David Cameron's decision to order an investigation into claims that the Muslim Brotherhood had been organising terrorist acts in Egypt from Britain did not come out of the blue. Britain has for months come under pressure from the Gulf monarchies who plotted and bankrolled the military takeover in Egypt to close down London as free space for diaspora Arab dissent.
Senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood who escaped arrest in Egypt have fled mainly to Doha and Istanbul. The importance of London lies in its legal system, for it is here that a legal battle is set to take place challenging the government's decision to extend immunity from prosecution to junior members of foreign governments or military accused of war crimes. Not for nothing did the Brotherhood drop a significant legal name in its response to the government. They said that they had engaged the services of the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC.
If such a challenge succeeds, it would not only apply to former members of the Israeli cabinet and generals who had command and control responsibilities for Operation Cast Lead, but it would also make visiting members of the Egyptian government, judiciary and military vulnerable to arrest for war crimes under universal jurisdiction. Another legal action is aimed at bringing a case before the International Criminal Court, on behalf of the imprisoned former President Mohamed Morsi, for four massacres carried out last August. London is also where a number of Arab-language satellite channels and media organisations are based.
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have large sticks to wave at any British government wishing to preserve its position as the lead arms supplier to the Gulf. BAE Systems signed in February a deal with Saudi Arabia for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, worth $4.4 billion in 2007, although protracted negotiations nearly came unstuck last November over the price of advanced weaponry. This deal has survived, but one has already been lost.
In November at around the time doubts surfaced about the Saudi deal, the British government was lobbied by the United Arab Emirates to shut down al-Hiwar Arab language satellite station. The Emiratis were angered by its pro-islamist sympathies. The Emiratis were told politicians can not do that, and it was a matter for the regulators. They then threatened in general terms to drop impending commercial deals. A month later, BAE Systems lost a deal to supply 60 Typhoon fighters to the UAE, which was worth between $6 and 10 billion.
The pressure from the Saudis and Emiratis has divided Whitehall and set government departments against each other. The Treasury has been lobbying Downing Street over the importance of the Saudi contracts. But some in the Foreign Office are cautious about classifying an organization they continue to see as non-violent organization and one which campaigns for democracy as terrorists. There are pragmatic reasons for their policy.
The brotherhood is a large movement not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world, and the Foreign Office have been involved in a number of initiatives aimed at inclusive government after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. Forcing the Brotherhood underground would destroy those contacts and all that work.
Although the Brotherhood in Egypt has its back to the wall, with over 2,000 of its members killed, 21,000 in prison including its entire leadership, and 529 supporters sentenced to death after a two day trial, the organization itself continues to function. The unprecedented military crackdown has not prevented its shura council from convening within Egypt. Its cell structure, finances and internal communication are in tact. With over a million members and their families, the organization can rival in size the Egyptian interior ministry.
With the repression getting worse, the Brotherhood is coming under intense pressure in the Egyptian social media to abandon "silmiya" or peacefulness. Tweets saying: "silmiya does not work" are common. Mohammed Badie, its imprisoned leader passed a message from his cell in court last week to affirm the movement's line that "silmiya" will work and that if they can survive the crackdown under Nasser, they can survive this one as well.
Hunted and hounded though it is, the Brotherhood remains Egypt's last bulwark capable of channeling protests against military oppression in a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience. If the Saudis, Emiratis, and Egyptian generals had their way and the Brotherhood disbanded, there would be no accounting for where its former members would go. It is safe to say that a proportion of their membership would conclude that democratic politics does not work and would join militant Islamist groups.
The potential numbers involved on Europe's borders itself should give cause for alarm. Britain alone would be vulnerable to absorbing radicalized activists of Egyptian parentage with the UK citizenship and passports, many more than is currently the case in Syria. On British security grounds alone, there are compelling reasons for keeping the Muslim Brotherhood as a legally recognized organization.
Al Qaeda in Yemen, the most active of the franchises in Asia, are only too aware of the recruitment opportunity the crackdown on the Egyptian Brotherhood provides. Ebrahim Al Rubaysh of AQAP said that listing the Brotherhood as a terrorist group sent "a message for all groups who are softening their processes and abandoning some of their principles "that they would never be accepted by the "heads of disbelief" -- al Qaeda shorthand for secular and pro-western Arab governments. It is in everyone's interest, but particularly Britain's, to prove those words wrong.