By British Parliament
The draft report (‘Political Islam’, and the Muslim Brotherhood Review), was proposed by the Chair, and brought up and read. It was read a second time, paragraph by paragraph. Due to the length of the report, Libya Tribune will published in 4 parts:
‘Political Islam’ is not a clearly defined phrase, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) uses it to describe a broad array of groups. These range from groups that the FCO describes as embracing “democratic principles and liberal values”, to those that it says hold “intolerant and extremist views”. The UK’s opposition to the latter is clear, but its commitment to the former must be clarified. The FCO should publish a clear set of standards for the political philosophies that the UK is committed to engaging with, and we suggest three criteria:
i)Participation in, and preservation of, democracy. Support for democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat.
ii)An interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values.
iii)Non-violence, as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment.
We used these three criteria to assess political Islamists, and to assess the policies of the FCO towards these groups. We found that:
Some political Islamists have embraced elections. Electoral processes that prevent these groups from taking part cannot be called ‘free’. But democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—where we focused our inquiry—must not be reduced to ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and the FCO must encourage both political Islamists and their opponents to accept broader cultures of democracy.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a secretive group, with an ambiguous international structure. But this is understandable given the repression it now experiences.
Some communications, particularly from the Brotherhood, have given contradictory messages in Arabic and English. And some of the responses that the group offered to our questions gave the impression of reluctance to offer a straight answer. The FCO is right to judge political Islamists by both their words and their actions.
Some political Islamists have been very pragmatic in power. Others have been more dogmatic. But fears over the introduction of a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’ by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Egypt were partly based on speculation rather than experience.
The UK has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. We agree with this stance. Some political-Islamist groups have broadly been a firewall against extremism and violence.
Our scrutiny of the Muslim Brotherhood Review was hindered by the Government. Its published Main Findings had significant shortcomings that have damaged the UK’s reputation:
The Review aimed to understand the Brotherhood, but its Main Findings neglected to mention the most significant event in the Brotherhood’s history: its removal from power in Egypt in 2013, the year after being democratically elected, through a military intervention. Another omission is the FCO’s assessment that understanding the Brotherhood “did not require” an examination of events following this removal from power, including the killing in August 2013 of large numbers of protesters who sympathised with the Brotherhood, and the continuing repression of the group in Egypt and elsewhere.
Sir John Jenkins’s appointment to lead the Review, while he served as UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was misguided. It created the perception that Saudi Arabia, an interested party that had designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation the month before the Review was announced, might have undue influence over the Review’s report.
The Government should immediately publish as much as possible of the evidence given to the Muslim Brotherhood Review.
Evidence to the inquiry
1. In March 2016, we announced an inquiry into ‘political Islam’, its characteristics, and how well the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has understood and engaged with ‘political-Islamist’ groups. Our inquiry heard oral evidence in four sessions, and we thank those who attended:
a) Dr Omar Ashour, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter; Dr Courtney Freer, Research Officer at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics; and Ziya Meral, Resident Fellow at the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research.
b) Ibrahim Mounir, Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood; Dr Anas Altikriti, Chief Executive Officer and founder of the Cordoba Foundation; Dr Radwan Masmoudi, adviser to Rached Ghannouchi, the President of the EnNahda party, Tunisia; and Sondos Asem, formerly Foreign Media Coordinator at the office of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt.
c) Mokhtar Awad, Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism, George Washington University; Ed Husain, Senior Adviser at the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics; and Dr Machteld Zee, Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.
d) Mr Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and Neil Crompton, Director, Middle East and North Africa, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
2. We appreciate the strong interest that the public have taken in our inquiry, as shown by the wide range of written evidence that we received. We have published 47 written evidence submissions on our website, and we thank all who contributed. References in this report to documents starting with the code ‘ISL’, for example ISL0047 or similar, are references to submissions that we have published on the website of this inquiry.1
3. Our witnesses have broadly emphasised the importance of ‘political Islam’ for international affairs. But the phrase itself is contentious.2 We have therefore dedicated Chapter 1 to discussing its definition, and offering Conclusions and Recommendations in that respect. We have chosen to focus our inquiry on specific locations, and specific groups, as an additional aid to clarity.
Geographic scope of the inquiry
4. This inquiry focuses on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, although the relevance of ‘political Islam’ is not confined to this area and we have received a number of written submissions relating to other locations.3 Nevertheless, the experience of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions in 2011, the ensuing five years, and the on-going instability in much of the region, has led to historically unprecedented evidence for how ‘political Islamists’ have behaved in power and in opposition.
Political parties discussed in the inquiry
5. One of the parties discussed in this report is the Justice and Development Party (the AK Party, or AKP), which has been the governing party in Turkey since first winning elections in 2003. The AK Party characterises itself as a ‘conservative democrat’ party.4 But some researchers have argued that the party has drawn on ‘Islamist’ principles, and has been an inspiration to ‘political-Islamist’ parties in the MENA region.5 The core themes of this inquiry—the values of non-violence, democracy, and an acceptance of certain fundamental rights and freedoms—are deeply relevant to Turkey. Given the attempted coup attempt on 15 July 2016, we have published Terms of Reference for a separate inquiry into the UK’s Relations with Turkey.6 We will use that inquiry, rather than this report,7 to assess the implications for UK foreign policy of the role of the AK Party.
6. We also discuss the Justice and Development Party (PJD) from Morocco, a ‘political-Islamist’ party that led a coalition government after it was the best-performing party in Moroccan parliamentary elections in 2011. Morocco’s next parliamentary elections are due in October 2016. Most of our case studies and comparisons are, however, between two particular ‘political-Islamist’ parties: the EnNahda party in Tunisia (also spelt in some of our evidence as AnNahda and Al-Nahda), and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) which was established by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
7. The EnNahda party was the best-performing party in the Constituent Assembly elections in Tunisia in 2011, held power during 2012 and 2013, and lost parliamentary elections in 2014. It has formed coalition governments with secular parties, and remains a significant aspect of Tunisia’s political environment. The FJP in Egypt was the best-performing party in parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 but was deposed from power by the Egyptian military on 3 July 2013 following prolonged and massive street protests by millions. It was thereafter proscribed and repressed in Egypt. We have assessed the implications of these two different outcomes to ‘political-Islamist’ rule, in Egypt and Tunisia, for the concept of ‘political Islam’ in general.
8. Much of the analysis in this report has focused on the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the oldest and largest ‘political-Islamist’ group in the MENA region, and was the subject of the UK’s Muslim Brotherhood Review. We have primarily assessed, in Chapter 6, the process through which the Muslim Brotherhood Review was conducted. The other Chapters of this report have, however, addressed some of the subjects explored in the Review’s Main Findings.
Defining ‘political Islam’
The definition used by the FCO
9. There is no universally-accepted definition of ‘political-Islam’, and much of the sensitivity around the phrase is rooted in disputes over its meaning. As Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), told us, along with other witnesses,8 it is not a phrase that individuals or groups within the world’s diverse Muslim communities tend to use to identify themselves. Dr Radwan Masmoudi, an advisor to the President of Tunisia’s EnNahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, said that ‘political Islam’ was “probably the most misunderstood and vague term used in politics today around the world”.9 We therefore focus at the outset on the issue of definition.
10. The FCO provided us with its definition of ‘political Islam’, as well as an explanation of how it approaches the phenomenon, in its opening written submission to our inquiry.10 The FCO defined the broader concept of ‘Islamism’ as promoting “the application of Islamic values to modern government and society”.11 Within Islamism, the FCO defined ‘political Islam’ in the following way:
Political Islamists pursue their goals through participation in political processes. However, in some cases, such participation is purely tactical and does not reflect a fundamental belief in democratic processes and values. Political Islamism can include overtly extremist views, opposition to democracy, and attitudes that are fundamentally hostile to the West and liberal, progressive societies. The range of views, beliefs and objectives espoused by political Islamists is consequently very broad and, while at one end of the spectrum, there are groups and individuals that demonstrate a genuine commitment to democratic principles and liberal values such as equality and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs, at the other end of the spectrum are groups and individuals that do not and hold intolerant, extremist views.12
11. The FCO emphasised non-violence, and a broad definition, in its description of ‘political Islam’. Tobias Ellwood told us that “the term ‘political Islam’, as generally understood, covers a broad spectrum of non-violent movements and ideologies”.13 In oral evidence, Mr Ellwood was twice asked whether his definition of ‘political Islam’ included Al-Qaeda and ISIL, and his answers did not clearly exclude them. But, in a subsequent written answer, he told us that:
You mention Da’esh (ISIL) and al Qaeda in your question. I think we need to be clear that such violent terrorist groups are beyond the pale in terms of UK engagement. Nor would we include them in our definition of political Islam.14 [Emphasis in original]
12. In terms of broadness, Mr Ellwood described ‘political Islam’ as “a catch-all phrase … a useful label, if you like, to encompass political parties, groups and organisations that, as I say, have very different contexts and backdrops”.15 The FCO told us that “it is not practical or useful to adopt a single approach in all circumstances”16 and spoke instead about a “case-by-case basis”.17 The FCO described its case-by-case basis as being a “geographical basis”18 premised on the different countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Mr Ellwood told us that:
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s engagement with political Islam is part and parcel of its engagement with the countries in the region19…Depending on where we are working, what we are doing in those countries and what is happening in those countries, it will vary from piece to piece.20
We asked Mr Ellwood whether it may be appropriate to sub-divide the groups within the FCO’s broad definition of ‘political Islam’ into more specific ideological categories.21 He told us that: “I think the right approach is not to try to come up with a specific policy approach to each different strand within political Islam.”22
13. National circumstances are certainly a relevant factor for assessing political-Islamist groups, but it is also the case that some of the most significant recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—from the Arab Spring to the spread of ISIL—show the power of ideas that cross national borders. Political Islamist groups in different countries influence one another, and share elements of political ideology and philosophy. The FCO should supplement its country-specific framework for understanding ‘political Islam’ with a thematic basis for analysis, which forms policies towards common global, regional, and political ideologies as well as individual countries.
The FCO’s engagement with ‘political Islam’
14. Speaking about the FCO’s objectives when it engages with ‘political Islam’, Mr Ellwood told us that:
We should encourage moves towards more democratic, accountable, pluralistic cultures which respect other faiths and minorities and defend human and civil rights. And we should be prepared to engage with all parties and movements which are prepared to renounce violence and move along the democratic path.
The FCO’s written submission likewise emphasised a “commitment to non-violence, inclusive governance, tolerance of other faiths and of minorities and, where relevant, respect for international agreements”23 as being key criteria for assessing ‘political-Islamist’ parties. The submission also repeatedly emphasised the importance, within UK policy, of countering ‘extremism’.24
The definitions provided by our witnesses
15. The definitions of ‘political Islam’ that were provided by our witnesses often differed between the broad and narrow, depending on whether these witnesses were supportive or sceptical of ‘political Islam’. Some of our witnesses, generally those who were more sceptical, provided us with broader definitions.25 These definitions often included democratic and non-violent groups alongside violent and anti-democratic groups under the labels of ‘political Islam’ or ‘Islamism’. Some witnesses argued that these groups had shared goals, even if the methods for reaching these goals differed.26 These end goals have been described by some as being to implement a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’, or to establish a ‘Caliphate’.27
16. Other witnesses, predominantly those who were supportive of the concept, provided us with a narrower definition of ‘political Islam’. In particular, these witnesses rejected the term ‘Islamism’ as too vague to be useful28 and too tainted by associations with violence and extremism.29 Some witnesses also objected to the phrase ‘political Islam’, on theological grounds.30 But these witnesses, who supported the concept, overwhelmingly argued that there existed a distinctive sub-section of ‘Islamist’ ideology, one that should be differentiated from other forms of ‘Islamism’ on the particular basis of its non-violence31 and commitment to democracy; for example, some specifically asked to be called ‘Muslim Democrats’.32
Our definition of ‘political Islam’
17. We have identified three values that should guide the degree of positive engagement with groups and parties in the MENA region. These values should be applied to political Islamists, but they should also be a benchmark for assessing all political philosophies on an equal basis globally, with the same standards being applied to the Islamists as to all other ideologies in terms of what behaviour is acceptable to the UK and what is not.
18. We partially agree with the FCO’s definition of ‘political Islam’. We agree with their definition of it as a broad phenomenon that encompasses a wide range of different beliefs, but believe that groups engaged in illegal violence should be included in the definition despite them being excluded from overt engagement with the UK Government. The FCO should use more precise language to differentiate between different types of political Islamist. The FCO told us that there is one form of Islamism that embraces “democratic principles and liberal values”, and another form of Islamism that instead holds “intolerant, extremist views”. We consider it inappropriate to place these two types of Islamism within the same, single category and—if the FCO wishes to encourage Islamist groups towards democracy, non-violence, and a flexible interpretation of their faith—then we recommend that it devises a vocabulary that doesn’t group these types together.
19. The FCO’s submission to our inquiry repeatedly emphasises the need to tackle extremism. By contrast, the need to recognise the legitimacy of democratic, peaceful, and ideologically moderate groups is less prominent within the FCO submission. As the FCO told us, an effective strategy for countering Islamist extremism is vital for the UK’s national interests. But, in addition to outlining the ideologies that the UK is determined to oppose in the MENA region, the FCO should likewise make a clear case for the political philosophies that the UK will commit to engage with. We suggest the above three criteria as a basis for doing so.
Democracy and political Islam
Democracy and elections: Winning elections
20. Some political Islamists emphasise that an acceptance of democracy is at the heart of their values, and some have specifically identified themselves as ‘Muslim Democrats’.33 But this assertion has been treated with scepticism by some. For example, Dr Maria Holt, from the University of Westminster, told us that “Islamic involvement in politics is viewed by many in the west and some western governments as being inherently ‘dangerous’ and probably undemocratic”.34
21. In as much as they have seen an extension of free and fair elections, democratic openings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have resulted in a number of successes for parties that we would classify as political Islamist. There were examples in Algeria, Turkey, and the Palestinian Territories prior to 2011, but it was the Arab Spring revolutions—and the elections that they led to—that gave political Islamists an unprecedented opportunity to seek power in several MENA states. Different varieties of political Islamist performed strongly in elections in Tunisia (2011), Morocco (2011 and 2016), Egypt (2012), Libya (2012), Iraq (2014), and Jordan (2016).
22. The acceptance of democracy by political Islamists has led to them being condemned by extremist, militant Islamist groups. ISIL, for example, devoted 25 pages of the fourteenth issue of its regular propaganda publication (in April 2016) to denigrating the Muslim Brotherhood for—among other things—participating in elections.35 The group has been similarly condemned by Al-Qaeda, whose leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio message in August 2016 that described the Brotherhood as misguided for participating in parliamentary elections under a secular constitution.36
23. As well as contesting national elections, several political Islamist parties told us that their internal procedures were also premised on the principle that decision-making bodies should be elected. Dr Radwan Masmoudi, an advisor to the President of Tunisia’s EnNahda party, described EnNahda’s decision-making institutions as elected:
There is the Congress—we had one just two and a half weeks ago—which is about 1,200 elected people. It is the highest institution in the party. Then there is the elected Shura Council, with 150 people, and they set the policy between the two Congresses.37
24. The Muslim Brotherhood also emphasised to us that its internal procedures were premised on elections. The organisation’s evidence to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, which was also submitted to our inquiry, said:
The Muslim Brotherhood is a democratic organisation that despite the repression, managed to elect more than nine leaders since its foundation until today through a popular internal democratic process. It is of note that all positions within the Muslim Brotherhood from the most junior post to the most senior are obtained through elections.38
25. The Nour party, a Salafist party from Egypt that participates in elections and is associated with a more conservative interpretation of ‘Islamic law’, also told us that its internal institutions (its president, presidential committee, and its High Authority) are elected.39
26. Several witnesses gave us a theological justification for the compatibility of Islam and democracy, rooted in the Islamic concept of ‘shura’. Mohamed Soudan, the Foreign Relations Secretary for the Freedom and Justice Party, said:
According to Islam, it is the society as a whole—not one person, like the Egyptian pharaoh in the time of Moses—that owns and exercises power…Al-Shura, or consultation, is the Quranic expression of democracy.40
Ibrahim Mounir was another witness who emphasised the relationship of ‘shura’ with democracy, saying that “an action cannot take place against people’s choice and opinion, at least in priority matters; this is where a near-complete (if not complete) consensus can be reached”.41 Among the characteristics of democracy that were emphasised by the Nour party in Egypt were “Shura (consultation)” and “considering the opinion of the majority of those who have the right to vote”.42
27. Political Islamists self-identifying as democrats have embraced elections as a mechanism for contesting and winning power. They should be allowed to freely participate in democratic processes, and the FCO should use the ability of political Islamists to take part as one of the key criteria for defining free elections in the MENA region.
Democracy and elections: A ‘majoritarian’ understanding?
28. Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, told us that a ‘winner-takes-all’ conceptualisation of democracy was an issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA):
That is a failing, I should stress, which both secular and Islamist parties are prone to and which points to the need to develop a culture of democracy throughout the region. Whichever party comes out on top in an election needs to recognise the need to govern on behalf of all sections of the electorate.43
Some witnesses have argued, particularly with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood, that political Islamists have held a ‘majoritarian’ view of democracy, meaning that they reduce democracy to votes and elections (rather than considering wider cultures of democracy) and that they emphasise themselves as victors, without the need to share power or compromise on their policies.46
29. The EnNahda party from Tunisia and the Nour party from Egypt specifically refuted this accusation of majoritarianism. The Nour party told us that it had accepted representation in Egypt’s 2012 constitution-drafting assembly that was less than the proportion of its representation in parliament, and that it had insisted on the inclusion of other, smaller parties in a variety of processes.47 From EnNahda, Dr Rafik Abdessalem, the head of the party’s External Relations Department, told us in the party’s written submission that:
Ennahdha approached the transition with the view that transitional phases should not be governed by a 51% majority. It sought to build consensus between the broadest possible trends in society in order to establish stable and shared democratic traditions.48
30. In terms of emphasising itself as a victor, the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathisers have argued that the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) “won five elections” in Egypt.49 We examined the five votes that took place in Egypt in 2011 and 2012:
i) Of these five votes, two were referendum campaigns. The FJP campaigned on the winning side of both campaigns. These referendums were votes on issues rather than votes on parties per se. The FJP was not the only party to campaign on the winning side.50
ii) The FJP’s other three victories came in elections. In the second round of the 2012 presidential election, the party did win a majority of the votes cast: The FJP’s Mohamed Morsi become president after he won 51.7% of the votes cast and his rival, Ahmad Shafik, won 48.3%.51
iii) In the other two 2012 elections, to the Lower House (People’s Assembly) and Upper House (Shura Council) of the Egyptian parliament, the FJP was the best-performing party, though it did not win a majority of the votes cast. In elections to the Lower House (completed in January 2012) the FJP won 37.5% of votes cast.52 In elections to the Upper House (completed in February 2012) the FJP won 45% of votes cast.53 Other parties, such as the Salafist ‘Nour’ party (which was the second-best performing) and the more-liberal, secularist ‘Wafd’ party (which was the third-best performing), also gained significant representation.54
iv) Turnout figures varied. For elections to the Lower House, turnout was 54%.55 For elections to the Upper House, turnout was approximately 11-12%.56 For the second round of the presidential election, which Mohamed Morsi won, it was 51.85%.57
31. We asked Sondos Asem, a former Foreign Media Coordinator at the office of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, about Morsi’s victory as the FJP candidate in the second round of the 2012 presidential election.58 To assess whether the FJP had exaggerated its mandate, we observed that the result had seen the FJP win the votes of approximately quarter of the electorate rather than, as Miss Asem had previously argued, “a majority of Egyptians”.59. She replied that:
The suggestion that the President only had the support of a “quarter of the electorate, not a majority of Egyptians” is typical of an unfortunate double standard that has plagued assessment of the situation in Egypt. The standard in any democracy is the mandate given by voters. For example, in the US presidential elections in the same year, Mr Obama won only 51.1 percent of the votes, with a voter turnout of 54.9 percent. That represents only 28% of Americans. Yet no one would dispute Mr Obama’s mandate.60
It is also the case that other political Islamist parties at the time—the PJD in Morocco and EnNahda in Tunisia, in 2011—also won power without receiving a majority of the votes cast in their elections.
Democratic culture: sharing power
32. As well as the mechanics of elections, democracy also involves a broader culture. A key aspect of this culture, and one that was especially relevant in the political context that followed the Arab Spring, is power-sharing. The free and fair elections that took place in several Arab states in 2011 and 2012 gave Arab political parties an incentive to compete. But their highly-fractured political environments, combined with the need to govern effectively and re-draft national constitutions after decades of dictatorship, gave them a need to cooperate.
33. In both Tunisia and Morocco, political Islamist parties won elections in 2011 and shared power through coalition governments. They formed these coalitions with more secularist parties and, in both Morocco and Tunisia, the winning political-Islamist party included in its initial coalition the party that had performed second-best in the election:
In Tunisia, the EnNahda party won a plurality in the 2011 Constituent Assembly elections. But it governed in coalition ‘troika’ with two smaller, more secularist parties: ‘Ettakatol’ and the ‘Congress for the Republic’ party.61 When EnNahda lost the 2014 parliamentary election it contributed to the cabinet led by the winner, the secularist Nidaa Tounes party, as a coalition partner.62 In its written submission, EnNahda emphasised its aim to create an inclusive political culture and its “rejection of any monopolisation of power by one party”.63
In Morocco, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) was the best performing in the 2011 parliamentary elections but it governed in coalition with smaller, more secularist parties that included the ‘Istiqlal’ party (the larger of the coalition partners, and one that subsequently pulled out of the coalition in 2013).64
34. In Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality in the 2012 parliamentary elections. But it did not ultimately form a coalition with the second-best performing party (the Salafist ‘Nour’ party) or with the third-best performing (the more liberal, and secularist, ‘Wafd’ party).
Sondos Asem told us that the Nour Party had withdrawn from the FJP’s coalition, the Democratic Alliance.65 The Nour party told us that it had never been part of the Democratic Alliance.66 Sondos Asem has written that the FJP avoided an alliance with the Salafists because such an alliance would impede (rather than enhance) the FJP’s efforts to be inclusive.67
Sondos Asem described the Democratic Alliance as an inclusive “cross-ideological alliance”.68 But evidence shows that, regardless of the diversity of its member parties, the Democratic Alliance was dominated by the FJP, which held 94% of the coalition’s 226 seats in parliament.69
35. Witnesses sympathetic to the FJP told us that the party took numerous steps to be inclusive. Sondos Asem said that President Mohamed Morsi had fulfilled his promise to have “an inclusive presidential team” as he appointed four “senior assistants” with the rank of deputy-prime minister, including a woman, a Coptic Christian, and a Salafist.70 Wael Haddara, a former senior advisory to Mohamed Morsi, told us that the former president had “coordinated meetings with every segment of society”.71 His evidence then provides a list of different meetings held on different dates.72
36. Nevertheless, a report commissioned by the Egyptian authorities, and published in June 2015, said that “the Muslim Brotherhood’s assurance that it did not seek to monopolise parliament was nothing more than a façade”.73 When asked what factors led to the removal of the FJP from power, Tobias Ellwood MP said that “there was resistance, if you like, to the monopoly of power that the Muslim Brotherhood was creating”.74
37. In their definitions of democracy, political Islamists have sometimes emphasised a highly mechanical understanding that equates democracy with elections, and reduces elections to an outcome of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. There is a risk that this definition fails to take sufficient account of broader aspects of democratic culture, such as power sharing and inclusive governance. In terms of how they have behaved in power, some political-Islamist parties—especially EnNahda in Tunisia—have shown a greater acceptance of broader democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat. The FCO should encourage a broader understanding of democracy, and condemn majoritarian and exclusionary practices whether they are committed by Islamists, their opponents, or other governments.
Democracy and checking power
38. A key principle of democracy is that there is a separation of the different branches of the state, and that a system of checks and balances exists between them. In particular, the independence of the judiciary is maintained under democracies, to ensure that all individuals—no matter what their power or status—are subject to the rule of law.
39. Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have accused this group in particular of disregarding these principles. These critics have focused on the relationship of President Mohamed Morsi (and his FJP-led government) with the judiciary. The report commissioned by the current Egyptian authorities argued that the FJP had disregard for the rule of law. One example that it gave was an effort by President Morsi to prevent the Egyptian parliament from being annulled:
On 10 July 2012, Morsi reinstated the Islamist-dominated parliament that had previously been disbanded by the Supreme Constitutional Court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional as its membership was too unrepresentative…The decision to defy the court’s ruling and reconvene Parliament raised concerns that Morsi was acting beyond his authority.75
Granting himself almost total power while effectively neutralizing a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent. He did so by declaring that the courts were barred from challenging his decisions and in particular barring the Constituent Assembly from being dissolved rendering any dissolution ruling by the courts moot.77
40. The Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathisers told us that, rather than undermining democracy, actions like Mohamed Morsi’s 21 November decree were designed to protect elected institutions from unelected bodies—like Egypt’s judiciary—that were biased against the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s submission to the Muslim Brotherhood Review said:
President Morsi issued a decree in an attempt to protect the constitutional process and protect the Assembly from being dissolved…Morsi undertook these protective steps as it was clear to him at that time that the Judiciary were not neutral.78
The inability of President Morsi to safeguard elected institutions led him to resort to the controversial November 2012 decree…the real struggle in the Egyptian transition was not simply ideological, but was a power struggle between pro-democracy forces and an entrenched undemocratic military regime…The coup against President Morsi was perhaps a result of his persistent (but failed) attempts to challenge a deeply entrenched military regime.80
42. The FCO should have made clearer its concerns over the incompetent, non-inclusive, and narrow nature and behaviour of President Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt. The FCO should also condemn the influence of the military in politics as contrary to UK values. The FCO should not let itself be seen as justifying the way in which the FJP was removed from power in Egypt, and it should be forthright in highlighting to the Egyptian Government the contradictions inherent in forcibly excluding the Muslim Brotherhood from taking part in democratic processes.
To be Continued …