Is the Muslim Brotherhood a Firewall Vs Extremism?

Muslim Brotherhood supporters demonstrate in Jordan. (Photo: © Reuters)

Clarion Project, by Elliot Friedland, March 6, 2017:

The British Government appeared to soften its line against the Muslim Brotherhood in response to a parliamentary inquiry into how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office relates to political Islam.

Originally the government’s report, conducted by British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Jenkins, was critical of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the whole report was not released to the public, sources close to the report told The Middle East Eye the Muslim Brotherhood served as a “rite of passage” for jihadis.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee argued the Muslim Brotherhood and other non-violent Islamist groups are a ‘firewall’ against extremism.

In point 57 they wrote:

“Based on the experience of Tunisia, political Islam could in some countries be a way of providing a democratic alternative for political, social, and economic development and a counter-narrative against more extremist ideologies. However, there are cases where political Islamist groups have inspired individuals to commit violent acts; the fact that such individuals left the groups to do so does not excuse the groups from some responsibility for inspiring the individual in the first place. Nonetheless, the vast majority of political Islamists are involved in no violence whatsoever. Because of this, and because of their broader status as a ‘firewall’ against extremism, political Islamists have suffered criticism and attack from ISIL and other extremist organisations. No political movement can entirely control its individual members or supporters, particularly under extreme provocation. Incarceration of political activists without fair trial and the shutting down of political avenues to address grievances is likely to lead some to extremism. Political Islam is far from the only firewall, but in the Muslim World it is a vehicle through which a significant element of citizens can and should be able to address their grievances. The nature of Islam makes it more likely that religion and politics will remain overlapping for the foreseeable future, and emerging democratically accountable systems will need to accommodate this.”

In its response, the government argued the following:

“The Government agrees that individuals need a vehicle through which they can address their grievances, including through participation in the democratic process. As events in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated, those who are subject to repression, feel disenfranchised, or locked out of the political process, may turn to violence if they are unable to change their situation through peaceful means. The best ‘firewall’ is to support the democratic process and to ensure that individuals have a voice. Political Islamist groups, including their senior leaders, have a crucial role to play in ensuring that this happens in the MENA region.”

In an earlier part of the report the government reiterated the original finding that the Muslim Brotherhood has a “highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism.”

Read the full report on the UK government’s relationship with groups espousing political Islam by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the government’s responses here.  

The way the British government has handled this issue is indicative of the complexity of the problems faced by Western states when dealing with a group like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded with the explicit goal of creating an Islamic State ruled under sharia governance. Along with Jamaat e-Islami in Pakistan it is the progenitor of all other Islamist groups. Their leaders have consistently supported sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic policies and their ideal vision of a state is utterly at odds with the values of human rights. Rather than being a firewall against Islamist extremism they have fanned its flames.

It is of course the duty of the British government to engage constructively with whoever is in power around the world in order to work for the betterment of the UK and its citizens.

Yet it behooves the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to consider that the Muslim Brotherhood is at its core an organization that opposes the values Britain claims to uphold.

For more information about the Muslim Brotherhood, see Clarion Project’s Special Report.