. However, there are cases where political Islamist groups have inspired individuals to commit violent acts; the fact that such individuals left the groups to do so does not excuse the groups from some responsibility for inspiring the individual in the first place. Nonetheless, the vast majority of political Islamists are involved in no violence whatsoever. Because of this, and because of their broader status as a ‘firewall’ against extremism, political Islamists have suffered criticism and attack from ISIL and other extremist organisations. No political movement can entirely control its individual members or supporters, particularly under extreme provocation. Incarceration of political activists without fair trial and the shutting down of political avenues to address grievances is likely to lead some to extremism. Political Islam is far from the only firewall, but in the Muslim World it is a vehicle through which a significant element of citizens can and should be able to address their grievances. The nature of Islam makes it more likely that religion and politics will remain overlapping for the foreseeable future, and emerging democratically accountable systems will need to accommodate this. (Paragraph 106)

Victims of violence

26.While some political-Islamist groups have failed to unequivocally condemn political violence in the region, they are notable among its historic and current victims. (Paragraph 114)

27.The FCO should highlight and condemn all human rights abuses, including those against political Islamists. The scale of political and civil turmoil in Egypt in recent years is unprecedented. The FCO must continue to do all it can to encourage the application of basic human and political rights in the country. (Paragraph 114)

The Muslim Brotherhood Review

28.There was a delay of a year and a half between the completion of the Muslim Brotherhood Review in July 2014 and the publication of the Main Findings on 17 December 2015, the last day on which the House sat before the Christmas recess. (Paragraph 116)

29.The Government should explain its handling of the Review after its completion. (Paragraph 116)

30.We were disappointed that the Government, despite two formal requests, did not see fit to provide the Committee with access to a full copy of the Muslim Brotherhood Review, even under controlled conditions; nor was it prepared to provide us with a redacted copy. This was an obvious hindrance to our scrutiny during this inquiry, as was the rejection of our request that Sir John Jenkins give oral evidence, on the grounds that the Minister and a serving official should answer our questions on the Review.(Paragraph 118)

Reactions to the Main Findings

31.We criticise the lack of transparency of the Muslim Brotherhood, but this criticism also applies to the Government’s Review of the Muslim Brotherhood. The opacity of the process, the obvious charge around motivation for the Review, and the failure to publish it in full, left the Review’s Main Findings wholly open to criticism. Given that the Review was led by one of the FCO’s most senior diplomats, these shortfalls damaged the UK’s reputation for fair dealing more generally.(Paragraph 125)

32.The Government should immediately publish as much of the evidence given to the Muslim Brotherhood Review as possible, in the interest of transparency and the credibility of the process. (Paragraph 125)

33.The FCO told us that the Review was about “getting to grips with the background behind [the Muslim Brotherhood] in order fully to understand the nature of the organisation”. Given this objective, it is rather more than unfortunate that the Main Findings neglected to mention the most significant event in the Brotherhood and Egypt’s modern political history: its removal from power in Egypt (the Arab World’s most populous state) in 2013, the year after being democratically elected, and through a military intervention. (Paragraph 126)

34.Additionally, and although the Main Findings mentioned historic examples of the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s, the FCO’s assessment that understanding the Brotherhood “did not require” an examination of events following the removal of the group from power in Egypt—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—is a glaring omission. (Paragraph 127)

35.This violence and repression are clearly factors that affect how the Brotherhood behaves; the Review should have taken them into account when assessing the group, and the FCO should do so in the future. (Paragraph 127)

36.We have high regard for the work and impartiality of all UK diplomats. But, 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. Whilst we have seen no evidence to suggest that Saudi Arabia was able to exercise undue influence over the report, the appointment of Sir John Jenkins created the perception that this was the case. This has undermined confidence in the impartiality of the FCO’s work on such an important and contentious subject. (Paragraph 132)

3 November 2016