I have just finished reading studies that centered on the relationship between the British intelligence (MI6) and political Islamic movements. I also had discussion with three intelligence personnel who worked for security agencies in Iraq, Sudan and the Gulf. We focused on the history of British diplomacy, the skills, leadership and strategic planning that once made Britain — an isolated island — an empire where the sun never sat.
The clandestine relationship between MI6 and Sufi, Shiite and Sunni religious movements puzzled me for a while. Britain supported and hosted movements with ideologies that contradict with the British policies. For instance, the Tahrir Party, which calls for the restoration of the caliphate system, is holding its conferences in London. Additionally, there are different opposition groups in London such as Shiite, Sufi and Ismaili movements. Furthermore, you can find all kinds of extremists living in London. Each group can be employed differently.
In 1916, the British Foreign Office sent a cable to one diplomat in Tehran asking how the British interests could be served in case a change took place in Iran. The ambassador reported back saying that the clergymen would just do that for Britain. Britain unsuccessfully attacked the Iranian coasts in 1915 and then it used its tools. Britain picked the grandfather of Khomeini — Sayid Ahmed Hindi — to implement the British scheme of destabilizing Iran. Complying with the British plan, Sayid Ahmed Hindi incited tribes against the Iranian regime. This paved the way for Britain to occupy Iran in 1941. Interestingly, the British used the same tactic against the Shah of Iran by supporting and empowering religious men.
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to access important papers and memoirs of diplomats who served in Arab countries and India. I frequently visited India for that purpose. Once I also visited Pakistan to understand more about these movements. I found that Britain had a role in the establishment of many of these movements. According to a Palestinian leader Britain was behind conflicts in the Middle East. It was behind the catastrophe in Palestine because of the infamous Balfour Declaration and its policy of divide to conquer. In some cases, Britain interfered in a way that pitted one minority against the other.
Britain established links with some tribes and families but withdrew from the east of Suez in 1961 and ceased to exist there. That said, now it fights to have a presence especially after the Arab Spring that grant the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to ascend. After the digging of the Suez Canal, Britain tried to use the religious factor to control the Egyptian street in line with British interests. Interestingly, Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat Al-Shatir told an American official that all America needed to do was to support the Islamists and then they can rally the street behind the Americans in one religious verdict. In the United Arab Emirates, officials expressed their anger at the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the Egyptian and Tunisian experiences prove their lust for power. Instead of offering practical solution they call on people to adopt austerity at a time they are establishing their ideology.
It seems that Qatar has taken the same course in London and began to attract secular and Islamic oppositions. It organizes seminars and conferences for Islamists and liberals alike. It also supports the Muslim Brotherhood and enjoys links with both Israel and Iran. Al Jazeera has been running exclusively video tapes and statements of Al-Qaeda. Qatar's support for Arab revolution is well documented. On top of that, Qatar hosts academies for change in the region and has been using money for political ends. The British press is full of articles for Islamists close to Britain while London does not care about the criticism voiced by some British writers about the covert and hidden relationship between London and the Islamic movements.
Mark Curtis in his book "Secret Affairs," says that at the heart of the relationship between Britain and Islamic movements is the policy of divide and conquer that was adopted by Britain in the past. To that effect, Britain exploited the Islamic forces to reinforce the imperial interests in many countries such as India, Palestine, Jordan and Yemen. The book tries to uncover the depth of collusion between radical Islam and Britain before and after the latter's imperial decline.
In his book, "MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service," Stephen Dorril argues that the British intelligence succeeded in setting up a solid network of relations with Muslim Brotherhood since the second and third decades of last century. In the aftermath of World War II, the American CIA stepped in to fulfill Britain's role. The American involvement does not mean Britain's the level of communication with Islamists had decreased. The problem is that Britain, hit by financial crisis, is forging ties with Islamic movements and has established alliances with them. Britain is doing that though many Arab intellectuals and analysts believe that the phenomenon of Muslim Brotherhood is a passing one and most likely the party will not win next elections.
What can be done when Britain exploits the political Islamic movements? Not surprisingly, Britain, that has lost its prominent role in world affairs, will use them as a pressure card to balance the French and American presence in the region. Britain kicked out by India after hundreds of years of occupation should understand that the Arab Spring is not inviting colonizers to the region. These revolutions will make new symbols and those who have taken religion as a springboard to hold on to power will fall.
Arabs cannot forget history and will not accept incomplete freedom. People's demand for justice and freedom does not mean harming our national aspirations. Britain should understand that the years of messing in this part of the world are over and that the empire where the sun never sat has eclipsed.
Today's Britain that defends freedom and movements of political Islam is the same Britain that tortured the opponents of Qaddafi. Britain's former Minister of Foreign Affairs Jack Straw was accused of misleading members of the British Parliament regarding the role of Britain in deporting Abdulhakim Bilhaj and Sami Al-Saudi, the opponents of Qaddafi. Those two figures were handed over to Qaddafi. In brief, we are aware of the economic shock that has hit the Western countries and made their leaders think they still can drag the Arabs into colonization.
This article appeared on Arab News on Oct. 20, 2012