Why did the Muslim Brotherhood survive in London?

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read
Hesham Shafick
Hesham Shafick
Hesham Shafick

By Hesham Shafick

            “The Brotherhood back to jails” might be the theme of the universal attack against the group – led by the Egyptian protesters and military.  Being an MB research specialist, I have developed relationships with MB leaders of all levels and ages. Some of those relationships had grown to be personal, which definitely makes me sympathise with them on the humanitarian level.  However, being an academic I learnt not to put this into the equation. The relevant part is that many of those leaders either escaped to London or had relatives over there. And as I landed in London for my Postgraduate studies, I went to visit.

            As a scholar and a specialist in the MB, London is a great floor to explore. A city that may seem a land of freedom and diversity is in fact more fascist than most developing countries. I had to go to register my name at the police station, just because I hold a low-rank passport that makes me more vulnerable to trouble-making. Then it is not democracy and tolerance that makes the Muslim Brotherhood escape Muslim States to London, there must be something bigger; something that makes the group able to keep its position, funding, and popularity in a foreign capital while losing a religious-Muslim capital that they ruled for a year.

It might be the mere fact that the MB achieved official power that made the group lose in Egypt. Revising the literature of Hassan El-Banna and early thinkers of the Brotherhood -excluding Sayed Qotb – assuming direct governance was never on the plan. Even Qotb’s literature preached for a militia-based enforcement of Sharia, yet not economic and political governance. Leaders of the Brotherhood found themselves in a dilemma, in which they could never decide who rules who, the Brotherhood rules the state, or the president rules the Brotherhood, a dilemma that lasted until the very last moments. It was psychologically and organisationally impossible to shift from an underground organisation that has confidentiality on the top of its priority list to a state that must be transparent on its every action. In London, and in Egypt before they governed, those fellows did not need to tell where they get their money from as long as they used it for the benefit of the poor- who are always their main supporters.

On an international level, the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo was a risk factor on all its neighbors in the Arab world. Those neighbours in Gulf-Saudi Arabia and UAE in specific- sponsored the war on the MB in Egypt. On the other hand, the risk factor is much less, probably diminishing, in London. The Muslim Brotherhood in London even plays a liaison role in the European foreign policy to the Middle East, a historical role that extends to the early beginnings of the Muslim Brotherhood politically sponsored by the British State.

Yet the social component plays the biggest role in this comparison. In Egypt, Islamists do have the luxury of choice between different Islamist groups. In London, they are all the Muslim Brotherhood at the end – as they all fall under the umbrella of the Muslim Association in Britain (MAB). The reason for this is simple: Muslim Arabs in London who care about associating themselves with Muslim groups are blue-collars and second rank officers, only MB officials have the money to sponsor their initiatives.  British Muslim Initiative, Centre for International Policy Studies,  European Council for Fatwa, Research Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), Muslim Student Association in Britain, Institute for the Study of Human Sciences, Institute of Islamic Political Thought, Interpal, Libyan Islamic Group, Mashreq Media Services,  Muslim Aid,  Muslim Welfare, Trust, Palestine Return Centre,  Palestine Times, and Union of Good, are few items on the list. In addition, eagerness to associate oneself for a blue-collar in London makes a variety of Muslims from different ideological backgrounds join those groups and causes sponsored by the MB, even if they would never do that back home. Finally, the peculiarity an Arab has within the London community is enough to not aim for other distinctions as Salafi, Sufi, Jihadi, Takfiri, etc.

Finally rests the human-resource component. Most of the MB leaders in London are those who were allowed to escape the Arab regimes at times of MB Diasporas.  In order to get this chance, you needed to be really rich and connected. This leaves Cairo with the less skilled elite than those of London (exclude Council of Guidance, as most of them actually returned back from London to Cairo in the 90s- Omar Suleiman’s deal). In addition, living in London gave them more windows to experience, knowledge and network. It is worth mentioning that- according to a Haddad family member who refused to mention his name- London MB leaders do not tend to intra-marry from one another as is the case in Egypt.

On 18 May, I published an article on Daily News Egypt that asserts the imperative laxity of the Brotherhood and kept the “when” question open. Now I forecast their return, in Cairo, based on the London model, and again raise the “when” question.

Hesham Shafick is a policy researcher at the University of London, and the former executive manager of the Muslim Brotherhood Unit, Cairo Center for Strategic Studies.

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