Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Britain and the Muslim Brotherhood | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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File photo of Muslim Brotherhood headquarters taken on April 1, 2014 in Cricklewood, London. (Asharq Al-Awsat/James Hana)

There is always suspicion among Arabs that Britain is running the world, even though it handed over their last colony, Hong Kong, more than a decade and a half ago. There is also a prevailing rumor that the Muslim Brotherhood was created by Britain and is run from one of the secret service offices on the banks of London’s Thames River! That, of course, is just another myth.

It goes without saying that Britain has a vast knowledge of our region and culture, thanks to its past colonial history and its shared present with the Arab world in areas of business, tourism and politics.

However, that has all changed now. The small island, with its dense population and limited resources, is suffering seriously under the burden of Arab and third world migrants. These migrants rely heavily on government subsidies and public services, and a group of them have taken advantage of asylum laws and so became a major economic and social burden on the government.

I believe that the British government has a better understanding of the nature and complexity of the situation in Egypt than its allies in America. Also, Britain’s position contradicts with that of the United States with regards to the military-backed government in Egypt.

Britain has had a long history in Egypt, as it ruled the area from 1882 to 1952. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood was established under British rule in 1928. During the era of the Egyptian monarchy, the Muslim Brotherhood was known as the opposition group, not to Britain but to the Egyptian Khedivate monarchy, which represented somehow a continuity of the Topkapi royals of the Ottoman Empire.

Based on that, the Muslim Brotherhood was always labeled as being an Anglo-American creation—an accusation that lacks proof. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was extremely disturbed by an article by Mark Curtis that appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper about four years ago, in which Curtis accused London of having forged links with Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, for many years before and during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Curtis wrote that British authorities “first covertly funded the Muslim Brotherhood” and, later, “contacts were developed as part of plans to overthrow Nasser.” Those claims were strongly rebuffed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

But this is all history. What about today? The British government has expressed its readiness to investigate the accusation about possible links to terrorism against the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain. But those who know the British judicial system say that the courts rarely criminalize a group as a whole, no matter how great the accusation against it. The Muslim Brotherhood will remain in Britain, not only as its annoying houseguests, but also as a bone in the throat of Britain’s political ties with Egypt, because in the UK the Brotherhood is very active on the political and media scenes, nothing to compare with the small Gulf opposition.

The more violence and terrorism occurs in Egypt, the more the Egyptian cabinet will shout “Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood.” This will put the British government in a tougher position, especially given that it needs to have solid ties with Arab governments to better protect itself from terrorism. It remains to be seen how Britain will balance its security needs with its judicial rulings.