UK Memo Recommends Ties With Muslim Brotherhood

A leaked British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) memo has recommended building ties with the Muslim Brotherhood after the group's stunning performance in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, reported the Guardian on Friday, February 17.

UK Memo Recommends Ties With Muslim Brotherhood

"It will be difficult for us to maintain credibility for our calls on Egypt to reform towards further democracy and better governance, if we fail to engage with the largest and most effective opposition group," read the memo dated January 17 and addressed to Middle East minister Kim Howells.

The document, written by Julie McGregor, a member of the FCO's Arab/Israel and North Africa Group, was approved by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said the Guardian.

A British spokeswoman said on Thursday, February 16, that the policy was that "contact with elected parliamentarians that use peaceful means to achieve their objectives is normal diplomatic practice."

The officially banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections, six times the number of MPs it had in the outgoing chamber.

By clinching almost 20 percent of parliamentary seats, the group made the most serious dent in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 24-year-old autocratic rule.

The month-long election was marred by vote rigging, vote buying, intimidation of voters by security forces and state-sponsored violence that killed over a dozen citizens and injured hundreds others.

Reports of human rights groups and foreign diplomats all decried the undemocratic sate-condoned practices that marred the elections.

Contacts

The memo, leaked to the New Statesman, recommends increasing "the frequency of working-level contacts with Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians, particularly those who are members of parliamentary committees."

According to the memo, until 2002, FCO officials "have had infrequent working-level (second secretary) contact with Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament.

Since 2002, FCO officials "have had only occasional contacts with MB members including one or two contacts with parliamentarians and random unplanned encounters."

The FCO believes that western governments will benefit from such a dialogue.

"Engaging with movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood will help increase our understanding of 'political Islam' generally, as well as in the specific Egyptian context," says the memo.

"Incremental enhancement of contacts may help in discouraging radicalization. Interacting with 'political Islam' is an important element of our Engaging with the Islamic World strategy and we should be trying to influence these groups, who often have significant reach with the 'grass roots'. It also gives us the opportunity to challenge their perception of the west, including of the UK, and on their prescriptions for solving the challenges facing Egypt and the region [sic]."

Quandary

The document recommends pressing the US and the European Union members to make contact with the group.

The growing political clout of Islamic groups has put Western countries in something of a quandary, caught between supporting democratic processes and a refusal to have dealings with Islamic groups, allegedly linked to violence.

The problem has been particularly sharp with resistance groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, which have both scored well on the political front despite their US label as terrorists.

Chris Doyle, the director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, agrees.

"There has been a certain amount of soul-searching in the Foreign Office. If they are going to pursue the US's [promotion of] democracy line, engagement is something they've got to consider. They are already having to do it in Iraq to some extent with groups of an Islamist background."

A memo drawn up by the US State Department has recently called for direct and permanent political dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the group set as a condition a state supervision over any possible dialogue with the United States.

"Careful Handling"

The British memo, however, urges "careful handling" of contacts with the Islamist group.

"The presentation of any change in the way we deal with the Muslim Brotherhood will have to be carefully handled, in order to safeguard our bilateral relations with Egypt."

The memo cited the position of the Egyptian government which perceives the Muslim Brotherhood as "the political face of a terrorist organization."

According to the document, a study prepared last summer with the help of MI6 concluded that "there is no evidence of the current organization being involved in terrorist activities, although it is possible that they forward charitable donations to Hamas."

Click to read the memo

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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