The Muslim Brotherhood and the U.K. (Part I)
By J. Millard Burr*
Friday, October 31st, 2014 @ 10:30PM
Left: Kamal el-Helbawy: Egypt should have “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave,” which also means that women should wear head cover in public and Egypt should develop a nuclear program and a nuclear bomb. (Feb. 14, 2011)
David Cameron this year asked Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to launch an investigation into the Brotherhood, amid pressure from the UK’s allies in the Gulf to investigate its alleged terrorist activities. (“UK report clears Muslim Brotherhood of terror links, say lawyers,” The Financial Times, October 24, 2014.)-
Following the rise of military dictatorships in the Arab World, and beginning in the nineteen sixties, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun) fled to Europe where they could enjoy the benefits of the welfare state, constitutional protections, and exile and extradition laws while remaining determined Salafist.
In The Advance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, an excellent short history of the Ikhwan “arrival” in the United Kingdom, Michael Whine specifically used Egyptian Brother Kamal el Helbawy as a symbol of that invasion. Helbawy had joined the Ikhwan in 1951 while a student at secondary school in Munufeiya, Egypt, and by his own admission was involved in outreach [da’wa] for many years. Forced into Exile, while still a young man he helped found the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in 1972. Thereafter, among other things he served as English translator of the Ikhwan’s dominant theologian Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi and produced a translation of his The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam.
In Pakistan, Helbawy served as an advisor to its Center for International Policy Studies, an Islamist research center that dealt with problems associated with civil war in Afghanistan. By his own admission, in 1995 he was selected by the Ikhwan to be their “spokesman in the West.” It appeared that for the first time in its history the Ikhwan decided to set up a base in England. The FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, would later claim that it would serve as the administrative center of the Ikhwan’s “international department.” The FSB noted that the London affiliate was headed by “a rather energetic figure — Kemal al Khalbawi [Kamal el Helbawy].” The Russian service claimed, but did not further elaborate, that Helbawy was an associate of their former enemy, the Afghan Jihadist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (an Ikhwan since his student days).
Shortly after his arrival in the UK, in September 1995 Helbawy gave a well-attended speech in London. Precisely a year later, Helbawy was at the forefront when the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) headquarters was opened in Leicester, England. Helbawy then took charge of its operations, and by 9/11 some twenty UK youth organizations were associated with it.
Helbawy was determined to build on a foundation the Ikhwan had already created but seemed more intellectual than driven by the demand of Islamic outreach (da’wa). By then, the Ikhwan had created the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), which in a few years had become the paramount Muslim institution in Europe. Founded in 1989 and based in Markfield, Leicestershire, UK (also the home of the Pakistan Jamaat-e Islami in Europe), it soon represented Muslims in 27 European nations and maintained institutions devoted to politics, education, charity and religion. Its stated ambition was to “maintain the Muslim presence in Europe, and to enhance and develop that presence so that Islam is properly and accurately introduced.” With tens of thousands of members, it counts hundreds of associated institutions and Islamic centers.
Helbawy next created the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO). However, perhaps not wishing to place all the Ikhwan eggs in one basket, the FEMYSO soon moved to the Continent where it opened its main office in Brussels. From there it began to supervise student activity in eleven European countries.
Helbawy also served as Chairman of the Muslim Investment Corporation Ltd. of London, about which little was known and even less written. In addition, Helbaway continued as Ikhwan spokesman and was responsible for founding the inclusive Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). He served as the Chairman of an organization described in the British Parliament as the British wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Included in Helbawy’s Ikhwan inner circle were Mohammed Kassem Sawalha, a former Hamas military commander, and Azzam al-Tamimi, the Hebron-born Jordanian Muslim Brother. Tamimi had been the mufti of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front from 1989-1992. He had also been the editor of “Al Ribat” the Jordan Ikhwan weekly. Tamimi would eventually become director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in Britain (a Qaradawi qua Ikhwan operation). Another member of the circle was Anas Al-Tikriti, son of the Iraqi Ikhwan Guide Osama al-Tikriti.
In London the Rasalatul Ikhwan Information Center — an Ikhwan satellite — was administered by Muslim Brother Mahmoud Ahmed. The Center issued the “Risalatul Ikhwan,” and other publications including those sponsored by the fraternal Ikhwan Jamaat e-Islami of Pakistan, which already had an enormous influence in the UK.
Helbawy’s tenure was ended when conflict between a revived Cairo center and the British chapter spiraled out of control. Its criticism of his work caused Helbawy to submit his resignation. The internal confusion that followed Helbawy’s departure was muddled when the Egyptian General Guide denied ever appointing Helbawy, stating, “The Brotherhood in the United Kingdom appointed him and I don’t know why they ended it.” Azzam Tamimi, a Jordanian Ikhwan living in London put in his oar, and though a member of Helbawy’s inner circle stated, “None of us were clear whether this spokesman was able to speak for the Brotherhood outside of Egypt, nor did we know his connection to the International Organisation.”
While Helbawy’s served as Ikhwan spokesman for only two years, he would not “resign” from the Ikhwan. In fact, he would castigate “the secretive ways of the Brothers.” As he put it, “The International Organization isn’t an organization at all, it’s just a coordinating body.” He further lamented that there was no proper Ikhwan research center “anywhere in the West, or [even] a TV channel.” In the end, Helbawy’s tenure had been cut short because he was very attuned to the growing estrangement between the Ikhwan’s young turks in Europe and the fossilized leadership in Egypt. When interviewed at a later date Helbawy stated that Europe had actually become the Ikhwan’s Dar al-Da’wa al-Hidaya (The Abode of Islamic Outreach and Guidance). And such organizations as Qardawi’s Institute of Islamic Political Thought were educating a “better generation of scholars.”
Undoubtedly, Helbaway had made powerful friends within Britain’s large Muslim community. Shortly after his arrival he emerged as a trustee of the United Kingdom’s authoritative Islamic Foundation (IF). Founded in 1973 at Leicester, England, the IF served as a Pakistani Jamaat stronghold in Europe. It had flourished under the guidance of the Pakistani Kurshid Ahmad who was founder, professor and rector, and the Foundation’s ideologue. He had been a member (1977-1988) of the Pakistan government of General Zia al-Haq, and at the same time served as Vice President (deputy emir) of the Pakistan Jamaat e-Islami, the fraternal organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Jamaat served (both then and now) as the most powerful Indo-Pakistani voice in Britain.
In the post 9/11 period, Ahmad, like many another Ikhwan, indulged in both commerce and charity. He was a member of the board of Amana Holding and Management Inc., and the Rahma (Compassion) Charitable Foundation; both were Ikhwan fronts registered in Panama by Idris Nasreddin, a Milan-based financier and fellow Ikhwan. Among other things Nasreddin used the Malayan Swiss Gulf and African Chamber, or MIGA, to penetrate the corrupt Iraqi Oil for Food program sponsored by the United Nations. Fingered for his affiliations with Al Qaeda, Nasreddin was listed by the United Nations in 2002 as a terrorist financier.
From its base at Leicester, the Islamic Foundation was for years administered by Khurram Murrad, a noted Islamist intellectual. Named Director in 1978, Murrad’s was an author whose writings were widely read. Especially popular was his “Islamic Movement in the West: Reflections on Some Issues,” produced in 1981, It urged da’wa among the infidels, and was essential reading for a generation of Muslims who had settled in Britain (and in the United States). Under both Ahmed and Murrad the Islamic Foundation focused on education, training and research. It was acclaimed for its publications on Islamic economics, banking and insurance and the publication of such works as the Muslim World Book Review that began publication in 1980.
The Islamic Foundation movement was already a powerful organization when in 1992 it convened a European Conference to commemorate its 20th anniversary at Leicester. What emerged was an “Islam in Europe” unit, which would organize seminars on European pluralism. They were attended by such congenial intellectuals as Tariq Ramadan, Francois Burgat of France, and John Esposito or the United States.
In addition to the IF, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) was yet another organization tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. In a time-tested process initiated by the Brotherhood operating in the West, the MAB opened in 1999 a global information center to enhance communications between Muslim organizations and the international “mass media.” A MAB website was created and linked to the international Muslim Brotherhood site and to the Jamaat e-Islami of Pakistan. Since then most MAB officials have not bothered to deny the organization’s connection with the Ikhwan. However, while the MAB leadership projected a moderate image, its rank and file was known for street protests. The MAB received another transfusion after a 2000 meeting in London when the Syrian Muslim Brothers decided to meld their overseas operation with the MAB.
By 9/11, the Ikhwan movement in the United Kingdom had grown to become the most dynamic influence within the British Muslim population. The arrival of the Egyptian Brother Azzam al-Tamimi had infused new blood in the somewhat sclerotic Ikhwan leadership.
Following 9/11 the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe used the slogan “Don’t attack Iraq/Free Palestine.” And once the government of Saddam Hussein was under direct attack London served as “the center stage for anti-American incitement.” The Ikhwan weekly magazine, The Brotherhood Message (Risalat al-Ikhwan) published in London and distributed throughout the Muslim World, has led the way in “fanning the flames” of opposition to the United States invasion. Produced for European consumption, the magazine’s articles parrot the Ikhwan center’s political line. It has been called a, “mouthpiece for radical Islamic ideas”, and its “venomous tones” filled with hatred for Israel, the United States and the West are considered “no different than those of Al Qaeda.” The Hamas publication Filisteen al-Muslima (Muslim Palestine) was also distributed from London and is only slightly less strident.
Although the UK has outlawed nearly two dozen Muslim organizations since February 2002, militant Islamists still continue to raise funds through other “charities” and in more than 375 mosques found in London alone (more on this in Part II).
* J. Millard Burr is a Senior Fellow at the American Center for Democracy.
J. Millard Burr*
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