London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Muslim Brotherhood has said it is fully prepared to cooperate with British authorities following the news that Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an official investigation into the organization’s activities in the UK.
Cameron’s office said on Tuesday that “the prime minister has commissioned an internal government review into the philosophy and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and the government’s policy towards the organization.”
In an official statement issued on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood confirmed that it is prepared to “exert all efforts to cooperate” with the authorities investigating the group’s “platform and positions.” The statement also denounced “media campaigns that aim to defame the Brotherhood and tie it to violence that the group explicitly and openly denounced at the time, most recently the attack on a tourist bus in Taba in February 2014.”
The Brotherhood statement added: “The Egyptian government was unable to accuse the organization of being responsible for this attack [Taba bus bombing] and accused other parties of responsibility [and] these other parties admitted responsibility for the attack.”
Following the attack, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a travel advisory to British citizens against visiting the North Sinai governorate, citing a “significant increase in criminal activity and recent terrorist attacks on police and security forces that have resulted in deaths.”
The FCO also advised against all but essential travel to the governorates of Beni Suef, Minya, Assiut, Sohag and South Sinai, with the exception of Sharm El-Sheikh.
The Muslim Brotherhood statement said: “What has shocked us is that successive British governments were always the most acquainted with the Brotherhood’s positions and their peaceful nature . . . and these principles and approach have not changed, despite the defamation and injustice the group has faced.”
The statement continued, saying that “the organization’s ideology has been published across the world for eighty years, from the East to the West. This ideology has been studied and researched by many Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals and researchers, and all have agreed on the peaceful approach of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“As for the presence of some Muslim Brotherhood members in Britain, we confirm that the members who have left their countries [of origin] . . . are committed to the rule of law [in Britain].”
Sheikh Ibrahim Munir, the secretary-general of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, expressed surprise at Britain’s decision to investigate the group.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by phone in London, he said: “I believe that this decision is the result of pressure from those in power in Egypt and their supporters,” confirming that the Brotherhood has been present in the UK, in one form or another, for 80 years.
Munir acknowledged that any country in the world has the right to investigate those residing in its territory, but stressed that British authorities are well aware that Muslim Brotherhood ideology is committed to respecting the laws of the land as both a legal obligation and a religious principle.
He said: “We, as a group, reject violence, and do not support anything that harms the national security of a country,” adding, “We are confident that the British authorities will not find anything to condemn the Brotherhood.”
The leader of the Brotherhood’s international branch denied that any British authorities, including the police or intelligence services, had summoned Brotherhood members for questioning. Munir also refused to divulge the precise number of Brotherhood members living in the West or the UK, saying that he was not in possession of precise figures. He did say that Muslim Brothers are present in every Arab and Islamic state, and that members include British nationals.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been facing increasing pressure following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, with Egypt unilaterally designating the group as a terrorist organization in December 2013. Most recently, Saudi Arabia added the group to its list of proscribed terrorist organizations in March.
As for the chances of Britain designating the group as a terrorist organization, Munir told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This is a democratic country, and it would not take a decision such as this in a vacuum. Britain will only take this decision after a considerable investigation and evidence against the group has been unearthed, and this is something that will not happen.”
The leader of the Brotherhood’s international branch also ruled out members fleeing Britain for other countries, saying, “For years we have lived [in Britain] under a state of law and human rights . . . and we have no intentional of leaving this country, where we enjoy freedom.”
The news that Britain would be investigating the Brotherhood was welcomed in Egypt, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty saying: “Egypt welcomes Britain’s decision in carrying out urgent investigations into the role the Muslim Brotherhood group carries out from British soil and the extent of the relationship between the . . . Brotherhood and violent activities and extremism.”
However, experts sought to play down fears that the UK would outlaw the group. Dr Hani Al-Sibai, director of the Al-Maqrizi Studies Center in London, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The investigations into the Brotherhood’s activities are like Britain’s previous recommendation to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir . . . the British government subsequently backed away from this, fearing that it would push the Islamists to operate underground, working in secret, potentially creating a new wave of hostility on the British street.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood is active is more than 80 countries around the world and I do not think that Britain will ban the group as this would affect its interests around the globe, particularly when you take into account the fact that Britain has relations with Brotherhood–affiliated parties in countries like Morocco and Tunisia, and the group is also present in countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Egyptian Islamist Yasser Al-Sirri, head of the London-based Islamic Observatory, a human rights organization that specializes in cases involving Islamists, said that according to Brotherhood ideology, members must respect the laws of the countries they live in.
He played down fears that the investigations would be political, adding that the prime minister was likely facing “external pressure” to assess the Brotherhood’s activities in the UK.
Sirri also referred to the Taba tour bus bombing, repeating that the Brotherhood had denounced this attack and that an organization calling itself Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis had officially claimed responsibility.