A month ago I wrote to Dr. William McCrea, an MP who had been particularly outspoken on the issue of the persecution of Copts in Egypt. I asked him
How Britain might help the Coptic community in Egypt ?
What he thought about British exports of arms to Egypt ?
What he thought about one British multinational still supplying tear gas to Egypt ?
He kindly forwarded my letter to Alistair Burt, Minister for North Africa and the Middle East. I had also written earlier to Alistair Burt, and even the Prime Minister had forwarded one of my letters to him, but the Minister hadn’t so far replied to either. However this time he did reply in considerable detail.
You can read his response in detail in the attached letter. However I will try to summarize both the more encouraging and more negative aspects of his response.
What I think Egypt’s revolutionaries will like about the British Minister’s response.
His assurance that Britain continues to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt.
His obviously deep concern about the protection of and rights of Copts under any new constitution.
His assurance that the British government is encouraging SCAF to keep to its’ timetable for the transition to civilian rule. (This letter was written prior to the “judicial coup” of 14 June).
His affirmation that the British government hopes to see a new Egyptian constitution which respects the interests of “all Egyptian people.”
However Egypt’s revolutionaries and liberals will be less encouraged by
His claim that the British government can not prevent British Multinationals with factories outside the U.K. supplying the Egyptian military with crowd control material, including tear gas. He says it would “not be legally viable” and “such controls would be impossible to enforce.”
His failure to explain why the British government continues to allow British arms exports to Egypt’s military regime despite acknowledging that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations for all export licence applications.”
And below are some photographs I took in February showing the effects of tear gas used on crowds. Many people were vomiting and one man had gone into convulsions.
In a letter just received, a key member of the Select Committee on Arms Exports says the export of weapons to Egypt is “completely unacceptable” and that she “will campaign in Parliament for this to be stopped.”
Katy Klark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran and a key member of Parliament’s Select Committee on Arms Exports, writes
“I share your concerns at the current situation in Egypt and agree that the Government should be taking robust measures to stop the sale of arms from UK companies to repressive regimes. I believe there is a strong possibility of arms sold to the Egyptian regime being used against their own people and believe it is completely unacceptable that licences for export to Egypt are being granted and I will campaign in Parliament for this to be stopped.”
Commenting on the situation involving tear gas exports by Federal Laboratories (owned by the British multinational BAE Systems) in the U.S. to Egypt she writes
“In addition there do appear to be loopholes for subsidiary companies based overseas. I would be happy to look into whether there is any way in which these can be closed.”
In a letter dated 26 April 2012 and received by me on 3 May, Sir John Stanley MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Arms Control, provided a list of UK British arms exports to Egypt during 2009 and 2010 which could be used for Internal Repression.
He also added that he anticipated the Parliament would submit another report, presumably with information on more recent arms exports to Egypt, before its’ summer recess on 27 July. The list of arms supplied during 2009 and 2010 is in the public domain but still makes for interesting reading.
According to the information he attached with his letter, British arms exports to Egypt during the period from 1 January 2009 until 30 September 2010 included the following
Training small arms ammunition general purpose machine guns imaging cameras components for armoured personnel carriers unfinished products for grenade launchers components for submachine guns electronic warfare equipment equipment for the operation of military aircraft in confined areas components for semi-automatic pistols unfinished products for armoured fighting vehicles unfinished products for weapon night sights
The list is not especially helpful in that it is vague as to for instance what type of training ammunition was exported and on the quantities of material.
In an apparent attempt to avoid answering questions about the wisdom of such exports, Sir John writes “It is a firm convention in the House of Commons that MPs deal with their own constituents. I am therefore sending your letter……to your own MP Julian Brazier.”
He adds that “The issue of the UK Government’s policy on giving arms export licence approvals for weapons and other goods that can be used for internal repression has received detailed scrutiny in the Committee’s current inquiry on which I anticipate we shall be submitting a further Report to the House of Commons before the summer recess.”
I was unhappy last year when David Cameron went to Tahrir Square to congratulate Egyptians on their courage in the struggle for democracy and yet at the same time he brought along directors of major British arms manufacturers in order to sell arms to the Egyptian military. I thought it was a clear case of profits before principle. Arms that SCAF will no doubt soon use against protesters. Since I left Egypt at the end of March I’ve been writing to British MPs to try to persuade them to reconsider such exports.
Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, who has recently taken a high profile stance against human rights abuses in Bahrain, needed little or no persuasion. His undated letter was received this morning but it doesn’t make the usually highly qualified non-committal response typical of most politicians. At least he makes it clear where he stands –
“Clearly arm sales to the region are a major problem as are the export of crowd control material. Britain has a double standard – expressing support for democracy while looking for increased arms sales.”
“I worry more generally that the US and the Western powers want to see the army stay in power.”
However he’s also concerned about the alternative of an Islamist led parliamentary government. I think perhaps he’s a little too pessimistic here as the Muslim Brotherhood covers a really wide spectrum of views and contains many moderates within its ranks. Anyway he writes
“Sadly, the deeply reactionary politics of the Islamists and Salafists which already have destroyed the rights of many women in Egypt is not an alternative. It will be a long slow process as Egypt gets a governance corresponding to the needs and aspirations of its’ people.”