This piece was first published by The Daily Telegraph:
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IT IS an unlikely setting from which to launch a fightback against Egypt’s new military rulers.
But a cramped flat above a disused kebab shop in North London has become the focal point of the Muslim Brotherhood’s effort to regroup after President Mohamed Morsi was forced from office and his movement declared a terrorist organisation.
In Cairo the organisation is facing one of the toughest crackdowns in decades: thousands of supporters have been arrested, while organisations linked with the Brotherhood have had their assets confiscated. Mr Morsi, who was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, faces trial for alleged treason, and he has been joined in the country’s notorious jails by the group’s supreme guide and most of its senior leadership.
The handful of senior figures that remain free have fled into exile, and have chosen London as a base from which to rebuild the organisation.
The London office, in the suburb of Cricklewood, is being run by relatives of two of Mr Morsi’s arrested aides, who were seized along with the former president when troops entered his inner sanctum last July to announce that his time was up.
One of the relatives, who asked to remain anonymous, said they viewed London as a “safe city” and “the capital of a free democracy that values human rights and social justice”.
Another said: “We look forward to seeing those values brought back into Egypt once our democracy is restored and our freedom from dictatorship and repression won.”
On Wednesday, Egyptians will be asked to take part in a referendum to endorse a new constitution that will entrench the military’s powers and enable it to continue to curb the Brotherhood for the foreseeable future. Campaigning against the constitution has been forbidden, and it is almost certain to be approved.
But Ibrahim Mounir, a leading figure in the organisation’s international wing, who is also based at its London office, issued a defiant warning to the regime that it would not last.
“All military coups must come to an end,” he said, speaking exclusively to The Telegraph. “Look at Chile or Pakistan.”
In Cairo, the Brotherhood’s ability to function is in tatters, with more than 1,000 of its supporters killed during confrontations with Egypt’ security services since July.
Egypt’s government accuses the Brotherhood of turning to violence after Mr Morsi’s fall, and formally designated it a terrorist organisation on Christmas Day. For its part, the Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful protest, and there is scant evidence linking it with militant groups that have repeatedly targeted security forces since July.
At his London office, Mr Mounir admitted that the Brotherhood’s Egyptian operations had been severely hampered, but said it was little different to the group’s life under previous Egyptian strongmen, such as Hosni Mubarak and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
“We have been used to this [repression] for the 60 years, and we can still function, albeit in a different way to before,” he said.
Referring to calls from fellow Brotherhood supporters for the last year’s coup leader, General Abdel Fattah el Sisi, to face the death penalty, he said: “It is our objective that the coup leaders are held accountable for their atrocities. The law has to be allowed to work to bring the state back to full capacity.”
Although Mr Mounir insists that the Brotherhood’s highest orders still come from Egypt, the London office is now the key hub where members can meet and make strategy in relative safety.
Its communiqués exhort the wider world to recognise the democratic legitimacy of Morsi’s presidency and the illegality of his removal.
In December the flat was used for a strategy meeting involving a roster of senior members from the organisation’s international wing, which represents affiliate movements in other countries.
Gomaa Amin, another deputy leader, is understood to be coordinating the movement’s efforts from London, and has been joined by other high ranking figures since July. The other two deputy leaders are in prison in Cairo.
The relocation of the Brotherhood to a London suburb thousands of miles from Cairo shows its dramatic rise and fall since the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Mr Mubarak in early 2011. Just 18 months ago, having come to power after the freest vote in Egyptian history, the movement was seen as having the potential to offer a new model of governance to the region. But Mr Morsi’s disastrous year in office yielded few positive changes. Support ebbed away after he failed to meet high expectations raised by the 2011 uprising, and after he forced through a constitution that seemed even less liberal than its predecessor. Mr Mounir defended the former president’s record, arguing that he was ousted because of his efforts to revamp the system he inherited from his autocratic predecessor, Mr Mubarek.
“Morsi tried to expel everyone with a history with Mubarak, and everyone with a history of corruption,” Mr Mounir said. “But the corrupted elites were threatened by what he was doing, so they moved against him.”
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, has employed a London-based team of internationally renowned lawyers to build a case against Egypt’s military-backed authorities. The team includes Michael Mansfield, who represented the family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered in London.