How Hamas is winning hearts and minds in Europe

Via conferences and through hierarchies linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Gaza-based terror group is building global infrastructure to challenge PLO’s standing as Palestinians’ sole legitimate representative

The Times of Israel, by March 14, 2017:

At the end of February, in Istanbul, the Palestinians Abroad Conference convened with the purported goal of promoting global support for the Palestinians. Its actual purpose was to bolster the status of Hamas in the international arena.

Many of the organizers of the conference, which was attended by thousands of Arabs and Palestinians from all over the world, are of Palestinian origin. But to those who closely followed what happened in Istanbul, it became clear that many of the organizers and attendees had something else in common: they are known to have been members — for decades — of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated networks all over Europe.

This was not the first conference of its kind. Many like it have taken place in recent years. Many of the same faces are present — including current and past members of the Muslim Brotherhood, at a more or less official level, and current and past members of Hamas.

Their shared goal is to promote international legitimacy for Hamas — in Europe, Africa, the Middle East (of course) and even in Latin America — in a bid to challenge the PLO’s international standing as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas, in this way, is slowly but surely establishing a global infrastructure of supporters who are providing not only encouragement and legitimacy, but also quite a bit of financial assistance.

Tracing the outlines of this infrastructure lends some surprising insights. For example, Britain turns out to be hosting more of this semi-official activity by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood than any other country in Europe.

Then-Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and freed Palestinian prisoner Yahya Sinwar, a founder of the terror group’s military wing, wave as supporters celebrate the release of hundreds of inmates in a swap for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza on October 21, 2011. (AFP/Said Khatib)

One almost quintessential example of such activity under innocent-seeming cover is the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign.

“This group was established in 2003 in Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Ehud Rosen, an expert on political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood who assisted Steven Merley, another expert, in writing a comprehensive study on the topic. Merley started a website, Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch, which reports on Muslim Brotherhood activity all over the world.

“It was initiated by two former members of al-Qaeda, both from Saudi Arabia, who tried to brand the new organization as ‘non-violent,’” Rosen said. “The organization was rebooted in Qatar in 2005 [following the Saudi government’s objections to hosting it on Saudi soil]. Its founding group from 2005 includes high-ranking Hamas officials, including political leader Khaled Mashaal, alongside representatives of other groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s global organization, Salafists and Salafi jihadists.

“The group has held many conferences and issued fatwas against the West, such as against France after it began military action in Mali.”

The Campaign began focusing on Gaza in 2009, during and after Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli military campaign aimed at stopping rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At a conference held in February 2009, the group decided to turn Gaza into a new front for jihad under the auspices of the “Istanbul Declaration.” The declaration, signed by 90 Muslim clerics from all over the world, including members of Hamas, stated that the Palestinian Authority was not the representative of the Palestinian people, while the “elected government of Hamas,” was in fact the legitimate representative.

The statement attacked the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative — a proposal that offers normalization of ties between Arab countries and Israel in exchange for Israel pulling out of territories claimed by Palestinians — calling it nothing less than “a proven betrayal of the Islamic Nation and the Palestinian cause, and a blatant betrayal of the Palestinian people.”

“This [Global Anti-Aggression Campaign] group, like some other Muslim groups throughout Europe, does not call itself the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ or a supporter of Hamas. These are networks of groups scattered over nearly the entire world. For their part, Muslim Brotherhood leaders claim their movement is active in 80 countries, but since September 11, 2001, and even before, the groups that are identified with [the Brotherhood] have denied any connection,” Rosen said.

“Take another example: FIOE, the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe,” he said. “Thirty-seven different groups in different countries on the continent operate under that organization, and over the years have created an image for themselves as ‘the legitimate representatives’ — the Islamic mainstream. The group is known as IGD in Germany and UOIF in France. The same thing is going on in Scandinavia and almost everywhere.”

These networks operate according to the long-established model of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In each country there is a network of civil society organizations — in other words, dawa, a word in Arabic meaning proselytizing or preaching of Islam. These organizations are run by well-known figures who head madrasas, or Muslim schools; mosques; charitable organizations that raise money not only for Muslims in Europe but also for Hamas; and even student associations in every well-known university in Europe. Recently, Muslim “human rights” groups have been established that work to strengthen support for the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Essam Mustafa (Youtube screenshot)

Many prominent figures in these groups, again, operate on British soil. Here are some examples.

Anas Altikriti, a native of Iraq, is the son of a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood official. His father fled Saddam Hussein’s regime to Britain. He himself was born in Iraq, but has lived in London since he was two years old. He visited the White House two years ago and met with president Barack Obama. Though he supports its policies, he says he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Muhammad Sawalha, of Palestinian origin, is very well known to the Israeli security establishment as one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank. He also lives in London.

Zaher Birawi, a former Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip, was one of the spokesmen of the Mavi Marmara flotilla and has been involved in other flotillas.

Essam Yusuf Mustafa is a former member of Hamas’s political wing, at least according to the US Treasury Department. Mustafa, one of the organizers of the latest conference in Istanbul, is on the board of trustees of another organization, Interpal, which was declared a terrorism-supporting organization by the United States as far back as 2003. Both Birawi and Mustafa live in Britain.

Members of the Palestinian Hamas security forces stage mock raid on IDF post during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City on January 22, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Mustafa was a leader of a group called the Charity Coalition (also known as the Union of Good), which raised money for Hamas in the early 2000s and gained the spiritual support of Yusuf al-Qardawi, the leading Sunni cleric and Muslim Brotherhood member. The Turkish IHH group, which was one of the organizers of the Marmara flotilla, was also part of the Charity Coalition.

There are others, in and out of Britain: Ismail Patel, head of the Friends of Al-Aqsa group; Daud Abdullah, originally from Grenada, a former member of the Muslim Council of Britain, who helps operate a news site which takes a pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance; Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian who is the CEO of the Alhiwar television station, which operates from London and is considered explicitly pro-Hamas (Zaher Birawi hosts a show on the station); Egyptian-born Ibrahim el-Zayat, currently living in Germany, who is considered a key figure in the financial dealings of these networks; and Ibrahim Munir Mustafa, also Egyptian by birth, who chairs the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and lives in London.

Rosen, who has been tracking these names for quite some time, said there is a distinction between members of the official Muslim Brotherhood, such as those who operate in Egypt, and the networks that are thought to be identified with them.

“These are in effect groups that sprang up from former members of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled Egypt in the 1960s and settled in Europe. These groups were founded without any direct orders [from the Brotherhood], without a centralized command structure or a prominent commander,” he explained.

“But there are definite networks here, with major nexuses, such as London or Germany. They cooperate with the official Muslim Brotherhood and with Hamas.

“Hamas’s place in the enormous organization known as the global Muslim Brotherhood is growing right now,” he said. “Hamas is the movement’s own flesh and blood, and it wants to take control of the PLO. This is why its global activity has taken on a new importance. The Palestinian organization is trying to re-invent itself, with a new platform and a supposedly more moderate direction, but they are still the same organization.

“The whole BDS issue benefits from this Islamist infrastructure and receives assistance from organizations that are identified with Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Rosen. “And there is persistent talk of Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas’s political wing, replacing Ibrahim Munir as the chair of the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.”

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The Muslim Brotherhood Inquiry: What’s Happening?

Gatestone Institute, by Samuel Westrop, January 23, 2015

There are several reasons the British government may be publishing only the “principal findings” of the report. First, some of the information gathered will have been done so by the intelligence services, so there are assets and agreements to protect. Another is the possibility that by revealing the scope of the Muslim Brotherhood network in full, the government would be revealing its own partnerships with Brotherhood organizations, and providing insights into the vast amount of public funds that has filled the coffers of Brotherhood charities.

“Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups in each country work according to a common vision — but in complete operational independence, making the Brotherhood an informal global movement. It’s what makes designating the whole movement a terrorist organisation virtually impossible in the UK, as authorities knew from the very beginning. But the lack of a ban does not equal an exoneration or an endorsement — hardly the general tone of the review.”

The British government will publish only the “principal findings” of an inquiry commissioned by the British government into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Although the former head of the MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, has described the Brotherhood as being, “at heart, a terrorist organization,” Brotherhood organizations in the UK have, nevertheless, long enjoyed the support of government ministers and taxpayers’ money.

Previous media statements have indicated that the report written for the inquiry, first commissioned in April 2014, has since sparked a great deal of argument between government ministers and officials and has led to a lengthy delay.

The biggest point of contention has reportedly focused on concerns over the expected reaction of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — both of which have recently designated the Muslim Brotherhood and some of its front groups as terrorist organizations – if the inquiry’s report is perceived to be a whitewash.

London, it seems, has long been an important hub for the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past 50 years, Brotherhood members have established dozens of Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, including lobby groups, charities, think tanks, television channels and interfaith groups.

The secretary-general of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, Ibrahim Munir, is a resident of London. In 2013, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reported that Munir was providing funds to the Egyptian Brotherhood through British Brotherhood groups such as the Muslim Welfare House — but under the guise of fundraising for Palestinians in Gaza.

This government inquiry was established to examine not just the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain, but to understand better the workings of the worldwide Brotherhood network. This network is both big and nebulous. The inquiry sought to examine the network comprehensively, including the Brotherhood’s collaboration with other Islamic groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, a South Asian Islamist network that also has a strong presence in Britain.

Why, then, has the report been delayed?

The question that has dominated most British media reports of the inquiry’s findings has centered on the allegation of terrorism. The relationship between Western governments and the Brotherhood on this point has long appeared murky. In 2002, for instance, the United States government shut down the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood fundraising group for the Hamas terrorist organization. And in 2011, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives: “I can say at the outset that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood both here and overseas have supported terrorism.”

At the same time, however, both the Bush and Obama administrations also sought to woo the Muslim Brotherhood. One anonymous Palestinian official, quoted in Asharq Al-Awsat, claimed: “The Americans mistakenly think that moderate political Islam, represented by Muslim Brotherhood, would be able to combat radical Islam.”

The inconsistency seems to have revolved around the Muslim Brotherhood’s connection to Hamas. Although Hamas’s 1988 covenant asserts that, “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine,” Western governments have nevertheless treated Hamas and the Brotherhood as unconnected entities — despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary.

In the United Kingdom, Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas networks appear to overlap heavily. In 2005, for instance, the British government handed over the running of London’s Finsbury Park mosque to the Muslim Association of Britain [MAB]. The Muslim Association of Britain was founded by Muslim Brotherhood activists including Kemal Helbawi, who described the Israel-Palestinian conflict as “an absolute clash of civilisations; a satanic programme led by the Jews and those who support them, and a divine programme carried [out] by Hamas … and the Islamic peoples in general.”

One of the trustees appointed to run the Finsbury Park mosque was Muhammad Sawalha, a fugitive Hamas commander who, according to BBC reports, is “said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from London. Yet the police and local government continue to fund the mosque with tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Muhammad Sawalha, a fugitive Hamas commander who is “said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from London, is a trustee of the Finsbury Park mosque, which receives tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money. (Image source: inminds YouTube video screenshot)

By ignoring both the operational and ideological relations between the Brotherhood and Hamas, Western governments have been able to claim a dedication to opposing terrorism while at the same time courting Islamist allies, ostensibly to help fight the jihadist threat. By 2009, for instance, the British government provided the Muslim Welfare House, mentioned earlier, with £48,000 of “counter-extremism” funds. To this day, leading Islamist charities, established by Brotherhood figures, continue to receive millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

The Muslim Brotherhood, without Hamas, has worked hard to present itself as a benign organization. It is the government’s apparent failure to demonstrate adequate evidence of connections to terrorism, some critics argue, that has led to the delay in publishing the inquiry’s report. The prominent newspaper journalist, Peter Oborne, has claimed that the report “had discovered no grounds for proscribing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group… Publication of the report as originally written would infuriate the Prime Minister’s Saudi allies — and not just them. The United Arab Emirates have long been agitating for the defenestration of the Brothers…. The reason [for the delay] is simple: money, trade, oil, in a number of cases personal greed.”

Peter Oborne, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, was, in fact, echoing the line taken by the Brotherhood itself. British Brotherhood operatives, such as Anas Al-Tikriti, recently placed an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper that claimed, “this review is the result of pressure placed on the British government by undemocratic regimes abroad, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” The letter was signed by a number of senior Brotherhood activists, MPs, Peers and journalists — including Peter Oborne.

The “Saudi pressure” argument serves a useful purpose. There is not a lot that can undermine a government inquiry so much as an accusation of political leverage and foreign financial influence. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, and would like to see it suppressed. But neither the Saudis nor the Emiratis are naïve: both have worked to influence the British government for decades and both know how Westminster works. Hence, both know that it is extremely unlikely that the British government would ban the Muslim Brotherhood.

All that said, it is still possible to ignore Hamas and nevertheless link the Brotherhood to violence. In September 2010, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, advocated violent jihad against the United States, and declared that, “the improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life… The U.S. is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise.” In 2013, Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters in Egypt attacked 70 Coptic Christian churches, and more than 1000 homes and businesses of Coptic Christian families were torched.

Banning the Brotherhood, however, is difficult for another reason. Security analyst Lorenzo Vidino writes:

“Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups in each country work according to a common vision — but in complete operational independence, making the Brotherhood an informal global movement. It’s what makes designating the whole movement a terrorist organisation virtually impossible in the UK, as authorities knew from the very beginning. But the lack of a ban does not equal an exoneration or an endorsement — hardly the general tone of the review.”

If the delay in the report’s release has been the product of political wrangling at all, the debate within Westminster is most likely over the influence of the Brotherhood upon extremism and radicalization, and with which groups the government should continue to work.

There is already some indication that changes are taking place. On December 18, 2014, the government announced publicly that two Brotherhood-linked Islamic charities, Islamic Help and the Muslim Charities Forum, were to lose their government grants over links to extremism. The Department for Communities and Local Government stated that it would not fund any group “linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence.” This loss of funding followed a Gatestone Institute report investigating the Muslim Charities Forum’s links to extremism, which was subsequently picked up by mainstream British media.

Also in December, Islamic Relief, after being placed on terror lists by both the governments of the UAE and Israel, published an “independent audit,” claiming there was “absolutely no evidence” to link the charity to terrorism.

The British government, which has provided over £3 million of funding to Islamic Relief since 2013, offered little comment, but did publish, at the end of December, a document revealing that the UK government would match £5 million of donations to Islamic Relief until 2016.

Herein lies the contradiction. The Muslim Charities Forum is essentially a project of Islamic Relief. The present chairman of the Muslim Charities Forum, in fact, is Hany El Banna, who founded Islamic Relief, the leading member body of the Muslim Charities Forum. Islamic Relief, as the Gatestone Institute has previously revealed, has given platforms to the same extremists as those promoted by the Muslim Charities Forum, an act that led to its loss of funding. Why would the British government discard one charity while embracing the other? Is this perhaps a sign of further sleight-of-hand to come? Rather than sanction the Brotherhood as a whole, is the government likely in future to work only with sections of the Islamist network?

We have seen such posturing before. In 2009, Britain’s Labour government cut ties with the Muslim Council of Britain after some of its officials became signatories to the Istanbul Declaration, a document that calls for attacks on British soldiers and Jewish communities. The government has continued, however, to work with and fund interfaith groups partly managed by MCB figures and Istanbul Declaration signatories.

There are several reasons the British government may be publishing only the “principal findings” of the report. First, some of the information gathered will have been done so by the intelligence services, so there are assets and agreements to protect. Another is the possibility that by revealing the scope of the Muslim Brotherhood network in full, the government would be revealing its own partnerships with Brotherhood organizations, and providing insights into the vast amount of public funds that has filled the coffers of Brotherhood charities.

In spite of the expectedly unexciting report, the global Muslim Brotherhood still seems worried. Even the most benign report could damage the legitimacy upon which the Brotherhood thrives. Although unlikely, visas for Brotherhood residents in Britain could be revoked, and the report could produce a domino effect — sparking inquiries in other European countries. Evidently, the Brotherhood attaches great importance to its political and diplomatic connections and influence.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the report, media misinformation and Brotherhood propaganda have been spreading. Back in April 2014, the British government’s announcement of the inquiry produced a great deal of noise. The actual scope of the inquiry and the possible consequences, however, were left to the imaginations of the many commentators and conspiracy theorists.

Consequently, just as the full findings of the report are unclear, so is its significance. If certain sections of the Brotherhood are declared unsuitable, it seems that the report might provide a useful opportunity for the British government — aided by new statutory powers for the Charity Commission and proposed new counter-extremism powers — to crack down on those parts of the Muslim Brotherhood which serve to accrue financial and political support for Hamas.

Thus far, for the government, the Muslim Brotherhood inquiry has been a PR disaster. The eventual publication of the inquiry’s report could provide an opportunity for the British government to end its continued support and funding for Britain’s Muslim Brotherhood charities, and to stop treating Brotherhood operatives as representatives of Britain’s Muslim community. It would indeed be a shame if the only outcome of the inquiry were an even cozier realignment with the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities.