x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Silence over UK’s Muslim Brotherhood inquiry raises questions

David Cameron's government says it is studying report before releasing it, but media speculate that findings may affect ties with Middle East allies.

British prime minster David Cameron arrives at Downing Street on August 20, 2014, after cutting short his holiday to hold a meeting on the situation in Iraq and Syria. Oli Scarff / Getty Images
British prime minster David Cameron arrives at Downing Street on August 20, 2014, after cutting short his holiday to hold a meeting on the situation in Iraq and Syria. Oli Scarff / Getty Images

The British government is fighting claims that it has delayed publication of a long-awaited report on the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities, and possible links to terrorism, after learning that it opposed a ban on the organisation.

Downing Street, the office of British prime minister, David Cameron, previously said the report would be presented to government, and its findings made public, by the end of the last parliamentary session.

Parliament rose on July 22 and is not due to reconvene until September 1. Mr Cameron’s office now insists it promised only to deliver the report to the prime minister by then and not its publication.

But British media — and The National — were under the impression, on the basis of what officials had said, that the findings would be published at the same time.

The Financial Times claims the government put off making the findings known because the main conclusion — that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be classified as a terrorist organisation and accordingly outlawed — is at odds with the outlook of key allies, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The newspaper said it had learned from government officials that the report, by Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, found little evidence that Muslim Brotherhood members were involved in terrorist activities.

But it added: “Ministers are so concerned about the reaction from Britain’s Middle East allies that they have stalled publication for several weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the report.”

A Downing Street statement said: “The prime minister asked government officials to look at what the Muslim Brotherhood stand for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for us in Britain.

‘That work was completed at the end of July ... We have said we will make the findings public in due course.”

Pressed by The National, Mr Cameron’s office said: “The review into the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t been delayed. The main findings were completed by July as per the PM’s request and work is now under way across government to consider the implications of these findings.”

The British government commissioned the report in April. Mr Cameron’s office styled Sir John’s work as a “review” rather than an inquiry or investigation but said he would look at the Brotherhood’s philosophy and activities and their impact on British interests domestically and overseas.

As part of the review, Britain’s charities watchdog, the Charity Commission, was asked for detailed information on the Brotherhood’s possible charitable work in the United Kingdom as well as overseas. It is known, however, that the Brotherhood is not registered as a charity.

Sir John’s report was also expected to review the British government’s overall policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated as a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The Brotherhood has been accused by Egyptian media and authorities of using a number of Islamic charities to support terrorism.

Sir John’s report was expected to help government assess whether it had any connection with financial support for extremist groups such as the Islamic State, which has been reported as using private donations from the Arabian Gulf towards financing its campaign to seize parts of Syria and Iraq.

Last month, The National reported that the London-based Cordoba Foundation, a group linked to the Brotherhood, was among organisations and individuals told by HSBC that their bank accounts would be closed as they were deemed to fall “outside the bank’s risk appetite”.

In May, the foundation had placed an advertisement in a British newspaper, The Guardian, attacking the government’s decision to conduct an inquiry into the Brotherhood.

The National’s report described the campaign against Britain’s inquiry as having been accompanied by a less easily discernible attempt by activists, some of them linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, to promote an Islamist agenda that includes attempting to undermine the legitimacy of Arabian Gulf monarchies.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae