An article recently published by The Times has revealed that the Qatari-controlled Al Rayan Bank based in the UK has been providing financial services to multiple British organizations linked to Islamists and extremist groups in the UK and across Europe. While support by the small Gulf state for similar groups across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been well documented, far less has so far been known about Qatar’s activities and external funding of these questionable entities in Europe. According to the Times’ report, the entities funded by Qatar in the UK include a charity banned in the US as a terrorist entity, groups that promote hardline preachers, and a mosque whose long-term trustee is a Hamas leader.
These recent revelations followed the publication in France of the book ‘Qatar Papers’ that investigates the influence of the Qatar charity across Europe, notably in the UK France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and even as far as Kosovo. Qatar has seen its funding of Islamist charities and investments as an integral part of its soft power around the world. However, “pinning the links of those charitable activities to Islamism is a challenging task,” explains Dr. Nervana Mahmoud, a commentator on Middle East issues and columnist for Al Hurra news. Islamism is an ideology that mixes politics with religion, as well as charitable causes with politics, but being charitable is an integral part of the Muslim character.
“European governments have a duty to protect their Muslim citizens,” Dr. Mahmoud points out, adding that since “most European Muslims … are not ideologically motivated, and do not identify with Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or its sister groups, … they are entitled to know how their money is spent.” The Times report argues that Al-Rayan Bank operate legally in the UK, while also Islamic organizations that it supports are lawfully entitled to operate in Britain. However, this “lawfulness” should not be decided only on financial merits, but on other factors too, such as political links and educational goals.
Therefore, highlighting the dangers of lax financial oversight by the EU and its member states, “the next European Commission and Parliament must prioritize their initiatives to investigate the sources that finance Islamism,” says Dr. Mahmoud. “EU investigations into Al Rayan Bank and the work of Qatar Charity across the continent are a necessary and appropriate place to start.”