UK review says Muslim Brotherhood membership a possible indicator of extremism

LONDON/CAIRO (Reuters) - A British government review into Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood published on Thursday concluded that membership of or links to the political group should be considered a possible indicator of extremism but stopped short of recommending that it should be banned.

The long-delayed review into the organization was first commissioned in April 2014 by Prime Minister David Cameron with a remit to examine whether the group put British national security at risk.

“Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism,” Cameron said in a statement.

He described the group as “deliberately opaque, and habitually secretive”.

“The main findings of the review support the conclusion that membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism,” he said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi launched the toughest crackdown on Islamists in Egypt’s modern history after toppling President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in 2013.

Sisi classifies the Brotherhood as a terrorist group, but on a visit to Britain in November he said it could again play a role in public life if Egyptians wanted it to return.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Britain’s report showed the international community must support Egypt in confronting terrorism and extremist ideology.

He said on Twitter: “Report is important step in combating terrorism. We hope other countries will take similar steps to enhance counter-terrorism efforts.”

The Brotherhood, the Middle East’s oldest Islamist movement and long Egypt’s main political opposition, however said the review was neither fair nor based on credible evidence.

The group, which says it is committed to peaceful activism, said the British position suggested it backed the military’s overthrow of Mursi who was democratically elected president after the 2011 uprising.

“If Britain sees peaceful protests and activities that reject the military coup, the killing of civilians and the detentions and disappearances as extremist then certainly Britain has a defect it needs to remedy,” it said in a statement.

British lawmaker Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, also criticized the report, saying it had been carried out to pacify Britain’s Middle East ally Saudi Arabia, which sees the Brotherhood as a threat to regional stability.

“We should decide these things based on real and credible intelligence and not pressure from Riyadh,” Farron said in a statement

Cameron said Muslim Brotherhood-associated and influenced groups had sometimes characterized Britain as fundamentally hostile to Muslim faith and identity and expressed support for attacks conducted by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

“Aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities therefore run counter to British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs,” he said.

Cameron said the government would keep under review the views and activities of Muslim Brotherhood associates in Britain and whether the group met the legal test for proscription as a terrorist organization.

Britain will also continue to refuse visas to members and associates of the group who have made extremist comments, he said, and intensify its scrutiny of the views and activities Muslim Brotherhood members, associates and affiliates promote overseas.

Additional reporting by William James and Omar Fahmy; Editing by Michael Holden