British gov’t slammed for visit to Muslim Brotherhood

Official visit by the UK Foreign office leads to heavy criticism; official to 'Post': Embassy maintains 'working level contacts' in Egypt.

By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 19, 2011 22:14
3 minute read.
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders [file]

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders 311 (R). (photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)

 
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LONDON – A prominent London-based counter-extremism think tank has criticized the British government over its decision to conduct an official visit to the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt last week.

On Thursday, a delegation from the British Foreign Office, led by Consul-General Marie- Louise Archer and Foreign Office Relations Coordinator Martin Hetringen, visited the Brotherhood’s administrative office in Alexandria.

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According to a story on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website IkhwanWeb, Archer said the meeting was part of “British efforts to increase cooperation and accepting cultural differences with Egypt’s political and intellectual trends after the January 25 revolt.”

The visit was condemned by the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based think-tank set up by former Islamists to “address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity and belonging in a globalized world.”

“The Brotherhood is a major player in Egypt and it is not unreasonable for the British government to meet with its representatives, however the Brotherhood is a past master of using such ‘engagement’ to further its own anti-Western agenda and to sideline more liberal Muslim voices – while also whitewashing its own extremist beliefs,” said James Brandon, head of research at Quilliam.

The Muslim Brotherhood reported that Hetringen expressed the British government’s desire “to open the door for direct political dialogue” with the organization, noting that delegations from the Foreign Office were “previously keen on holding meetings and contacts with the group’s leaders and members, despite obstacles placed in their way.”

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Brandon said that this showed that the British government has no ideas on how to engage critically with the Islamist organization.

“There is no evidence that the British government has any real strategy for how to engage critically with the Brotherhood in a way that does not result in the Brotherhood becoming further empowered and emboldened. For too long the Foreign Office has been happy to indulge the Muslim Brotherhood as the authentic voice of the Arab street,” he said.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Hamdi Hassan said the meeting had been a “good opportunity to exchange views” and discuss the group’s view on the forthcoming elections.

He also told the delegation that the Islamist organization does not discriminate among presidential candidates and takes a tough stance on Salafis demolishing the shrines of Sufi figures. He also discussed the group’s party platform and position with regard to women and Copts.

Hassan said on the Brotherhood website that the meeting was a positive step as it allowed the Foreign Office to find out more about the ideas of the Islamist group’s leaders, “without relying, as was previously done, upon the opinions of others.”

The Foreign Office told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the government has working level contacts with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is one part of the mosaic of political voices in Egypt, and so we will continue to have contact with those members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are a part of, or are likely to become a part of, the current dialogue,” a spokesman told the Post.

“Our embassy in Cairo maintains working level contacts with many government and opposition figures, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We have been in contact with members of the Muslim Brotherhood in their positions as elected representatives in the Egyptian parliament.

“We will continue to have contacts with those members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are, or who are likely to be, part of the political dialogue process in Egypt and who have agreed to operate within that process,” the Foreign Office spokesman said.

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