Comment: Cameron’s Muslim Brotherhood investigation is just a favour to the Saudis

By Alastair Sloan

Cameron announced yesterday that our intelligence agencies will be answering the Middle East's million dollar question : does the Muslim Brotherhood have ties to terrorism?

The right-wing of Westminster are already clamoring for blood. Douglas Murray writes in The Spectator that he is "delighted", adding that the investigation is "long overdue". Breitbart's London edition, bombastic as their American ultra-conservative cousins, suspect the "extremists" may be planning an attack on British soil. They join the Mail in reminding readers that London is now known as 'Londonistan' because of its supposedly soft touch on extremism.

This investigation is not even an investigation – it's a political exercise to sate our friends in Egypt and the Gulf. It's a sham. It has as much chance of discovering a jihadist plot as England have of winning the next World Cup.

The first clue comes in the extraordinary public announcement. If the government were going to mount a serious investigation into a secretive jihadist cell using crack agents from MI5 and MI6, why on earth would Number Ten make it public?

The second is that if anything turns up, wouldn't that make MI5 and MI6, and the government, look rather stupid? The Muslim Brotherhood and associated groups have been operating openly in the UK for a long time.

The third clue is that the foreign powers that Downing Street explicitly reference in their announcement– Egypt and Saudi Arabia – have specific political (not security) concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood.

In fact, this is more of a favour to foreign regimes than a domestic inquisition. A quick investigation into these nations' current affairs confirms it.

Islamism, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, is clearly a significant political threat to the rule of army chief Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi has repeatedly claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is accountable for recent bombings in Cairo and in the Sinai peninsula, even as separate jihadist groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis insistently claim responsibility. Imagine their annoyance – mounting complicated terrorist attacks on high-value targets, only for some Islamist desk-jockey in Cairo to take the credit.

There are certainly rumours, from partisan sources, that the Muslim Brotherhood is funding jihadist activity in the Sinai. It seems unlikely, given their recent political successes. But there may well be a CIA, MI6 or Mossad source somewhere who can confirm a paper trail that leads from the jihdadist tribesemen in the Sinai to a pet shop in Cairo, whose owner once drove a limo for a guy that might have been in the Muslim Brotherhood. It's a violent part of the world, and the Muslim Brotherhood has a million members.

It doesn't matter. Sisi is deliberately conflating Islamism with jihadism, just as we are doing in the West – using it to scare a population into submission and revert Egypt back to military rule. He has shut down all opposition media, jailed thousands of Brotherhood members, mowed down over two thousand in cold blood just a month after his coup, and mandated that Friday sermons in Egypt's mosques stick to his script.
The message is clear: Egypt is threatened by 'terrorists'. Only a general can save you. It is no coincedence that after all this he has finally announced he is running for president.

It is not just Sisi's political future at stake. The Egyptian military reportedly controls around 30% of the Egyptian economy – everything from bottled water to power companies to football clubs. There are very large financial interests at stake, spread across a number of different generals. In industrially smearing what has, over the past sixty years, been the largest political opposition movement in Egypt, these men are securing their incomes for generations to come.

Similarly Saudi Arabia just last month sneakily condemned the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation in the same breath as they denounced al-Qaeda (finally). These actual jihadists are presenting an increasing and genuine threat on the kingdom's exposed northern borders. Saudi Arabia clearly has very little against Islamism – it practices a Wahabbist version of it. But it has a very big problem with the Muslim Brotherhood, who threaten their autocratic monarchy as a grass-roots, democratic organisation.

As soon as Sisi came to power, they and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who are also fierce critics of political Islam, promptly assisted Egypt with $15 billion (£9 billion) in emergency aid. They had withheld support under Morsi. To put this in perspective – that's four times what the US and EU have given since Mubarak's deposal.

In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has caused a huge rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatar backs the Brotherhood, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and UAE. In a dramatic turn, envoys were recently withdrawn from Doha and economic sanctions are being discussed unless Qatar stops funding the Brotherhood, ejects a key Brotherhood preacher from their shores, and shuts down al-Jazeera, whose journalists have been arrested in Egypt.

Sisi and Saudi Arabia are also barely concerned with secular values – an appeal often made by anti-Islamists in the West. The small but outspoken al-Nour party – Koran literalists who advocate a Salafist, dogmatic Islamist form of government – form a key part of Sisi's new political coalition. They are far more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi has got rid of the Brotherhood because they are widely supported, not because he doesn't want women to wear burqas. And as for Saudi – the evidence is clear.

The announcement from Cameron gives considerable credibility to foreign states political purges> This is upsetting given that Sisi just announced the executions of over five hundred Brotherhood members in a trial that lasted just forty-eight hours. Only two weeks ago the UK had joined the US in denouncing the trial.

Now, Sisi's newspapers are awash with "David Cameron announces investigation into Muslim Brotherhood". I bet the families of those condemned to death are grateful that Westminster is legitimising such a grave injustice. Also, take a moment to consider the families of the two thousand slaughtered by Sisi's trigger happy police force last August.

Personally, I wouldn't vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. I'm an awkward agnostic for starters. But as a fan of liberal democracy I respect the party's right to exist. I'm also conscious of the post-colonial reality the Middle East lives in. After so much patronisation and oppression, the people of Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations deserve the right to self-determine, be it Islamism or some other form of government

In a part of the world where religion is so important, it's unlikely in the near future that any populist movement will not in some way incorporate Islamist thinking. I suspect that in the long-term, Islamism will give way to some form of secular democracy. The important point is that it's up to the people of the Middle East to decide, not us.

I also respect many members within this movement – they are reasonable people who are pious, educated and advocate charitable work. They're in power in Turkey (the AKP is clearly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood), and I don't see too many Western voices opposing their rule there. There are some within the Muslim Brotherhood who may want to establish a pan-Arab empire of Islam. But the reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys little international co-ordination, with each country's party acting in relative isolation.

Jihadism, on the other hand, is horrid. There are elements of jihadism which can, if you go back forty years or so, trace their routes to a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. These violent members were alienated by the mainstream, they left and went to Afghanistan, they incubated a barbaric bastardisation of Islam on their own, which eventually turned into the global international jihad espoused by fringe lunatics such as Osama Bin Laden. The mainstream party didn't get involved – as shown by their presence as MPs in Mubarak's parliament, and their ongoing renouncement of violence and commitment to charitable work – which continues to maintain the vast working poor of Egypt.

So if Cameron's investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood has been announced to help out our friends in Cairo and Riyadh, what have we got in return? This is harder to confirm. Britain is rightly concerned about jihadists returning from the war in Syria. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are important flanks to the amorphous chaos of Iraq and Syria. Perhaps we are returning to the logic of the late twentieth century, where the West backed dictators such as Gaddafi, Hussein, Assad, Ben Ali and Mubarak in order to guarantee stability. Perhaps we are making pragmatic concessions to dictators in order to buffer a new jihadist threat.

There was an opportunity with the Arab Spring for the West to do good by the people of the Middle East. But it seems we want democracy, but only if it's our kind of democracy. That's no better than colonialism. And David Cameron is now playing his part.

Alastair Sloan writes for The Guardian and The Independent in the UK and for PolicyMic and The Daily Beast in the US. Follow him on Twitter  or read his latest work at

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