Question for David Cameron: What should Egyptian democracy look like?

Does it look like President Sisi?


Today David Cameron will meet with the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to discuss their common interests, including the war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State.

To critics, the visit is the latest example of Downing Street extending its hand to a repressive government in the name of self-interested diplomacy, as seen with the Chinese President’s October visit and the UK’s ongoing friendship with Saudi Arabia.

President Sisi will no doubt be pleased by news today that David Cameron is to announce new curbs on the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Sisi seized power in 2013. Ousted President Mohamed Morsi has been sentenced to death.

David Cameron was the first Western leader to visit Tahrir Square in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that ended the rule of Egypt’s military leader Hosni Mubarak and led to the election of Morsi. He said at the time that he had gone there to ‘support the aspirations of people in Egypt for a more genuine, open democracy’.

If he stands by any part of this statement, David Cameron should have serious questions for the current Egyptian leader, and for himself.

Is a ‘genuine, open democracy’ a country where tens of thousands of people are in detention after a sweeping crackdown on dissent? SInce Sisi came to power journalists, human rights activists, students, and real and alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been detained, with hundreds sentenced to death. Amnesty International has criticised ‘grossly unfair’ trials riddled with due process violations, including some which took place without the defendants and their lawyers. At least 124 people have died in detention.

Does a ‘genuine, open democacy’ rush through a series of laws to crush opposition and expediate death sentences? Legislation enacted by Sisi and Adly Mansour, an interim President installed by Sisi after Morsi’s removal, includes an extension of military jurisdiction, the Protest Law, which gives security forces sweeping powers to disperse demonstrations not approved by the authorities, the Counter-terrorism Law, which gives the president emergency-style powers and erodes fair trial guarantees, and a clampdown on foreign funding used to prosecute human rights groups.

In a ‘genuine, open democracy’ do security forces have impunity for massacre? In August 2013 thousands of people gathered in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square to protest the coup which had taken place weeks before. They were mainly Morsi supporters. Military forces began shooting on the morning of 14 August, killing anywhere between 600 and 1,000 protesters (estimates vary – Human Rights Watch puts the figure at 817). In the two years since that day, not a single security officer has been held accountable for their role in the killings.

In a genuine, open democracy, can you be arrested for the slogan on your T-shirt? Can a disabled woman be snatched by security forces, denied access to a lawyer, and denied medical treatment for an injury obtained at a protest that left her wheelchair-bound?

David Cameron should decide what he thinks about all these definitions of democracy as he speaks with the Egyptian President today. These questions should be at the centre of every arms negotiation, every proposal for Syria and LIbya. Otherwise, the UK legitimises – and through arms, is even complicit in – the ongoing repression of the Egyptian people by President Sisi.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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