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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Concerted efforts to constrain the Muslim Brotherhood are overdue but welcome

Egyptian diplomats can be commended for their painstaking work to gain understanding from Western policymakers, writes Damien McElroy

Sara Khan: The UK government's controversial pick to lead counter-terrorism efforts. Isabel Infantes
Sara Khan: The UK government's controversial pick to lead counter-terrorism efforts. Isabel Infantes

New terrorist designations last week for the groups Harakat Sawa’d Misr or Hasm and Liwa Al Thawra mark a big victory for patient diplomacy to combat the Muslim Brotherhood.

In particular Egyptian diplomats can be commended for painstaking efforts to gain understanding from Western policymakers about the rise of violent tendencies within the movement. The dangers these pose are now front and centre.

The US emulated a move by Britain in December to designate Muslim Brotherhood subsidiaries as terrorists, banning any activity by their members and opening a legal route to target wrong-doing. It must only be a matter of time until the EU and other vulnerable jurisdictions take the same path.

At the time of the UK announcement, John Casson, the ambassador to Egypt, made plain the designation was part of a wider shift in outlook by his government. He took to Twitter to make a significant declaration: “We all face the same terrorist evil and will not leave Egypt to fight alone.”

The groundwork for London’s new harder stance on the Muslim Brotherhood is a hard-won development. A British foreign office minister used an article in an Egyptian newspaper last year to turn a decade of government policy on its head.

Pointing out that laws banning incitement of hate or the justification of terrorism would be applied to the Muslim Brotherhood, the minister made strong commitments to target the organisation.

Since the removal of Mohammed Morsi from power, Egypt has witnessed a succession of bloody attacks originating within the Brotherhood.

It has taken Western officials too long to understand the acceleration in the violent rhetoric in the last five years. Now it is clear the Muslim Brotherhood uses evasion to hide its extremist agenda in London as much as Cairo.

The organisation’s worldwide nexus can be targeted not only by global counter-terrorism efforts but newly aware education regulators, charity administrators and immigration officials. A more formidable regimen than before is forming.

The appointment of Sara Khan as the UK’s new commissioner to counter extremism is a landmark move to take the battle to a new level. If by her enemies we can judge Mrs Khan, she can be expected to deliver a consequential tenure.

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An establishment that oversaw more than a decade of failed consultation-based policies spoke out as if as one against her. Many of the attacks, even from women, were clearly biased against Mrs Khan on the basis of her sex.

The need for a more vigilant and aggressive approach is greater than ever.

The short history of Hasm and Liwa Al Thawra is demonstration of how dangerous these outfits can become.

Formed in the summer of 2016, both groups have targeted security and diplomatic interests in Egypt. Hasm bombed the Myanmar embassy in Cairo and Al Thawra carried out the assassination of Major Adel Ragaai, an important military officer.

The groups made it clear they are followers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology. In particular their propaganda channels recite and praise hardliner Mohamed Kamal. It is known that Muslim Brotherhood members have swelled their ranks as they have linked themselves to a figure whose followers debate online “new means and devices” to fight the authorities.

It was Kamal who formed the so-called Special Operations Committees that mobilised the Muslim Brotherhood membership to fight against the security forces after Morsi was replaced. He was killed in a raid shortly after the terror groups were formed.

Months of inciting sectarian violence and anti-state violence left a legacy that endures to this day. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Revolutionary Punishment Movement has, for example, warned all foreigners to leave Egypt.

Last week’s proscription directives will deny their operatives resources to plan and carry out attacks. Depending on whether or not they have members with the US or British jurisdictions, the designations could disrupt operations. Certainly communications can be targeted, especially in the digital sphere.

British officials have said they want the country to be the most proactive in the West in policing and resisting the Muslim Brotherhood. So far they have resisted calls to ban international membership. Without that there remain gaps. Members of the Muslim Council of Britain, which is heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, confirmed to The National last week that they had held their first discussions with security officials in more than six years.

In the US the picture is even more mixed. Bills in Congress to ban the Muslim Brotherhood have been stalled by arcane procedural rows. Despite high profile sponsors, including Senator Ted Cruz, the legislation has not been put to the vote by the leadership.

Given the extensive and proven ties between Hasm and Al Thawra, the US state department move certainly makes a compelling case for an umbrella ban. It also boosts efforts to get more countries to take the Muslim Brotherhood’s latest dangerous ideological shift more seriously and implement restrictions of their own.

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