Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Britain should not be rolling out the red carpet to President al-Sisi

Today, in the House of Commons our Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Tom Brake, asked an Urgent Question highlighting the appalling human rights record of the Egyptian Government – led by President al-Sisi, who has arrived in the UK for a state visit. While David Cameron was rolling out the red carpet for a human rights abuser in Downing Street, in parliament it was yet again Liberal Democrats who stood up for his victims.

The Egyptian President heads a government with a poor and deteriorating human rights record. The imprisonment and torture of political prisoners and an increasing use of the death penalty are at the heart of its suppression of dissent. Since January 2014 438 people have been sentenced to death – shooting up a league table on which no civilised government should want to feature. 63% of these sentences were handed down for involvement in political protests.

Civil liberties, a free press, judicial independence, women’s rights, LGBT rights and democratic freedoms have all been trampled on by President el-Sisi. Yet, the UK Government will welcome him with open arms as a means of promoting ‘stability’ and trade.

Yesterday, I met Somaiya and Omaima Halawa. Their brother Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo in 2013, aged just 17, during pro-democracy rallies. The siblings, all Irish nationals from Dublin, had travelled to Egypt to visit family. All were detained by the authorities, but Ibrahim remains behind bars. He has been kept in solitary confinement, denied access to medical treatment and legal representation while being subjected to sustained torture. Tom Brake raised this, and a number of other specific human rights issues, today and challenged the Government to question the President on them.

Ibrahim’s sisters told me how he could end up facing the death penalty after a mass trial with 493 others. They explained in harrowing detail but with enormous dignity the level of mistreatment Ibrahim has suffered in prison, something to which no adult, let alone a juvenile, should be subjected. They also spoke with great determination about their campaign to get David Cameron to raise their brother’s case with President al-Sisi. Following their visit yesterday I wrote to the Foreign Secretary yesterday asking him to raise Ibrahim’s case.

This government will argue that by maintaining a dialogue with people like al-Sisi they are better able to influence and to improve. In this particular case, they may be right. As Somaiya and Omaima explained to me yesterday, in Egypt Britain’s voice is one that will he heard and is respected. That alone makes it all the more important that when we speak we should be making the case for human rights. Instead, our present government travels abroad to talk only about trade while at home ministers will defend as “operational matters” police officers raiding the homes of peaceful protesters campaigning for a free Tibet.

The Prime Minister likes to talk of British values. To be honest it is a political language with which I am never comfortable but if he chooses to talk that talk then walking the walk can not take you along a red carpet shoulder to shoulder with despots.

* Alistair Carmichael is the MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson.

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  • Eddie Sammon 5th Nov '15 - 7:42pm

    This is a good article, but the Lib Dems were pretty much silent during the visit of Xi Jinping and appear to have a selective concern for democracy. It is good that this article mentions the raid on the peaceful free Tibet poster, but it is too little too late.

    I feel a bit betrayed and let down by Lib Dems and the political establishment, left and right, over attitudes towards democracy spanning from China to the House of Lords. Democracy appears to be getting relegated to a second class human right and I’m not willing to support such sentiments without mentioning my concerns.

    However, I agree with the concerns about the execution of political opponents in Egypt and I think this is something that needs to be looked at seriously, as well as democratic concerns. I was surprised we were granting him a state visit after these executions.

    Please, I’m not getting into a debate about the House of Lords here, I’m just mentioning the selective concern for democracy that I think I am noticing.

  • Good to hear this from Alistair. Just been watching Somaiya on Channel 4 news. Most impressive and one’s heart goes out to her. It seems a long time ago that we had a government talking about an ethical foreign policy.

  • nigel hunter 5th Nov '15 - 8:34pm

    Interesting that this human rights issue comes at the time of an air disaster in the country. It, as a result,, does not get the media coverage it could.

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