The government has allowed confidence in Britain’s policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood to be undermined by the impression it is being influenced by the Islamist group’s enemies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, MPs have warned.
The UK’s impartiality towards the group that ruled in Egypt from 2012 to 2013 – but has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia and the UAE – is now in question because of the way it handled an official review of the organisation, members of the foreign affairs select committee said in a report published on Monday.
The appointment of Sir John Jenkins, who was the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia until 2015, to lead the review “created the impression that a foreign state, when it was an interested party, had a private window into the conduct of a UK government inquiry”, they said.
Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the committee, said any repeat of the failings would undermine Britain’s credibility in engaging with political Islamist groups that have performed well in elections across the Middle East and north Africa.
The MPs also cited concerns that the UK’s image abroad had been damaged by the government’s failure to mention the violent persecution of the Brotherhood in the review’s conclusions published last November. David Cameron had said parts of the group “have an ambiguous relationship with violent extremism”.
It emerged last year that in 2012, the UAE threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if the then prime minister did not act against the group. In 2014 it also complained to the UK government about its apparent indifference to the group’s operations.
The committee said it had seen no evidence of undue Saudi influence but Jenkins’s appointment “undermined confidence in the impartiality of the FCO’s work on such an important and contentious area”.
They also demanded the government explain why it delayed publication of the completed review by a year and a half, only to release a summary on 17 December 2015, the last day before parliament’s Christmas recess.
“This secretive review sought to understand the Muslim Brotherhood, but failed to mention some of the most significant factors influencing the Brotherhood – not least its removal from power in Egypt in 2013 and the subsequent repression of its supporters,” it concluded.
“The opacity of the process, the obvious charge around motivation for the review and the failure to publish it in full left the review’s main findings wholly open to criticism.
“Given that the review was led by one of the FCO’s most senior diplomats, these shortfalls damaged the UK’s reputation for fair dealing more generally. The FCO should highlight and condemn all human rights abuses, including those against political Islamists.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “There are many views on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain and around the world, including various voices reflected in this latest document. But the British government’s position, based on an 18-month detailed review and a decision of the full national security council, including the current prime minister, remains unchanged.
“As the prime minister [Cameron] stated in December 2015, membership of the Muslim Brotherhood is a possible indicator of extremism, and our policy will take account of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ambiguity about violence and contradictions between Muslim Brotherhood ideology and actions and UK values and interests.”