By Arab News
By Abdellatif El-Menawy*
The British MP and government minister Alistair Burt visited Cairo last week. In an article published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, he said the diversionary tactics the Muslim Brotherhood employed to avoid too much scrutiny of its activities before a British report in 2015 were still going on in 2017.
Burt, the foreign office minister of state for the Middle East, continued: “It is time for anyone who defends the Muslim Brotherhood — in London or Cairo — to put an end to this ambiguity.”
This is an important development in the British assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its opinion on the danger the organisation presents. The 2015 report to which Burt referred was inconclusive and unsatisfactory for those who know the real danger of the Muslim Brotherhood, or those who have suffered from its activities.
The report concluded that the available evidence did not meet the minimum requirement to impose a ban on the organisation. Instead, it opted for strict control of the Brotherhood’s behavior and activities, including tighter vetting of visa applications and monitoring the sources of funding for charities linked with it.
In 2013, Britain was one of the few Western countries to give warning about the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, as monitoring continued, authorities have banned 110 foreign extremists from entering the UK, and 155 people overseas have been stripped of their British passports so they cannot return. Extremists such as Anjem Chaudhry have been arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Others, such as Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, have been deported.
Burt said in his meetings in Cairo that from monitoring the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK and around the world, it was clear that the organization used ambiguity to conceal its extremist agenda in Egypt.
When Pope Francis visited Egypt in April, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was described to him as “the door of terrorism.” He was also told that the Brotherhood viewed the Egyptian security personnel assigned to secure him during his visit as “Christian militias.” This was a clear attempt by the Brotherhood to ignite sectarian violence against Christians, and helps to explain the apparent change in Britain’s position.
I remember when London in the 1990s seemed to be a haven for terrorists whose motives were clear. Britain’s position was strange. Some British politicians and sections of the media even discussed the dangers they were embracing and nurturing. I said at the time that they would pay for this policy of containment, but even I could not have envisioned the horrors that would ensue.
Now is the time to recall the mistakes of the past, and to build on the realities of the new situation. It is a fact that Britain and many other European countries have begun to realize the danger they face, and have begun to take many measures to protect their borders, and their very societies.
This opportunity should be taken advantage of and we should work together to achieve a common goal.
In this regard, the views of John Casson are instructive. Casson, the British ambassador to Cairo for the past three years, is a former deputy ambassador in Jordan and head of the foreign office’s Near East and North Africa department, and one of the UK’s most knowledgeable people on this region.
He met a number of colleagues recently, and talked about a new direction in British policy on its dealings with terrorism and its threat, and a new position on Britain’s view of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In response to a question about whether the status of the Muslim Brotherhood would be reviewed, and whether it would be classified as a terrorist group in Britain, Casson said the UK had laws to ensure “we have all the power to confront those who pose a threat to us, including those who may commit violence. We always want to ensure that we are not complying with the establishment of networks, charities, sites, bank accounts and mosques that support violence and extremism.”
He said the application of these laws related to all groups, including anyone associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, because the UK would not allow and would not tolerate terrorism and extremism, and would face it with full force. “Anyone who publishes poisonous ideas, such as ideas of war between Islam and Britain, or ideas that incite violence, will be dealt with with full force and decisiveness when we find any evidence of a person committing such acts.”
I believe this is a major development in the British vision that I think we should build on.
• Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. He can be reached on Twitter @ALMenawy