Sisi and Cameron: An ugly alliance forged in Britain

Sisi and Cameron: An ugly alliance forged in Britain
5 min read
04 Nov, 2015
Comment: British leaders won't let the trivial matter of Cairo's human rights abuses and state-sponsored massacres of political opponents get in the way of business, writes Heather McRobie.
The focus should be on Sisi's track record of human rights abuses, argues McRobie [Getty]

So Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is, it seems, on his way to London. By the time you read this, he may already be here.

Delays in his visit were, tellingly, due in no small part to fears that the former military leader could be arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity, over his role in orchestrating the mass killings in Rabaa al-Adewiya and elsewhere in Cairo in August 2013. 

Such a risk of arrest led to the cancellation of Sisi's scheduled visit to Johannesburg in June. But Prime Minister David Cameron seems comfortable with taking the risk in order to roll out the red carpet for a regime with whom Britain can forge a mutually beneficial financial relationship. 

France may have snuck in earlier this year by selling Cairo the Mistral warships controversially once destined for Russia, but - in colonial-style competition between European powers - Cameron will make sure Britain, too, can make as much profit as possible from Egypt. 

As well as a bilateral meeting with Cameron, Sisi will meet with UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who has previously praised Sisi and evaded addressing the human rights abuses committed by Sisi's regime.

For all David Cameron's posturing in Cairo after the fall of Mubarak in 2011 - where he praised the revolution's call for democracy whilst flanked by representatives of military defence manufacturers - the election of Islamist Mohamed Morsi was always inconvenient for Britain, who had been leading foreign investors under Mubarak, mainly through British Petroleum and British Gas. 

     Sisi will push all the 'business-friendly' buttons with foreign investors, and the the small matter of human rights abuses won't stand in the way

As the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in 2014 demonstrated, Sisi will push all the "business-friendly" buttons with foreign investors and governments, and the the small matter of human rights abuses and political repression won't stand in the way of future lucrative contracts. 

Cameron seems as happy to comply with the situation as Blair was with Mubarak - plus ca change.

But things have changed since the 2011 revolution: the collective cry for "bread, freedom and social justice" so overwhelmingly asserted in 2011 still stands as the demand of the Egyptian people. And by overlooking the lack of freedom or social justice in Sisi's Egypt, and enabling the Egyptian president to present himself as a legitimate member of the international community, Britain is also propping up a regime that is economically harming its people - no freedom, no social justice, and no bread either. 

Moving forward, the planned expansion of the Suez Canal betrayed Sisi’s Pharaonic delusions of grandeur.  The project, which opened to much fanfare this summer, looks increasingly likely to have drained Egypt's resources far more than it has brought benefits to ordinary people.

The world's eyes were on Egypt this weekend after the tragic plane crash in Sinai that killed all 224 people on board. The cause of the crash is still unclear, and Russia and Egypt have presented different information as to the possible cause of the tragedy - this is the time for Britain to offer assistance in any capacity, for the sake of those affected. 

Offering Sisi an opportunity to present himself as a legitimate member of the international community through an official welcome in London is, however, an act of disrespect to those who have directly suffered under his rule, and who lost loved ones in the mass killings that followed the overthrow of Morsi in 2013. 

There will likely be little discussion of the broader issue of Sinai - how the region continues to be as neglected, under-developed, and as unsympathetically policed as it was in the Mubarak era.

Sisi's rule so far has been defined by political repression, arbitrary arrests and mass death sentences - Human Rights Watch documented what it characterised as the "planned" mass killings in 2013 of more than 800 people in a chain of events that ultimately brought Sisi's regime to power. 

More than a year later, no-one has been held accountable for these mass killings, and the Egyptian government has prevented Human Rights Watch officials from entering the country to present their report on human rights abuses in 2014.

     Instead of planning for future relations, Britain should be remembering the more than 2,500 state killings for which Sisi is responsible

Some 40,000 political prisoners have been jailed at some point since Morsi was removed from power in the summer of 2013. 

The secular activists and young progressive revolutionaries who spearheaded the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011 have not been spared, even as Sisi focuses his attention and rhetoric on hunting down the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Today, they are likely to either be in jail, such as members of the April 6 Youth Movement, or will have fled abroad, amid a climate of censorship and infringements on their right to freedom of assembly and association.

Instead of focusing on Sisi as he presents his preferred narrative of his regime's origins and actions, the eyes of the world should be on the thousands of civilians - including many journalists - who remain detained in Egyptian prisons. 

And instead of making plans for future relations with Egypt, Britain should be remembering the more than 2,500 state killings for which Sisi is responsible. Those are the voices being silenced, as Sisi is greeted as legitimate leader on the international stage.

Heather McRobie is an editor at openDemocracy. She has written for publications including the Guardian, New Statesman, Foreign Policy.

Her book on freedom of literary expression and hate speech in literature,
Literary Freedom, was published in 2013. Follow her on Twitter: @heathermcrobie

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.