Hosting UK MPs, Egypt's carpet king tries to pull rug from under Muslim Brotherhood

Mon Jun 16, 2014 11:30am EDT

* Egypt cracking down hard on Muslim Brotherhood

* Keen to blunt criticism of arrests, death sentences

* Britain conducting review into Brotherhood

* Event sponsored by pro-Sisi industrialist

* Brotherhood denies any tie to militant attacks

By Shadia Nasralla

CAIRO, June 16 (Reuters) - At a plush Cairo dinner for visiting British politicians, one of Egypt's top businessmen served his guests seafood cocktails, chocolate fondants and a blood-filled video depicting the Muslim Brotherhood as a brutal threat to society.

Mohamed Farid Khamis, an influential carpet tycoon with connections to new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, used Sunday's dinner to profile the dangers state authorities believe the Brotherhood poses in Egypt. It briefly held elected power before it was toppled and almost all of its leaders jailed last year.

Set to dramatic music, the film mixed footage of ousted President Mohamed Mursi, who hailed from the Brotherhood, with clips of armed jihadi fighters and images of Islamist attacks.

The harrowing presentation to the British visitors came upon Khamis' personal invitation, but tied in with an effort by Cairo to calm an international furore over its fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood since Mursi's fall. Hundreds of its backers have been killed and thousands arrested, with hundreds of those prisoners sentenced to death.

Although the almost century-old Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago and has denied any link with recent Islamist militant violence in Egypt, it has been banned and declared a terrorist organisation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"We have decided to make this short film... that gives you the truth about what happened in my country," Khamis told the British politicians who earlier met Sisi, a former army chief who deposed Mursi last July.

The timing for the invitation of the parliamentarians is telling - Britain is conducting a review into the activities of the Brotherhood and its possible links with violence.

Khamis, asked why he was hosting the British politicians for the second time in six months, confirmed that London's review of the Brotherhood was a factor behind his hospitality.

"Great Britain is important in shaping the international judgment and opinion. The Muslim Brothers are concentrating in the UK. The international organisation have their centre in London," Khamis told Reuters at the dinner.

Before tasting their first course the politicians watched militants holding up a severed head, churches in flames and a series of Islamist assassinations. None of the guests commented on the film in their speeches.

Although many of those attacks were claimed by groups other than the Brotherhood, the film seemed to link them to the group.

Since its banishment from Egypt's presidential palace, the Brotherhood's main public mouthpiece has operated out of a two-floor flat above an abandoned kebab shop in northwest London.

CARPET EMPIRE

Khamis, one of Egypt's richest men and once a member of parliament under former president Hosni Mubarak, is the founder and chairman of Oriental Weavers, the self-proclaimed largest machine-made carpet producer in the world.

His political clout allowed him to set up meetings for the British delegation with a number of high-profile public figures including Sisi, who overthrew Mursi after mass protests against him and was himself elected president last month.

Sisi says Egyptians have rejected the Brotherhood and stressed the importance of balancing rights and freedoms with security concerns when he met the British delegation at the weekend, according to his office.

The Brotherhood has said it would openly engage with the British review, despite concern that Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, John Jenkins, would be leading it.

The Brotherhood long based its public support on well-established charity networks and has won the majority of votes in Egypt since the 2011 revolt that ousted autocrat Mubarak.

But when in office, the Brotherhood failed to reassure many that they were committed to a democratic Egypt.

A decree shielding the Mursi's decisions from any appeals system, threats to the freedom of artists, and Islamic preachers calling for holy war in Syria under his watch unsettled Egyptians and foreign observers alike.

"Of course I'm concerned about them as a group. It is clear there is great concern here (in Egypt) and we share that concern," Geoffrey Dear, member of the House of Lords, said as he got up from his dinner table. ($1 = 7.1501 Egyptian Pounds) (Additional reporting by Shadi Bushra in London; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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