United Arab Emirates to UK: crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals
The United Arab Emirates threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if David Cameron did not act against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Guardian has learned.
Internal UAE government documents seen by the Guardian show that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was briefed to complain to the prime minister about the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2012, when one of its leading members, Mohamed Morsi, became Egyptian president.
In the briefing notes it was suggested that the crown prince demand Cameron rein in BBC coverage.
In return, Cameron was to be offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British business which would have generated billions of pounds for the jet divisions of BAE Systems and allowed BP to bid to drill for hydrocarbons in the Gulf.
A second set of papers from 2014 reveal that the UK’s ambassador to the UAE was warned by Khaldoon al-Mubarak – best known in Britain as chairman of Manchester City football club but also the right-hand man of the crown prince – that the UAE was still unhappy and that a “red flag” had been raised about the British government’s indifference to the Brotherhood’s operation.
The warning delivered to Dominic Jermey said the trust between the two nations “has been challenged due to the UK position towards the Muslim Brotherhood” because “our ally is not seeing it as we do: an existential threat not just to the UAE but to the region”.
A trio of the UK’s closest allies in the Arab world – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have complained that London is a base for the Muslim Brotherhood, which began and developed in Egypt and has since spread around the world. These Arab nations have all outlawed the Brotherhood and accused it of links to terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood denies this, saying it is a peaceful political movement.
The UAE’s internal foreign office papers claim the Muslim Brotherhood is “ingrained” in British society, and characterise the group as a potential fifth column which has “been masterful in working undercover and presenting themselves in a veneer of moderation”.
The issue is likely to have been raised this week by the visiting Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who launched a brutal crackdown on the Islamists after ousting President Morsi. Sisi had vowed to wipe out the group, which he branded a terrorist organisation.
On the day Sisi arrived in Britain, the Foreign Office confirmed the key findings of an independent review of the Islamist group would be published. The review, by Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was commissioned almost two years ago but publication had been repeatedly put off because of concerns that it would trigger a court challenge.
The UAE, one of Sisi’s biggest financial backers, began raising the stakes with Cameron a day after Morsi was declared Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012.
Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met the prime minister in Downing Street and the Guardian has seen papers which reveal the scale of concern over the implications of Morsi’s victory.
The first set of papers reveals the strategy for Sheikh Mohammed – the de facto ruler of the UAE – to deal with Britain in the light of the Egyptian election.
The briefing notes were written in June 2012 for the crown prince by Simon Pearce, a Manchester City board director who also handles UAE’s global image. In the notes, the plan appears to be to offer a series of carrots for British business and the country’s military in return for action against the Brotherhood.
The first worry, according to Pearce’s 2012 briefing notes, was the supposed infiltration of the BBC’s global news channel by Islamist sympathisers. Warning specifically that “70% of global reporting emanates from the UK and 70% of it is negative”, Sheikh Mohammed was advised that he should demand the prime minister’s “help … with the BBC in particular”.
The sheikh’s PR brief says that he should say “there are Egyptians and Levantine employees who allow their personal politics to guide their professional activities. That service is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Do you understand why I might have a problem with this?”
The UAE wanted a “measured” public approach from Britain in dealing with the Brotherhood. The emirate, the papers show, had identified 380 Islamists against whom the sheikh warned it would take “appropriate measures … as they will rise again”. Two weeks later Human Rights Watch decried a crackdown which saw police detain lawyers and peaceful political activists in the UAE.
According to the same 2012 briefing notes, the UAE was preparing the ground for such draconian measures, saying it had a “very real domestic challenge”. Cameron should be asked: “What does the Brotherhood mean for regional stability and progress? What does it mean for Lebanon and Jordan? What does it mean for Israel?”
Britain was to be reminded “in your enthusiasm to spread democracy don’t give oxygen to something that has yet to reveal itself for what it truly is”.
In return for “challenging” the Brotherhood in Britain, the UAE “offered” Cameron a series of diplomatic victories. The 2012 briefing notes say the UK could expect “BP back in the game” around the oil-rich sands off Abu Dhabi’s coast; progress on a proposed £6bn Typhoon fighter jet deal and “further deepening of the intelligence and military relationship”, as well as Gulf cash to be invested in Britain.
The documents say the UAE had £1.5bn of investment in the UK at the time, supporting 32,000 jobs. It noted there were “huge opportunities for UK companies such as BP, BAE, Rolls-Royce in the UAE” and that there were “120,000-plus British expats in the UAE with a fantastic quality of life”.
When British action did not materialise, Abu Dhabi signalled its displeasure with the UK through commercial and political pressure. In 2012, BP was temporarily excluded from bidding for an extension to onshore oil concessions in the Gulf. At the end of 2013, the UAE declined to buy the Typhoon fighter jets, a massive blow to BAE.
A few months after the arms deal rebuff the prime minster announced a review of the Brotherhood’s activities in the UK. The first country that Jenkins went to see about the Brotherhood was the UAE – a fact British diplomats raised with Abu Dhabi. Jenkins met Khaldoon al-Mubarak there in April 2014.
According to a UAE foreign office record of the meeting, seen by the Guardian, Mubarak told Jenkins that “the UK will need to consider the political implications when three of its most important allies in the region (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have taken a clear decision regarding the MBs”.
If Britain did not consider its allies, Mubarak told Jenkins, “the difficult conversations we’ve been having, will become far more difficult. We are raising a red flag.”
Jermey, who was at the meeting, admitted the security services had “prioritised al-Qaida and direct terror threats to the UK” over the actions of the Brotherhood. He also said the UK could “benefit from information that the UAE has, since much of the ‘traffic on the wires’ is not open-source”.
To ensure his hosts understood Britain was not deaf to the UAE’s concerns, Jermey told Mubarak that “the political intent of PM David Cameron is to look at the [report’s] conclusions, which could potentially start a process leading to parliamentary discussions on new legislation”.
However the UAE was apparently not impressed. A month after the meeting, dozens of British military advisers to the UAE armed forces came home when their contracts were not renewed.
Neither Downing Street nor the Foreign Office would comment on the story. The UAE did not respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment.