Egypt and the art of diplomacy

25th Apr 2014


Egypt must rank high as an insidious example of British foreign policy. If there are any cynics unsure what the British Government’s position is towards Egypt’s military rulers, it officially remains the same: committed to working with the international community “to providing support during the transition process and beyond.”

Anyone may be forgiven in thinking that Britain perhaps missed last year’s coup in which Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power, but this was not the case. In August 2013, Foreign Secretary, William Hague, clarified that his Government would not “pick and choose” which side to support in the conflict. He admitted that the situation was “very bleak” but refused to answer whether the new military leaders were legitimate whilst noting that Britain was prepared to work with them.

In a country case study on what was called post-revolution political upheaval published this month, the Foreign Office admitted that the human rights situation in Egypt deteriorated in 2013. The killing of more than 1,000 people was a “concern.” A new law banning protests without permission was “controversial.” A draft constitution, allowing the military to retain the right to try civilians in military courts, was “more clearly defined”. The key test, it said, was whether it was ratified and how it was implemented, with many articles requiring additional legislation.

To eliminate the main opposition, the military leaders declared last December that the winners of the post-revolution elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, were a terrorist organisation. Hague’s response at the time was again couched in doublespeak: While “the UK Government does not support any specific political party in Egypt, it strongly supported an inclusive political system which allowed all groups in society to be represented, and in which freedom of association and expression was respected.”

But in the last few months thing have moved on with a timely statement made by Prime Minister, David Cameron, suggesting he may now be willing to follow the junta’s lead. He ordered an urgent investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood amid claims it was planning extremist activities from Britain. MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, is apparently also being asked to investigate how many of its senior leaders are based in Britain after last year’s coup. Suggestions are that it could be added to the long list of Islamic organisations proscribed as terrorist groups. A large number of innocent British Muslims will be investigated by the intelligence services, a No10 spokesman told The Muslim News.

Peter Oborne in The Daily Telegraph described Cameron’s move as “strange and troubling.” His announcement looks very much like a political stunt designed to protect Britain’s trading relationship with Saudi   Arabia,” it said. The Daily Telegraph linked it with the recent deal to sell 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the Saudi kingdom, which coincidentally has also declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. By coincidence the review of its activities is being led by Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

It was less than two years ago that Hague praised the election of Morsi. “I congratulate the Egyptian people for their commitment to the democratic process and electing a new President of Egypt. I wish Dr Mohammed Morsi success in the challenging task ahead.” Hague subsequently visited Cairo in September 2012 to deliver a letter from Cameron inviting the President to London. “We want to build an effective partnership which will strengthen democracy in Egypt, build prosperity and increase security for the people of both our countries.”

But should anyone be surprised about Britain’s double-dealing? Unfortunately, there has long been the case of Palestine and the Government’s support for Israel and backing for other despots in the Arab world. There had been much universal hope about the rise of the Arab Spring, but except for Tunisia, it has failed everywhere else. The West has not done much to support the people of the Middle East, like in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Palestine and Syria to get rid of despots and occupation. It has been happy with the status quo.

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