A series of attacks on the UAE over its human rights record and support for the new Egyptian government have raised questions about who is behind them. Now an investigation by The National reveals that many of those involved can be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood, its UK connections and media attacks on the UAE
At the end of last month, The Guardian newspaper in London published an advertisement that was essentially an appeal on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the form of an open letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, it was signed by more than 50 people from all walks of life and from several faiths and political persuasions.
The text of the letter was a response to an inquiry ordered by the British government into the activities in Britain of the Muslim Brotherhood, designated a terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia in March this year, a decision supported by the UAE.
While the organisation has operated legally in the UK for more than four decades, its ranks have been swelled recently by senior members who fled Egypt after the ousting last July of president Mohammed Morsi.
The purpose of the inquiry is to examine if the Brotherhood has any links to violent extremism and, if proved, whether controls are needed over its activities in the UK.
The advertisement was placed by the Cordoba Foundation, a London-based organisation whose stated aim is to promote interfaith dialogue but which also has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and actively campaigns on its behalf.
The foundation’s director, Anas Altikriti, has mounted a campaign against the British inquiry in recent weeks, claiming that the UK is bowing to pressure from a group of foreign governments, including the UAE, to effectively outlaw its activities.
In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV network in April, Mr Altikriti accused Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE of being in “a club that has moved to ban the Muslim Brotherhood,” with Britain being pushed towards “becoming part of that club”. Those allegations are repeated in The Guardian’s open letter, which claims the UK inquiry is the result of “pressure” by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
But accompanying the public campaign to defend the Brotherhood is a less easily discernible attempt by activists, some of them linked to the MB, to promote an Islamist agenda that includes attempting to undermine the legitimacy of Arabian Gulf monarchies.
Several of these activists are involved with two high-profile organisations that claim independence from any ideology. They are the Emirates Centre for Human Rights and Middle East Eye, a news website set up this year and edited by the British journalist David Hearst – a former chief foreign leader writer for The Guardian, and another signatory to the open letter.
One example of an attempt to turn British opinion against the UAE came last November when the British prime minister David Cameron arrived in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for an official visit.
During the trip, BBC World News TV invited a young man named Rori Donaghy for a live interview at its London studios. Mr Donaghy, 27, was introduced as a campaign manager for the Emirates Centre for Human Rights.
Over the next few minutes, Mr Donaghy made successive attacks on the UAE and its leaders relating to the trial of 94 Emiratis charged with sedition and membership of a group whose aim was the overthrow of the Government.
Accusing the authorities of torture and illegal detention, assertions denied by the UAE Government, Mr Donaghy told the audience that the accused were on trial simply “because of their calls for democratic reform”.
Mr Donaghy and his organisation, which claims to be “the first independent organisation to focus on human rights abuse in the United Arab Emirates”, are no strangers to the BBC.
In May 2012, during the UK state visit by Sheikh Khalifa, the President, he was asked during a BBC Radio 4 evening news bulletin to comment on the conviction of three British drug dealers in Dubai and their allegations of police brutality, claims denied by Dubai.
Mr Donaghy’s response was to accuse the British government of “giving him [Sheikh Khalifa] the red carpet treatment while there are three boys sitting in Dubai being tortured”.
As a spokesman for ECHR, Mr Donaghy has also appeared on BBC Radio Five Live and the British TV channels Channel Four and Sky News, always alleging serious human rights abuses by the UAE. He has written prolifically on these same issues for the Huffington Post website and for The Guardian.
Three months ago, he left the organisation for a job as a journalist with Middle East Eye – the website edited by David Hearst.
Like the ECHR, Middle East Eye makes claims of its independence. It aims, it says, “to stand apart in coverage of the region by offering readers independently produced news, analysis and opinion generated by expert voices and fearless reporters. Our agenda is prioritised only by the priority of events, and not political leanings”.
Yet the Middle East Eye does not make public who its backers are. And like the ECHR, some of the people associated with it connect to the Muslim Brotherhood and a network of organisations and supporters of the Islamist cause that include links to Hamas and other groups banned in several countries for their connections to terrorism.
Company records, freely obtainable in the UK, show that the Emirates Centre for HR Ltd was established in March 2012, with its first director listed as “Abdus Salam”.
The address given by Mr Salam and registered as the operating base of ECHR is a private house in Stanmore, a suburb in north-west London. The identity of Abdus Salam remains unclear and he has so far proved impossible to trace.
The occupants of the house, as listed on the UK electoral register, were Amil Ahmed Khattab and his wife Ragad Osama Altikriti, both British citizens of Arab origin. Ragad Altikriti is the sister of Anas Altikriti, director of the Cordoba Foundation.
It now appears that several members of the extended Altikriti family played a major role in the formation of the ECHR as well as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. As company secretary of a publishing company, Recordactual Ltd, between 1995 and 2006, Mr Khattab was behind Dar as-Salam, a magazine devoted to the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood and published from Manchester, in the north of England.
Also listed as a director of Dar as-Salam was Osama Tawfiq Altikriti, a founder and former secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the political wing of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood.
Osama Altikriti fled to Britain in the 1970s from the regime of Saddam Hussein and raised his family there, but returned in 2003 after the fall of the regime. Ragad and Anas are two of his children and Amil Khattab, his collaborator on Dar as-Salam, is his son-in-law.
In addition to Dar as-Salam, Osama Altikriti was also the director of a London company listed as Political Prospective for Studies and Consultation, as was Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian Hamas supporter who served as a director of the Muslim Association of Britain at the same time as Anas Altikriti.
From December 2011 until it was dissolved last year, Political Prospective for Studies and Consultation shared the same London address as World Media Services, the producers of Ikhwahnpress.org, an Arabic language website that is the online version of the Muslim Brotherhood’s official newsletter.
This address was also registered to the Nile Valley Trust, whose former director, Ibrahmim Munir, is described as the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman in the West.
In recent months, this address in Cricklewood, north London has been identified in the British press as the new headquarters for senior members of the exiled Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
The Altikriti name links to the ECHR in other ways: its website was registered by Malath Shakir, wife of Anas Altikriti and daughter-in-law of Osama Altikriti.
Anas Altikriti, however, is best known as the director of the Cordoba Foundation, described in 2008 by David Cameron, then leader of the Conservative Party and now British prime minister as “a front for the Muslim Brotherhood”.
Interviewed by The National, Mr Altikriti denied being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and insisted that neither “Malath, myself or Ragad or the family by any stretch of the imagination is behind EHCR”. Calling the organisation “an independent company that operates on itself”, he added: “To be honest I have no idea what it’s doing at this moment.”
The ECHR, he claimed, was created following an approach to his wife’s company, Brighter PR, by a client and that his sister’s address was used because: “At that moment in time it was seen as appropriate.”
He declined to name those involved, saying: “People’s lives are at stake,” but insisted that, while he was “not speaking on behalf of the EHCR”, it was “more than transparent” because the names of those involved were available in company records.
Like Zaher Birawi, Mr Altikriti is a former director of the Muslim Association of Britain, from 2000 to 2007, and was its president between 2004 and 2005.
The Muslim Association of Britain was founded in 1997 by Kamel El Helbawy, an Egyptian who was the UK’s first representative of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Altikriti says his dealings with Mr El Helbawy do not relate to the Brotherhood, but rather from “the gathering in 1997 of a number of people who had a particular vision for Islam and Muslims in Britain”.
Meanwhile, the network of organisations with links to either Osama or Anas Altikriti grew, by 2012, to include the Emirates Centre for Human Rights. Less than six months after the ECHR was founded, company records show “Abdus Salam” was replaced by Rori Donaghy, a history and politics graduate who at the time had no connection to the UAE. Contacted by The National, Mr Donaghy declined to be interviewed about either the ECHR or Middle East Eye.
It is known, though, that Mr Donaghy worked for a number of non-government organisations after leaving university, spending time in Gaza in 2011 working for the Hamas-funded research and advocacy group House of Wisdom. Sources say it was here that Mr Donaghy first met Mr Altikriti.
Using the title “campaign manager” at the ECHR, but also registered as its director, Mr Donaghy previously claimed to have founded the organisation at the request of the “families and friends” of Emiratis arrested for sedition, although none has been identified. Rather, Mr Donaghy was the organisation’s sole voice, attacking the UAE in influential media organisations such as the BBC and The Wall Street Journal.
No details of the ECHR’s finances have been published although it seems to have money to spend, if few actual staff. In May 2012, it placed advertisements on internet employment sites seeking people willing to picket the UAE Embassy in London, offering £160 (Dh998) for “standing outside the Embassy handing out leaflets … and explaining the current abuses taking place in the UAE”.
The job was for four hours a day, four days a week, the advertisement added, and was “ideal for a student”.
In March 2013, the ECHR funded a week-long “mission to the UAE” to report on trial proceedings, consisting of four London-based lawyers, including the leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who later prepared a 54-page report.
Mr Donaghy is known to have visited the UAE just once, in April 2012, spending much of his trip in Ras Al Khaimah and, by his account, meeting supporters of those arrested for plotting against the Government.
He left the ECHR in March of this year, although company records continue to list its address as his family’s home in High Wycombe, a town west of London. Several days after he was contacted by The National, the website of the Emirates Centre for Human Rights was taken down, apparently by Mr Donaghy.
Sources close to Mr Donaghy say he was recruited to the ECHR by Mr Altikriti after returning disillusioned from Gaza and seeking another human-rights cause. Mr Altikriti’s involvement was more than a business arrangement, the source added. “My understanding is that Anas wanted to help these Emiratis who felt there was going to be a crackdown on their group.”
Mr Donaghy had no contact with Abdus Salam, the same source said, with the termination of his directorship and replacement by Mr Donaghy carried out by Mr Altikriti alone.
Mr Donaghy now works as a journalist for Middle East Eye, launched in April and promoted using social media such as Twitter.
Also involved in the launch of Middle East Eye is Adlin Adnan, who registered its website and was previously head of policy development at Interpal, a British charity whose stated aim is to raise money to aid Palestinian causes. Ms Adnan declined to answer questions from The National.
Interpal was a member of the Hamas umbrella charity organisation Union of Good, itself headed by the Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi, widely accepted as an intellectual and spiritual leader for the Muslim Brotherhood but whose views, including a claim that the Holocaust was God’s punishment on the Jews and justifying suicide bombers against Israelis, have led to him being banned from the United States, France and the UK.
Mr Al Qaradawi also broadcasts regularly on Al Jazeera, provoking a serious diplomatic row within the GCC in February after he accused the UAE in one televised sermon of being “always against every Islamic government”.
The links with Mr Al Qaradawi and the Union of Good means Interpal has faced — and denied — repeated claims that the money it raises ends up in the pockets of terrorists.
In 2008, the US treasury department designated the Union of Good as an organisation created by Hamas to transfer funds to terrorist organisations and in 2003 had named Interpal as one of its primary financiers.
In 2006, an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme into Interpal at the time Ms Adnan was working there resulted in a UK Charity Commission probe that concluded the charity had taken inadequate steps to ensure money it raised did not end up in the wrong hands. The Charity Commission subsequently ordered Interpal to end its relationship with the Union of Good, confirming in 2012 that it had done so.
Interpal’s chairman, Ibrahim Hewitt, is a British convert to Islam who has attracted controversy in the UK for interpreting the punishment under Islam for adultery as stoning to death.
Mr Hewitt also works as a senior editor for Middle East Monitor, a website claiming to offer “comprehensive coverage” of the region while openly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. His colleagues on Middle East Monitor included Hanan Chehata, both a writer for the website and its press officer. Ms Chehata is now the news editor of Middle East Eye.
According to the legal small print on its website, Middle East Eye is wholly owned by M.E.E. Ltd, a north London based company whose sole director is Jamal Bassasso, 44, a Palestinian born in Kuwait who now holds Dutch citizenship.
Mr Bassasso, whose CV says he studied at Ajman University of Science and Technology, has a career that includes director of planning and human resources at Al Jazeera and director of human resources at Samalink, a Lebanese company that is the registered agent for the website of the Hamas-controlled Al Quds TV. He has also worked for at least two Dubai property companies and has written articles sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood cause.
According to David Hearst, Mr Bassasso “is not the founder of the company” despite being its only director. He describes him as “a colleague and the head of human resources and the legal director … but he’s not my boss”.
Asked who was financing his operation, Mr Hearst declined to answer, saying only: “Individual private donors … interested in democracy in the Middle East.” Asked if they were UK citizens, he replied: “They may be or they may not be.”
Mr Hearst said he was headhunted for the editor’s role, and had determined that his future employers had no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood: “That’s one of the first questions I asked.” His backers, he said, had given him “complete freedom. No one tells me what to do.”
Mr Hearst dismissed any connection between the ECHR and Middle East Eye. Although Mr Donaghy and other Middle East Eye staff have a background in organisations that link to the Brotherhood and Hamas, he said: “What we stress all the time is that you have to move from being an advocate to a being a journalist. People move on.”
Who chose Mr Bassasso for his role in Middle East Eye is unclear. What is known is that he also worked in the UAE in 2008 as the human resources director for one property company that appears no longer to operate in this country.
Also working for the same property company was Anas Mekdad, a Palestinian described in his emails as “assistant to the chairman’s office” and who claims to have spent 25 years in the UAE.
Mr Mekdad, who sometimes uses the name Anas Dahman, used some of his time in the UAE to contact and offer support to Emiratis belonging to Al Islah, the UAE wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. This included serving as the head of administration and finance for an Ajman based organisation, Arabian Gulf Centre for Educational Consultations, shut down in 2012 by the authorities for being part of Al Islah. Sources confirm that Mr Mekdad also met Mr Donaghy during his 2012 visit to the UAE.
Now apparently living in Britain, Mr Mekdad and Mr Bassasso remain connected through the Islamist internet forum AlMakeen Network, which has posted Arabic articles praising Hamas suicide bombers. Mr Bassasso is a contributor to AlMakeen Network, writing in one article that: “Tyrants are rigid people who do not deviate from committing the same crimes and repressive practices of their predecessors,” and “they seek refuge in their masters in the West. They threaten the people with a civil and sectarian war and the shedding of blood.”
Mr Mekdad is identified as the founder of AlMakeen Network and continues to use his Twitter stream to support convicted members of Al Islah.
And it is here that the circle closes. In March this year, after the departure of Rori Donaghy, the Emirates Centre for Human Rights appointed a new director. His name? Anas Mekdad.