Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The British connection

An incendiary documentary on the Muslim Brotherhood has angered Islamists, Salonaz Sami reports

The British connection
The British connection
Al-Ahram Weekly

Over the last decade, hundreds of Islamists from all over the world fled their countries, notably to London; Egypt has often called on the British authorities to hand over extremists using the UK as a safe haven on the pretext of political asylum – to no avail. The majority of those extremists belong to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  

According to the new television documentary Al-Tanzim (The Organisation) – radio and television host Youssef Al-Husseini’s directorial debut, produced by Mohamed Marai – the international organisation of the MB has turned London into its centre of operations. The two-part production, described as “serious and professional” by the director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, former Press Syndicate head and expert on political Islam Diaa Rashwan, premiered on Tuesday and Wednesday on OnTV.

According to Al-Husseini, the project was inspired in part by a report issued by the British government in 2015, which discussed the MB’s presence and magnitude of activities in Britain. “The British report shed the light on the dangers this organisation poses and its relations with extremist groups from all over the world,” Al-Hussieni says. And so, most of the filming took place in London.

The first part of The Organisation deals with the origins and growth of the MB starting with its foundation in 1928. “That is because it’s important to explain how the MB came into existence before delving into all the terrifying details of how its international network operates,” Al-Husseini says. “We have whole generations who know nothing of the history of the MB.” Rashwan agrees.

Arabs tend to disregard the international dimension of the MB, its global network, he says: “Over the years, whether as a community or as media figures, we have dealt with all issues related to Islamic groups in an unprofessional manner.” 

The testimonials of former MB leaders like Mohamed Habib and Abdel-Satar Al-Meligy, statements by Egyptian researchers in political Islam like Rashad Ali and Hani Abdallah and what Andrew Gilligan, the Sunday Telegraph journalist who worked as a spokesman for the MB in London, are used in The Organisation. Through exclusive interviews, the film discloses classified information.

In the second part the focus is the existence of an international organisation and how it functions in Britain. With four London offices controlling 19 front organisations, mostly media companies and charities, the MB coordinates efforts in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, UAE and Palestine, among other countries. 

“When something happens to one of the MB headquarters elsewhere, the London network starts moving through its different entities to ensure the utmost help can be provided,” Rashwan explains. He says the best thing about the documentary is the way it provides the viewer with facts and figures. “The MB has for a long time denied the existence of this organisation and it is high time they were exposed since they are growing stronger.”

“There is no official entity called the Muslim Brotherhood International Organisation,” Al-Husseini explains. “And this is why we were eager to cover every angle related to the question of whether or not this organisation exists and what its mission and tasks are, who runs it, how it is organised – everything. In this way we can break through the barrier of secrecy that the MB holds so dear and expose the broad and complex network through which they operate.”

Post producer Mohammed Al-Nahhas described the project as a novel experience on a sensitive issue, difficult to evaluate or judge: “It has always been a mystery to us what the international MB was all about and it wasn’t easy at all picking up and following the leads,” he said. “Every lead would take you in a different direction – but in the end they all came back to the same point.” 

According to Al-Nahass, one of the greatest difficulties was how to simplify and streamline a huge amount of complicated data to make it all accessible to the viewer. He says The Organisation works on the same principle as Wikileaks: “They both reveal secrets, with documents that no one knew existed.” 

Al-Hussieny and his crew faced technical, financial and political obstacles, which they maganed to overcome during shooting thanks largely to their faith in the idea – “an opportunity that had to be seized,” as Al-Husseini puts it. It was doubly important, he says, as an Egyptian television production, since “most such documentary material tends to air on non-Egyptian channels”. 

But this will be the first of many documentaries, says Al-Husseini, who plans on establishing a production company to make films dealing with a variety of important topics and utilising Egyptian talent in conjunction with global expertise. “It’s about time we started talking to the world,” Al-Husseini says. “We are sick of other people telling us what we’re about on TV...” 

The Organisation has clearly upset Islamists all over the world. “I saw the documentary, which had more than its fair share of propaganda prior to its airing,” the Iraqi founder of the Cordoba Foundation Anas Al-Tekriti, one of the MB’s most popular faces in Europe, posted on Al-Hussieny’s Facebook page, “and I was disappointed. 

“It is filled with lies, fables and plot theories that can only convince those ill minded and hearted. The main sources in the movie are people known for their hatred of Islam and Muslims in general, and some of them do it for a living, like Andrew Gilligan. Al-Husseini and his crew’s attempts to add a Hollywood halo of drama to the movie made me laugh...”

Prior to its airing, the documentary was screened last week with a press conference given by Al-Hussieny and his crew in the presence of a wide array of high-profile figures. 

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