In April 2014 the UK Coalition Government announced that it would be conducting a review into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK and Abroad. It is unprecedented to conduct such a review of a religion based political movement and it was criticised from the outset for its clumsy approach to what was clearly a process demanded by the UK's emerging partners in the Gulf.
The UK Government's ‘review’ into the Muslim Brotherhood has now descended into further controversy. From the announcement that there was to be a review, it was difficult to see precisely what it would actually report on given the ill conceived and arguably knee jerk manner in which it had been formulated and announced.
Parliamentary officials were at pains to say that it was a review and not a public inquiry or an investigation; it therefore at the outset appeared to lack purpose. The review, both in substance and form has been fundamentally flawed, and has the potential to result in quite dangerous consequences. It is arguable that the fact that it is termed as being just a review only heightens the concerns and criticisms of the process.
To be clear, whether one supports or criticises this process is not about the Muslim Brotherhood or its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party. It is not about subscribing to any political or religious ideology. The concerns and any criticism that follow must focus on the process and it is that which is full of holes both in terms of its purpose, those appointed to conduct the review and what it seeks to achieve.
The purpose of the review was stated as being to “…produce an internal report to the Prime Minister to inform government policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood. The scope of the review covers the Muslim Brotherhood’s origins, philosophy, activities, record in and out of government; its organisation and activities in the UK and abroad which might put at risk, damage, or risk damaging UK national interests. It will look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s impact on, and influence over, UK national interests, at home and abroad, as well as its wider influence on UK society. It will also look at current government policy as well as allies’ approaches and policies, and assess the implications for UK policy”.
Given the above statement, it is quite clear that such a review is hopelessly broad and therefore there is a very real risk that it will lack focus, lack cohesion, and in essence, not serve any meaningful purpose. Perhaps that was the intention.
A further potential risk is that given its informal nature, conclusions may be drawn without any opportunity for the evidence, both its substance and its providence to be examined fully, and/or challenged.
The general public in the UK much as a number of other countries has at present, a fear of Islam and those who follow its teachings. This fear has been generated and cultured not just because of terrorist attacks across the world, and not just because of developments in the Middle East. It has been generated by sensationalist media reporting, and further, by inappropriate and ill thought comments by those in the public arena. This review is just one such example.
There are those that engage in terrorist activity in the name of Islam, however, as has been quoted time and time again, there is nothing in the Qu'ran that supports such acts. What the reporting does do however is create a culture of fear amongst a population, which becomes self-perpetuating, it fuels itself, resulting in a real risk of hysteria.
Criticism was levied at the outset given the timing of the review. It came about shortly after Field Marshall El-Sisi seized power in Egypt following a bloody coup d’état and declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The El-Sisi regime has also now banned the Freedom and Justice Party.
The review also follows Saudi Arabia terming the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and placing a great deal of pressure on the UK Government to proscribe the organization, according to an unnamed Downing Street source.
It was expected that the review would have been completed by now and its findings disclosed to the public. However, it is here that we see further controversy. A senior Parliamentary official has been reported to have said that the conclusion of the review is that the group should not be labeled a terrorist organization and in fact has found little evidence that its members are involved in terrorist activities.
It is clear that such a statement will anger the Saudi Government in that it is a reasonable suggestion the only reason the review was commissioned in the first instance was due to significant pressure being placed on the UK by Saudi Arabia. Any failure by the UK Government to take a strong stance against the organization is likely to receive protest; however ridiculous that may sound. The irony is that the Saudi Government, despite being recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council, has one of the worst human rights records in the Gulf and now appears to be dictating policy to the UK Government, which itself is considering withdrawing from a number of human rights treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights. Could there be a clumsier basis upon which to determine such an important process.
As noted above, the review was simply a knee jerk reaction to external political pressure. It is a reasonable question to ask as to why else would the Government deem such a review being necessary considering the plethora of issues to deal with presently and when one considers that a little over 12 months ago David Cameron met with the head of UK Muslim Brotherhood at Chequers, over lunch? During this meeting, the philosophy of the Brotherhood was outlined to him, and on behalf of the UK Government, the Prime Minister enquired as to how he could help. Given this meeting, and given the offer of assistance, one could be forgiven for thinking that there were no concerns about the Brotherhood a year ago. Once could also be forgiven for assuming that any checks that needed to be done had been done prior to the Chequers meeting or at the very least before the offering of assistance by the Prime Minister.
As an international human rights lawyer instructed by an interested party to submit a written brief to the Review Panel, my concern was initially sparked by the rather odd choice of the panel members. Considering that the review was likely to be closely scrutinized one would have thought that the panel members would be beyond reproach. It was rather disturbing, therefore, to read that Sir John Jenkins KCMG LVO had been appointed to chair the review. This is not to say that Sir John would be an unsuitable candidate to chair a government review, but as the UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia he was an appropriate choice to chair this one.
The appointment gave rise to legitimate concerns and questions began to surface as to whether Sir John would be able to remain impartial given the clear and direct link. Again, there is no suggestion that Sir John has failed to act impartially. The point here is that the appearance of impartiality. As the legal maxim goes not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. For the review to remain credible, it must be, as well as being seen to be, free, fair, impartial, and devoid of external influence. With Sir John leading the review it cannot be said to have been any of these things.
Moreover, Sir Richard Billing Dearlove KCMG OBE was also appointed to the review team. Sir Richard, who, as former head of MI6, had already gone on record as saying that the Muslim Brotherhood, is “at heart a terrorist organization’. A clear inference of pre-conceived ideas. Once again, there is absolutely no suggestion that Sir Richard would act improperly, but the appearance of impropriety is what matters.
Therefore, even before pen had been put to paper, the review was flawed and open to very real, and quite legitimate, criticism.
There is also a risk that the review will have served to further isolate parts of a community that is already coming under increasing scrutiny, and more importantly, increasing suspicion.
Knowledge and understanding is important, it is essential, and it is this that appears to be lacking. The media feasts on suspicion of the Muslim faith, which in turn fuels the fears of society.
Will the review have quelled any such suspicion, of course not; it will have only served to further heighten the fears of some.
Will the review have any meaningful influence on policy; this is unlikely too given the way in which it has been structured.
The review was simply an attempt to appease and placate those in the Middle East, in particular Saudi Arabia and Egypt, upon which the UK relies upon economically, and politically. This attempt however may well have backfired given the reported conclusion of the review.
The position that the Government may now found itself in is that it has potentially added to an emerging domestic issue of suspicion and scrutiny where it may lack justification, and further, create an issue with its middle-eastern partners given that it acted to placate those in the first instance but has potentially angered them further given that there is no basis at all upon which they could take action.
There needs to be a full review of UK Foreign policy as at present it appears to be losing its way, it is reactive to the wishes of others without any clearly defined purpose. The UK along with other Western governments should be leading; it should not be bowing to the wishes of others and risking the creation of an even greater issue.
Foreign Policy is determined from a position of strength not weakness. It should be consistent and strategic rather than clumsy and reactionary.
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|