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Opinion: Has Britain fallen out with the Brotherhood? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron waves as he arrives at Downing Street in London on March 26, 2014.(Reuters/Paul Hackett)

The movement of the British authorities toward outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood is a great catastrophe for the group—even greater than the Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi catastrophe.

Reports say that British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an immediate investigation into the activities of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the UK due to suspicions that members there are planning to carry out extremist activities in Britain.

According to media reports, British foreign intelligence service MI6 will investigate suspicions that the group was behind the deaths of three tourists on a bus in Egypt last February, along with other attacks, while domestic security agency MI5 will draw up a list of Brotherhood leaders who moved to Britain following the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi.

A spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry welcomed the British decision, labeling it a triumph for Egyptian policy on the Muslim Brotherhood.

But will this new direction lead to the Brotherhood being deprived of its British haven? It is perhaps too early to say, or even to imagine.

Why? Because the presence of the Brotherhood and its affiliates in the West goes back a long time. Sometimes, they went to the West under the pretext of seeking political asylum or looking to earn a living, but other times they came in full knowledge of Western politicians.

Since the rise of the founder of the group, Hassan Al-Banna, a number of Brotherhood personalities have been active in the West, including Egyptians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians.

There is a third generation of sons of Brotherhood members currently residing in the West who still hold their original nationalities. Dr. Tariq Ramadan, the son of Hassan Al-Banna’s brother-in-law and comrade, Said Ramadan, is one example, as is Youssef Nada, a wealthy Brotherhood member, who has for decades used the West as a haven for his investments.

Britain has often been at the receiving end of accusations by Arab governments of endangering their national security by sheltering Brotherhood members and that is was duplicitous in its claims regarding human rights. But London’s reply has always been that it is simply adhering to the values of freedom and democracy.

The Brotherhood is interested in consolidating its presence in the West, to the extent that we can talk about the “Brotherhood of the West.” But they will now probably go through a period of drought and restrictions, after years of living in the land of milk and honey.

This Brotherhood presence in the West has been noted by Western researcher Lorenzo Vidino in his book book, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, published by Columbia University Press and presented to the Arab world by the Al-Mesbar Studies Center.

In the book, Vidino talks about the reasons for the Brotherhood’s Western presence, as well as how the Brotherhood has monopolized the role of speaking in the name of Muslims in the West.

He quoted a US official who said that concerns among people in the West of being labelled racist or anti-Muslim had led some Muslim organizations to use this to their advantage by demanding financial or other benefits.

The West’s embrace of the Brotherhood is puzzling to some, but things are not always conspiracies and plots; sometimes they may simply stem from ignorance—as Vidino has pointed out when he shows of how some Western officials do not even know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

There is no doubt that London’s recent move is a turning point in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. We shall see if it represents a new resolve, or just an empty promise.