British MPs Have Criticised The Way The Government Dealt With Its Muslim Brotherhood Review

    MPs have warned the government's handling of the Muslim Brotherhood review damaged the image of the UK abroad.

    Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

    Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood's leader, at a court on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, 31 May 2016.

    Senior MPs have criticised the government for failing to publish fully a review into the Muslim Brotherhood and warned its findings had damaged the image of the UK abroad.

    The foreign affairs select committee accused the government of hindering scrutiny of the review into the political Islamist group that had been democratically elected in Egypt and then removed from power by military intervention in 2013.

    The report, entitled "Political Islam", and the Muslim Brotherhood Review and published today, concluded the appointment of Sir John Jenkins, who was the UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, to lead the foreign office's review had been "misguided".

    Saudi Arabia had marked the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation the month before the review was announced in April 2014, which the MPs said had created the perception Saudi Arabia might have had undue influence over the internal review of the group.

    MPs concluded the appointment of Jenkins had "created the impression that a foreign state, which was an interested party, had a private window into the conduct of a UK government inquiry".

    They added that while they had not seen evidence to suggest Saudi Arabia was able to exercise undue influence over the report, Jenkins' appointment created the perception that this was the case.

    The report concluded: "This has undermined confidence in the impartiality of the FCO’s work on such an important and contentious subject."

    The former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Lord Wright of Richmond, also questioned whether Jenkins was put in an “invidious position” by being asked to lead the review while concurrently serving as ambassador, given that Saudi Arabia sought to “discredit and destroy the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to the report.

    The report recommended the government should "immediately" publish as much as possible of the evidence given to the Muslim Brotherhood review, which at the time had been published 28 months late.

    Crispin Blunt, chair of the foreign affairs committee, said in a statement: "We absolutely agree with the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] on the need for a nuanced approach to the broad phenomenon of ‘political Islam’. We only regret that this approach does not appear to have been applied to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, which failed to mention some of what we saw as the most elementary factors that determine the group’s current behaviour.

    “Political Islamists self-identifying as democrats have performed well in recent elections in the Middle East and North Africa region. We feel that the challenges and opportunities of engaging with them will remain for the foreseeable future. The FCO needs a clear basis for this engagement, and the failings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review must not be repeated if this engagement is to be credible," he said.

    The group of MPs also concluded the phrase "political Islam" was vague, had no universally accepted meaning, and included a wide variety of groups. They added the Foreign Office's use of the term to describe different Islamist groups was "inappropriate."

    Blunt said: "Through its counter-extremism and counter-terrorism strategies, it is clear what values the UK opposes. But the UK’s standing in the world also depends on it clearly articulating, through the FCO, the values that this country supports and therefore the groups with which we will engage."

    The report recommended there should be set criteria for deciding which political Islamist groups to engage with, based on three standards including: the participation in, and preservation of, democracy; an interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values; and nonviolence as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment.

    Tobias Ellwood, the Middle East minister, argued although some political-Islamist groups may be democratic or nonviolent, they are not liberals. He said: "Some Islamist political groups may be committed to nonviolence, but many still have socially conservative agendas. Even if they are nonviolent in that sense, we still find that there is much work to do in encouraging improvements on human rights issues, women’s rights, and the rights of minorities."

    Other witnesses had said political-Islamist groups acted as a "firewall" against extremism. Dr Anas al-Tikriti, the founder of the Cordoba Foundation, a UK based research group, said those who wanted to commit violence could not do so within the Muslim Brotherhood and are forced to leave.

    The inquiry into political Islam began earlier this year and focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, looking at groups such as the AKP party in Turkey, the Justice and Development party in Morocco, and the Ennahda party in Tunisia.

    The report stated: "the experience of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions in 2011, the ensuing five years, and the ongoing instability in much of the region, has led to historically unprecedented evidence for how ‘political Islamists’ have behaved in power and in opposition."

    Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Aisha Gani at aisha.gani@buzzfeed.com.

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