MPs criticise Government review of ‘Islamists’

25th Nov 2016

Ala Abbas

MPs have criticised the Government for a lack of impartiality and transparency surrounding a review on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this month. MPs from the Foreign Affairs Committee found a number of problems with the review that was carried out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in July 2014.

The main problem appeared to be the appointment of Sir John Jenkins to lead the review. Jenkins was the British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia up until 2015, and given Saudi Arabia’s strong condemnation of the Brotherhood, there appeared to be a problem with the review’s impartiality. The committee said the appointment of Sir John Jenkins, “created the impression that a foreign state, when it was an interested party, had a private window into the conduct of a UK Government inquiry.” The committee expressed its concern that Jenkins’ appointment “damaged the UK’s reputation for fair dealing more generally.”

This an important issue in light of the fact that in 2012 the UAE, another opponent of the Brotherhood, threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not act against the group.

The committee also expressed its concern that the full review was not available to them. The review was completed in July 2014, but was not published until a year and a half later, on the day before Parliament went into Christmas recess. The committee said: “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.” As well as criticising Sir John Jenkins for not giving oral evidence to their Inquiry, the committee called on the Government to “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.”

The committee pointed out that the FCO failed to examine 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. This was a “glaring omission” according to the committee, because “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.”

With regards to the previous Egyptian Government, the committee concluded that “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 committee found that the FCO defined two forms of Islamism: one that embraces “democratic principles and liberal values” and another that holds “intolerant, extremist views”. However, the FCO did not use any terms to differentiate between these two ideologies, and confusingly grouped them together with its catch-all term “Islamism”.

The committee pointed out that “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…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.”

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