London, Asharq Al-Awsat—At the Muslim Brotherhood’s London “headquarters,” located in an unlikely spot above a disused kebab shop in the northwestern district of Cricklewood, there does not appear to be any signs of tensions despite the investigation conducted by British security figures into the group’s activities in the UK. In fact, the atmosphere is more school staff room than extremist cell.
The controversial Islamist movement is banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which all label it a ‘terrorist’ organization, and is subject to an ongoing investigation by UK security services into its alleged connections to violence.
Results of the joint MI5 and MI6 enquiry instigated by Prime Minister David Cameron are expected in mid-July.
Despite the investigation, Brotherhood members say it is thriving in the UK, where its ranks have swelled since Egypt’s crackdown against the group after the army overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last July 3.
Abrar El-Sayed, the Brotherhood’s London-based media relations officer, denies that the Brotherhood has been affected by the UK probe—but he also denies the organization has a headquarters in London.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the UK have not been affected by the investigation,” he said. “The Brotherhood has no headquarters outside of Egypt. In London, the Brotherhood has a press office that remains to operate from London. The press office has not been affected by the investigation and has not reduced its activities.”
Yet if the Brotherhood doesn’t have a headquarters in London, it certainly has something approaching a command center—albeit one in a rather unconvincing location.
The so-called Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cricklewood is sandwiched between a TV repair shop and another disused retail property on a somewhat rough-and-ready high street.
Ibrahim Munir, the secretary-general of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is believed to be a regular visitor, and a man resembling Munir was seen entering the Cricklewood office recently.
The property has attracted attention from activists from the far-right group Britain First, which earlier this year protested opposite the shop front under the banner “Muslim Brotherhood Not Welcome!” according to media reports.
Inside the modest net-curtained offices, things are much more subdued than the noisy street outside.
Up a flight of steep stairs, past a basic kitchen and lines of sandals along a corridor, is an office ostensibly belonging to a publishing house called World Media Services, which is closely aligned with Brotherhood thinking and publishes the pro-Brotherhood website ikhwanpress.org.
Up a further flight of stairs sits Mohamed Ghanem, a British citizen in his late 60s who came to the UK from his native Egypt. He sits in his office, next to another room containing a small single camp bed, and is surrounded by piles of books, including his own (Islamic Economics: The Ultimate Alternative). He has an iPhone and a plate of biscuits and dates in front of him.
Ghanem, with his short-trimmed beard and glasses, flatly denies that the Cricklewood office is the headquarters of the Brotherhood, as was “revealed” by the UK media earlier this year, or that he represents the Ikhwan.
He does say he is the director of World Media Services, which he acknowledges is a pro-Brotherhood organization.
“I don’t represent the Muslim Brotherhood—neither does this office,” he says. “We like the Muslim Brotherhood, and we promote some of their ideas. And there’s nothing wrong we can see in the Muslim Brotherhood.”
World Media Services has been situated there for twenty years, he says; his assertion is backed up by an old telephone number displayed on the sign outside.
Yet Ghanem, an accountant and Egyptian army officer under former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, acknowledges that his organization is in line with the Brotherhood’s thinking. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat ahead of the first anniversary of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s ouster, Ghanem denies that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, playing down fears that David Cameron’s government could outlaw the organization.
“They can’t describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We never did anything against the law, we never [carried out] any terrorist act. They can enquire as much as they can; they won’t find anything else. But in terms of the outcome, I don’t know how much influence [Egyptian president Abdel Fattah] El-Sisi has with Cameron or the UK intelligence. But we don’t care because we haven’t done anything wrong,” Ghanem said.
As for media reports that Brotherhood members could seek to move from London to Austria before the results of the UK investigation are announced, Ghanem said: “It’s not likely, because when you’re talking about the Muslim Brotherhood you’re talking about local organizations. There’s no Muslim Brotherhood organization in England. The idea is there; some people appreciate the idea, or base their thinking around the Muslim Brotherhood. But there’s no such organization in the way [the media] address it.”
“In Egypt there is a [Muslim Brotherhood] organization, there is a political party, there is a movement. In Jordan [as well]—these are the countries that have this organization. But in Europe, I don’t think so,” he added.
But Ghanem did affirm that more Muslim Brotherhood members have moved to London since Mursi’s ouster and the start of the crackdown against the group. “We know from the news, and we know from some members that a lot of people came after the crackdown because they had nowhere else to go. But not to come to this office or have any relation to this office,” he added.
Ghanem denied that the British investigation had affected World Media Services, telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “Nothing changed, because we are a very small company and we are limited to publishing. Maybe we do a couple of conferences a year, but no more than that. We’ve been here for 20-odd years. And everybody knows about us. There’s nothing additional for anyone to know. We publish. We do some leaflets and some research. It’s all Islamic, educational. We publish IkhwanPress. When you say ikhwan as ‘brotherhood’ in general, that’s an Islamic concept. In the Qur’an, you say every Muslim is a brother for another. But when you say ikhwan, it doesn’t mean ‘Ikhwan’ as a group.”
As for eyewitness reports that Ibrahim Munir has visited the office, Ghanem said: “Of course, he’s my friend. He writes sometimes; we publish his writing, but as a person. We don’t know exactly what his position in the Muslim Brotherhood is.”