‘Political Islam’, and the Muslim Brotherhood Review
‘Political Islam’ is not a clearly defined phrase, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office uses it to describe a broad array of groups. These range from groups that the FCO describes as embracing “democratic principles and liberal values”, to those that it says hold “intolerant and extremist views”. The UK’s opposition to the latter is clear, but its commitment to the former must be clarified. The FCO should publish a clear set of standards for the political philosophies that the UK is committed to engaging with, and we suggest three criteria: i) Participation in, and preservation of, democracy. Support for democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat. ii) An interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values. iii) Non-violence, as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment. We used these three criteria to assess political Islamists, and to assess the policies of the FCO towards these groups. We found that: i) Some political Islamists have embraced elections. Electoral processes that prevent these groups from taking part cannot be called ‘free’. But democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — where we focused our inquiry — must not be reduced to ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and the FCO must encourage both political Islamists and their opponents to accept broader cultures of democracy. ii) The Muslim Brotherhood is a secretive group, with an ambiguous international structure. But this is understandable given the repression it now experiences. iii) Some communications, particularly from the Brotherhood, have given contradictory messages in Arabic and English. And some of the responses that the group offered to our questions gave the impression of reluctance to offer a straight answer. The FCO is right to judge political Islamists by both their words and their actions. iv) Some political Islamists have been very pragmatic in power. Others have been more dogmatic. But fears over the introduction of a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’ by the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt were partly based on speculation rather than experience. v) The UK has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. We agree with this stance. Some political-Islamist groups have broadly been a firewall against extremism and violence.
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