Reprieve, a British-founded rights group, has called into question the uncritical UK government and business support of Egypt, at a time when attacks on freedoms are widespread in the latter.
Egypt is currently preparing for the Economic Summit later in March in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, in which it hopes to attract up to $20bn of investment for 30 large national projects. Invitations have been extended globally, and it is expected that a high proportion of investment will come from Gulf countries.
Alongside British companies, such as BP, it is understood that representatives of the UK government will also attend the summit, including British Foreign Office (FCO) Minister Tobias Ellwood. Their presence follows a January British business delegation visit to Egypt, which was understood to be the largest in over a decade, and the hosting of Egyptian economic ministers by Ellwood and Mayor Boris Johnson at a promotional event for the conference in London.
Reprieve, however, has called in to scrutiny the state of human rights in Egypt; the “crackdown on dissent by the military government of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has seen swathes of protestors, journalists and others detained. Hundreds of people have been handed death sentences in ‘mass trials’ that have drawn condemnation from the UN and rights groups.”
The statement from the rights group highlights in particular the case of an Irish teenager facing potential execution in the Egyptian judicial system. Ibrahim Halawa, 19, was arrested at a protest in August 2013, and faces trial alongside 493 other people. Despite having been a minor at the time of his arrest, Halawa is being tried as an adult. During his 19-month detention, he has repeatedly reported abuse by authorities.
Questioning investment and support without regard for the political implications, Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Economic development must go hand-in-hand with respect for human rights – but while the Egyptian government presides over a wave of human rights abuses, the UK’s ‘business as usual’ approach is giving it the imprimatur of approval. This is both inappropriate and untenable.
“Mass trials and sweeping death sentences for prisoners arrested at peaceful protests – including juveniles, like Ibrahim Halawa – make a mockery of justice, and Britain should not be allowing these abuses to go unchecked. Ministers should use President Sisi’s summit to demand justice for Ibrahim and the many hundreds like him, before it’s too late,” Foa said.
At the time of the January delegation, the British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson said in response to ethical questions: “This is the right delegation to visit Egypt at the right time.”