Daniel Kawczynski is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.
Sir John Jenkins, a senior British diplomat, has been asked by the Prime Minister to undertake a broad review of the Muslim Brotherhood, its links in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and in the UK. The increased prominence of the organisation has necessitated a stock-taking exercise for the UK, in which the Government will undertake a multi faceted analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Chairman of the Saudi Arabia All Party Parliamentary Group, I know of significant concerns in Saudi and across the Middle East about this organisation, and I therefore very much welcome this inquiry. I am also pleased the Prime Minister has appointed one of our most senior and experienced diplomats to conduct it, as a thorough, informed and measured account of this organisation is urgently needed.
Defining the organisation is not straightforward. While the Muslim Brotherhood has certain values and motivations largely revolving around re-establishing the rule of Islam, it does not have a strict international hierarchy. The Muslim Brotherhood has branches in more than 50 countries, represented by the Al-Tanzim Al Dawli or ‘International Bureau’, which facilitates financing and co-ordination between branches. Whilst it would be easy to describe the Brotherhood as a political party, it can more accurately be described as a movement.
This does not mean that the Brotherhood eschews the political sphere. The primary reason for the UK taking a step back to look at the Brotherhood is the organisation’s significant political achievements since the Arab Spring. The Brotherhood has developed from the erratic, scattered movement of the 1920s to a well-organised, politically astute body quick to react to political developments. By setting up political parties in countries across MENA, it has become an attractive symbol for Islamic democracy. In Egypt, it took advantage of the power vacuum left by the overthrow of President Mubarak to win the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections as the ‘Freedom and Justice Party’.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in short, is a pragmatically democratic organisation. It has formed national political parties despite the insistence of the Brotherhood’s founder that political parties undermine the Islamic State. This is because it views democracy as a tool, rather than as an ideology. For countries such as the UK, the role of democracy is to exercise the will of the people; for the Muslim Brotherhood it is a way of using God and his teachings to promote their agenda. It will try to use God as a mechanism to prevent any challenge to its views and perspectives.
With regards to this organisation’s relevance to the UK, the Brotherhood has managed to denounce the Westminster form of democracy, while at the same time, as in the case of Egypt, use this system to seek help and support for their ‘legitimate president’. What is crucial, and what this review will ascertain, is the relationship between the Brotherhood and violent extremism.
This requires being able to understand not just what the Brotherhood is saying, but also what they are doing. Whilst they repeatedly insist on their commitment to non-violence, legitimate questions have been raised about the connection between political Islamic organisations and Islamist extremists. Just as many of these organisations are prepared to use democracy as a tool when it suits, we need to identify if the Brotherhood are prepared to use violence under the same circumstances.
Since announcing the review, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved its European base from the UK to Austria, which could certainly be argued is a victory in itself. The Government has quite rightly taken action to understand why events in the Middle East resonate on the streets of London, Bradford and Birmingham and through the Prevent strategy, is seeking to tackle the causes of radicalisation. If political Islamic groups are relevant to this, then reviewing our relationship with them is entirely logical.