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Britain resumes arms sales to Egypt despite commitment to protect human rights

On 21 August this year, EU Member States agreed to suspend licences for goods to Egypt that could possibly be used for "internal repression," including those for the Egyptian Army, Air Force and Internal Security Forces and the Ministry of Interior.

In August Egypt saw plenty of internal repression, which culminated in a deadly crackdown by the Egyptian military on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, after weeks of anti-coup protests. Estimates of those who died currently stand between 1,000 and 8,000.

Yet on Sunday the British government announced that they have reviewed and lifted from suspension 27 of these licenses. They had been temporarily revoked after the pro-Morsi sit-ins were violently cleared from Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda square.

On 2 April this year, the UN General Assembly approved a global arms trade treaty designed to ensure states stop transferring arms to countries where it is likely they will be used for human rights abuses.

Part of the treaty says: "Regarding prohibitions — article 6 — States parties agreed not to authorize any transfer of conventional weapons — or their ammunition/munitions, parts or components — if the transfer would violate their chapter VII obligations or those under international agreements, or if they had knowledge that arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, attacks against civilians or other war crimes."

Yet a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson told MEMO, "We have now reviewed all export licences for Egypt and have lifted some from suspension, as we do not judge that the goods might be used for internal repression."

According to the FCO, of the 27 licenses 3 will be revoked as there is a clear risk they could be used for internal repression.

"We still have a relationship with the Egyptian interim government" said the spokesperson on why they have made this decision. "This enables us to engage with the Egyptian authorities in pursuit of a long term solution to the current situation."

"While we do not support any specific political party or group, we strongly support an inclusive political system which allows all groups in society to be represented and in which freedom of expression is respected."

The British government's decision came a day before Morsi's trial. Along with 14

other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, he stands accused of inciting violence on protestors in front of the Presidential Palace in December 2012 and for collaborating with Hamas.

The trial is another source of contention in an already polarised society that could easily have led to further violence and repression by the security forces. His supporters gathered outside the police academy, where Hosni Mubarak is also being tried. On the other side of the security barrier, thousands of troops had been deployed.

"It is an astonishing development that 24 licences have been approved to export weapons to a regime that has shown it is willing to use any means necessary to curtail dissent" lawyer Tayab Ali of ITN solicitors told MEMO.

"This is contrary to the British commitment to ensure that arms are not used to violate human rights and indeed appears to breach the government's own policy in respect of arms sales."

"We continue to urge the British government to suspend all arms trade to the Egyptian regime until the brutal repression witnessed in the summer is held to account and the international community can be completely satisfied that the weapons will not be used to repress civilians. It is far from clear that this can be the case at this moment."

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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