In the Foreign Affairs Committee Report, MPs conclude that the phrase ‘political Islam’ is vague; has no universally-accepted meaning, and includes a very wide variety of groups.
Inappropriate to place two types of Islamism within one single category
The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) uses the term to describe both groups that embrace “democratic principles and liberal values” and groups that instead hold “intolerant, extremist views”. The Committee believes it is inappropriate to place these two types of Islamism within one single category.
The UK therefore needs a clear set of criteria for distinguishing which ‘political Islamist’ groups with which to engage. The report suggests three standards, based on the values the UK should uphold:
- Participation in, and preservation of, democracy. Support for democratic culture, including the commitment to give up power following election defeat.
- An interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values.
- Non-violence, as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment.
The Muslim Brotherhood Review
The FCO’s approach to ‘Political Islam’ should also be informed by the shortcomings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review, led by Sir John Jenkins.
This secretive Review sought to understand the Muslim Brotherhood but failed to mention some of the most significant factors influencing the Brotherhood, not least its removal from power in Egypt in 2013 and the subsequent repression of its supporters. The Committee concluded that its scrutiny of the Review was hindered by the Government.
FCO needs a clear basis for engagement
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, commented:
“Through its counter-extremism and counter-terrorism strategies, it is clear what values the UK opposes. But the UK’s standing in the world also depends on it clearly articulating, through the FCO, the values that this country supports and therefore the groups with which we will engage.
We have suggested three values that can be a basis for the FCO to assess, on equal terms, groups and movements around the world. They apply to ‘political Islamists’ and their opponents, as well as other political philosophies.
We absolutely agree with the FCO on the need for a nuanced approach to the broad phenomenon of ‘political Islam’. We only regret that this approach does not appear to have been applied to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, which failed to mention some of what we saw as the most elementary factors that determine the group’s current behaviour.
Political Islamists self-identifying as democrats have performed well in recent elections in the Middle East and North Africa region. We feel that the challenges and opportunities of engaging with them will remain for the foreseeable future. The FCO needs a clear basis for this engagement, and the failings of the Muslim Brotherhood Review must not be repeated if this engagement is to be credible.”