In November 2021, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom approved a memorandum submitted by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, designating Hamas and both its political and military wings as a terrorist organization. In the past, Britain was content to list the movement's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, on the terrorist lists for two decades (since 2001).
Patel justified her position on Hamas by stating that the movement has a “significant terrorist capability”. As a result of this decision, London would join the United States and the European Union in designating Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Consequences and Impacts
It is noteworthy that the decision to list Hamas as a terrorist organization was approved by Parliament without any objection, including from the opposition Labor Party, whose representative in the parliament endorsed the Home Secretary’s memo, as sources in the Party told Middle East Eye that “it would be too politically sensitive to raise objections.” This reflects the nature of the atmosphere created by concern about extremism in the United Kingdom, especially after the country was recently targeted by a number of terrorist attacks. This is in addition to the success of the Israeli moves in persuading London to take this position against Hamas after years of classifying its military wing only as a terrorist organization.
The decision to place Hamas on the British list of terrorist organizations, announced by Home Secretary Patel, means that anyone who supports the movement and raises its flag or slogan will face fines or penalties of up to 14 years in prison. This will put Hamas in a difficult position on the British arena, at a time when the UK is one of the most Western countries witnessing a movement advocating for Palestine, both politically and economically.
Furthermore, this also means putting pressure on the media activity of the movement in the United Kingdom, as well as its economic activity and any financial donations made for it, which would be a damaging blow to the movement which has a large presence in the country.
The decision will also cause pressures that will extend beyond the British arena to countries that support Hamas or have close ties to it, such as Turkey and Qatar, or even those that deal with it out of necessity, like Egypt, which often mediates between the movement and Israel and sponsors national reconciliation negotiations between Hamas and Fatah.
While this decision may in one way or another strengthen the Palestinian National Authority's hand in future negotiations with Hamas, it shuffles the cards greatly within the Palestinian political arena. Gaza has been under Hamas’ de facto control for years, and they have been attempting to hold parliamentary elections throughout the Palestinian territories , which were scheduled to take place last May before President Mahmoud Abbas delayed them until Israel allows the Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem.
There are several factors, however, that may mitigate the impact of the decision on Hamas, most notably: Due to its long history of disguised and covert work, Hamas may be able to circumvent the British decision and work through media and economic facades that it may be difficult to uncover or prove their connection to the movement.
Moreover, the movement's control of the densely populated Gaza Strip, which faces major economic problems, represents a powerful negotiating tool in dealing with regional or international parties: its sets a limit to the pressure that these parties, including Israel, can exert on Hamas to prevent the situation in Gaza from escalating to the point of an explosion, with serious security consequences for the neighborhood of the Strip and the region as a whole. Therefore, despite its hostility towards Hamas, Israel cooperates with regional parties, such as Qatar, to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
An attempt to provide an explanation
In general, Britain's decision to list Hamas as a terrorist organization raises an important question: What are the reasons behind this decision, and why now? To answer this question, several points come to mind, perhaps the most important being:
1. This British decision was not isolated from the West's expansion of its actions against political Islam movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, during the past several years amid growing concerns that these movements are a threat to peace and security in European countries, on the one hand, and the emergence of right-wing and populist currents within the European political scene, on the other. For this reason, some European countries have banned or restricted the activities of a number of organizations affiliated with political Islam, especially the Muslim Brotherhood or those ideologically close to it, as part of their efforts to support combating terrorism and extremism on their soil. For example, on June 22, the Austrian Parliament banned the Muslim Brotherhood from engaging in any political activity inside the country.
2. As in many European countries, the British government is under internal and external pressure to take a hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood. The British government has therefore resorted to targeting Hamas in order to ease these pressures, especially since it is difficult to classify the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization for many reasons, which we will discuss later in this article.
3. In one way or another, this decision is associated with Britain's exit from the European Union, as well as its desire to build economic and trade partnerships with Middle Eastern countries, Israel, and the United States. For example, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by Washington, whereas countries important to Britain in the Persian Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, consider the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
4. In part, the British decision is aimed at Iran, given the close relationship between Hamas and Tehran, especially on the military level, as was evident during the recent military escalation between Hamas and Israel. In this context, the United Kingdom wants to remove one of Iran's most valuable strategic assets in the battle for influence in the region and in the negotiations over its nuclear program.
5. There is a relationship between the UK's use of absolute firmness in its dealings with Hamas, and its efforts to promote peace in the Middle East and expand Israeli relations with its regional neighbors. This reflects Britain's and the West's perception that Hamas' attitude towards Israel and peace with it has been a major obstacle towards the settlement of the Palestinian cause.
Banning Hamas: Significant Implications for the Muslim Brotherhood
As soon as Britain announced its intent to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, observers and analysts focused on the implications, meaning, and impact of that decision on London's position towards the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps more than they focused on or were interested in how it would affect Hamas itself.
Consequently, it can be said that classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization in Britain has many serious implications for the Muslim Brotherhood, these include:
1. For many years, Britain differentiated between the military and the political wings of Hamas; the former was banned, while the latter was not considered a terrorist organization. Therefore, Britain's decision to designate the entire movement as a terrorist organization means for the Muslim Brotherhood that the idea of distinguishing between the political wing and the military wing may be over in the near future. Especially since there are terrorist groups in Egypt that emerged after 2013, practiced violence, and declared their affiliation with the Brotherhood, such as “Hasm” and “Liwa al-Thawra”, whom the US listed as terrorist organizations under former US President Donald Trump. The UK has also taken similar measures in dealing with both movements within a framework of a vision for dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood that has been based on distinguishing between political and military wings.
2. While Hamas dropped the reference to its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in its 2017 political document, the movement still adopts the group's approach at the level of thought and movement. According to a paper titled "Hamas Document: A Tactical Change or a Strategic Shift" by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Hamas made this amendment as a tactical measure to address the pressures the Muslim Brotherhood was experiencing in the region in general and in Egypt in particular.
Thus, the British decision against Hamas is addressed directly to the Muslim Brotherhood, and is intended to warn the Brotherhood to change its behavior in the future. Maybe this accounts for Hamas' indifferent, reserved, or calm response to the British decision to designate the movement as a terrorist organization, where Hamas waited several days before commenting on the decision, and when it did, it simply asked the British government to reconsider.
3. Although Hamas denied having any organizational association with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the British review of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2015 concluded there is a close relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, since the latter facilitates the financing of Hamas and advocates for its activities and operations at all levels.
4. In light of Britain being a key stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the West in general, as well as an important reference when dealing with political Islam movements due to its vast experience with them and the region in general, this action against Hamas could encourage other countries to take similar steps against groups affiliated with, close to, or supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the future.
Will the Muslim Brotherhood be Next?
The important question in this analytical reading is: Is the designation of Hamas in the United Kingdom as a terrorist organization a prelude to placing the Muslim Brotherhood under the same classification?
These questions arise because of the consistency of thought between the origin and the branch, and the large financial and political cooperation between the two groups or movements, especially in the British arena.
Nevertheless, despite all the predictions that Britain might take the same decision against the Muslim Brotherhood, there are many considerations that make this matter difficult, most importantly:
1. During his tenure as British Prime Minister, David Cameron commissioned a review of the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in the UK and the movement's relationship with terrorism. The report, issued in 2015, concluded that membership of or links to the movement should be considered a possible indicator of extremism, but stopped short of recommending that it should be banned.
This means that there is a British governmental reference for dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood prepared by a specialized committee, which does not identify it as a terrorist organization. Thus, any approach to such classification will require new research and re-evaluation of the Brotherhood, which may take years.
2. The United Kingdom is a main stronghold of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Hudson Center, although the group has no formal structure in Britain, it is probably the most dynamic and influential among Muslims in the country. This is an extremely important card for London when dealing with countries in the Middle East and Arab region. It is not expected that Britain will give up its card easily, since it is one that it employs in its Arab relations in order to achieve its interests and exert political pressure.
3. According to TRENDS Research and Advisory, the Muslim Brotherhood has huge investments in Britain estimated at about $8 billion, not to mention affiliate charities with funds and investments worth hundreds of millions in the country. As a result, the group was able to establish important relations with political and economic circles in Britain.
With such a strong economic presence, the group can exert pressure and establish relationships with key decision-making centers to avoid serious measures being taken against it. Moreover, the group's complex economic and financial interests in Britain may reduce the effectiveness of any decision taken against it.
Perhaps the United States experience with the Brotherhood during the Trump era has significant implications for their situation in Britain as well. While Trump was hostile to the Brotherhood and tried to designate them a terrorist organization, he ultimately was unable to take this step.
4. The Iranian revolution of 1979 still resonates in the minds of the United Kingdom, the United States and the West in general. In Iran, the West was surprised when extremist religious forces seized power, despite never having had a meaningful or effective contact with them. Therefore, the United States, and the West in general, had a hard time dealing with the Iranian regime after the revolution. Based on this experience, the West is keen not to cut ties with Islamic movements in the Arab region, regardless of its true position towards such movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. This is in anticipation of any unexpected developments or transformations in the Arab region or the Middle East in the future.
5. Those who oppose the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, whether in Britain or the United States, will argue that the group or elements associated with it have influence in some Middle Eastern countries, and placing them on terrorist lists would complicate US relations with these countries. In spite of the major setbacks suffered by the group in the circles of power in the region over the past few years, this justification is still used.
6. As the Muslim Brotherhood is remarkably adept at hiding and maneuvering, it is difficult to determine the truth about its positions, practices, and projects. It is therefore challenging for Britain or anyone else to fully or accurately assess the group's activities and its relationship to terrorism.
7. Though it proclaims a number of lofty slogans, the Muslim Brotherhood is actually a pragmatic group that is adept at hit-and-run tactics and making deals "under the table" with western governments. Moreover, it is willing to sacrifice anything to preserve itself and its interests, including some of its affiliate groups, even Hamas.
There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood has understood the signs against it by the decision to classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. As a result, the movement will have to reconsider its future stances, activities, and calculations, and to improve its image within the British arena with all the tools it has, besides improving its relations in order to prevent any idea of targeting it, given that the movement has great experience in dealing with and avoiding pressures.
In light of the foregoing, it can be concluded that Britain's designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization has serious implications for the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this does not mean that the next step will be to designate the Muslim Brotherhood itself.
The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. In no way does Strategiecs take responsibility for the views and positions of its author on security, economic, political, social, and other issues, and such views and/or positions do not reflect those of Strategiecs.