The UK needs to assess implications of Jenkins report
Sir John Jenkins, an experienced diplomat who at the time was Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was tasked with reviewing the Muslim Brotherhood’s origins, ideology, its record in and out of government, as well as its activities in the UK and overseas. He was assisted in this role by Charles Farr, who was then director-general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism in the UK Home Office.
Sir John visited 12 countries during the course of his review, meeting representatives of governments, political movements, religious leaders and academics. He also had access to information provided by Britain’s security and intelligence agencies. Although Sir John’s final report was classified, Cameron released the main findings of the review to the public in December 2015. Sir John concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood did not do enough to demonstrate political moderation or a commitment to democratic values during its 2011-2013 stint in power through the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). He also said the Brotherhood had failed to convince Egyptians of its competence or good intentions.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a member, scrutinised the Muslim Brotherhood Review in 2016. However, we concluded that the main findings of Sir John Jenkins’ report had significant shortcomings that could have potentially damaged the UK’s reputation.
Given recent events here in Westminster, at the heart of British democracy, it is absolutely vital that we have a much better understanding of groups that have been associated with extremism and terrorism. This is a complex issue with significant implications for both domestic and foreign policy. It is important to remember that Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder and spiritual leader, argued that secularisation and Westernisation were at the root of all contemporary problems. He did, however, recognise that nationalism was not the answer to Egypt’s problems.
It is also important to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood has developed into an international network, stretching well beyond Egypt and the Islamic world. In some Arab states it is a proscribed organisation, while in others it is legal and politically active. Hamas, for instance, claims that it is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the Brotherhood officially disowned violence in the 1970s, it has repeatedly defended Hamas attacks against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians. Senior figures and associates have justified attacks against British and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following the conclusion of Sir John’s investigation, the prime minister’s national security adviser led work across the UK government to consider the policy implications of the report’s findings. In response, British ministers have refused visas to members and associates of the Muslim Brotherhood who are on record as having made extremist comments, and enforced the EU assets freeze on Hamas. The British government has also kept under review the views and activities of the organisation and its members.
However, I think it is important that the government takes urgent steps to outline in further detail what its long-term policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood will be. Sadly, the 2014 report appears to have been “kicked into the long grass”, and ministers seldom refer to either the report or its findings. I have tabled a question to the Home Secretary, asking her what assessment she has made of the implications of the review for British government policy, and I hope that she will shed further light in her response. I also think it is right that the British Parliament should have a proper opportunity to scrutinise the findings of the report. Although I appreciate that the full report contains sensitive information that needs to remain classified, I do think that parliamentarians like myself need to see more than just the key findings.
We need to give confidence to Muslims, both in Britain and across the world, that we have a firm understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its ideology and its activities. We can only respond appropriately once we properly appreciate the organisation and its influence across the world of parliament.