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Talk to moderates of Islamist organizations, say British MPs

CAIRO: The British government should talk with “moderate members of influential Islamist organizations like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine’s Hamas, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a report issued by the British House of Commons said. Global Security: The Middle East report, put together by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee – which comprises Conservative, Labour and Liberal …


CAIRO: The British government should talk with “moderate members of influential Islamist organizations like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine’s Hamas, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a report issued by the British House of Commons said.

Global Security: The Middle East report, put together by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee – which comprises Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs – makes a number of recommendations for Britain’s Middle East policy, on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the war in Iraq.

In Egypt, the report recommended that the British government – as the largest foreign investor in the country – should use its healthy diplomatic relations with Cairo to maintain pressure on the Egyptian government to “widen participation in its political system.

It noted that the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity and influence in the country made it impossible to ignore as a political force, and that “as long as the Muslim Brotherhood expresses a commitment to the democratic process and non-violence.the British government should engage with it and seek to influence its members.

Emad Gad, researcher at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, deems the report a “very negative development. According to Gad, the British group that put the report together “does not understand the mentality of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

“We in Egypt know about their own vision to Islamize society, and they deal with the West as an enemy, Gad told Daily News Egypt. “Look at their manifesto – they talk about applying sharia.

However the report’s Chairman, Mike Gapes, countered that the Committee had been to Egypt and the Middle East in March, and many of its members were regular visitors to the country, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“This is no armchair report, Gapes told Daily News Egypt. “I was in Rafah in 2005, and I can tell you the crossings there were far better off then, he said, adding that the report draws on a large volume of oral and written reports from analysts and academics.

In Lebanon the report concluded that Hezbollah’s influence, along with Iran’s and Syria’s, continues to be a “malign one . However, Hezbollah’s significance in the country’s political and social systems means that “the movement will realistically only be disarmed through a political process, the report said.

It added that Britain should continue to refuse to engage with the military wing of Hezbollah, and condemned the smuggling of arms into the country by Iran and Syria.

It said that although Israel had the “right to defend itself from terrorist threats, its military’s actions in last summer’s war were “indiscriminate and disproportionate, and that its overflights into Lebanese territory should be stopped.

The approach taken toward dealing with the MB should also be adopted with “moderate members of Hamas, Gapes said.

“Hamas is not a homogenous organization, he asserted, “and moderate members should be engaged.

“The situation [in Palestine] is far worse now than before. Yes Israel is engaging with [Fatah in] the West Bank, but there is no prospect of a comprehensive agreement that includes Gaza.

Gapes said that the boycott adopted by Israel and the West following the establishment of the unity government was a “mistake , and represented a failure to capitalize on the shift in Hamas’ politics seen in the Mecca agreement.

Gad, on the other hand, complained that the report would encourage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to adopt violence as a means of achieving political goals.

“These parties will get the message that they are right to use violence, he said. “They are against the ideas of democracy and human rights, and once they are in power they will cancel democracy and apply sharia.

The British Foreign Affairs Committee, Gapes said, was not advocating the politics of Hamas or Hezbollah, but he insisted that the report “takes a realistic approach, recognizing the need for urgent progress – and we won’t get that by ignoring the realities.

Gapes added that the he was hopeful that Tony Blair’s new role as Middle East envoy would bear fruit, pointing to his impressive “credentials in Northern Ireland.

“I worked with Mr. Blair during the 97-98 agreement in Ireland. I know that the efforts he put in over 10 years were serious, ongoing, and engaged.

“I’m not saying you can draw simple parallels between Northern Ireland and the Middle East, but Tony Blair has a lot of experience and knows many of the players involved.

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