David Cameron has been criticised by a senior Tory for inviting the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the UK amid controversy over his authoritarian leadership of the country since he came to power following a military coup two years ago.
Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs committee in the House of Commons and former justice minister, said it was “not appropriate” to roll out the red carpet for President al-Sisi.
He added that despite bringing stability to Egypt, “no one should be in any doubt at what the price has been”.
It is estimated that 1,000 people have been killed since President al-Sisi imposed a crackdown on dissent following the military coup, with some 40,000 dissenters jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been deprived of a fair trial.
Mr Blunt’s criticism of Mr Cameron’s willingness to roll out the red carpet for al-Sisi follows a strongly worded attack by Jeremy Corbyn, who labelled the Egyptian leader a “coup leader” and said he threatens national security rather than protecting it.
He said Mr Cameron’s invitation showed “contempt” for human rights and made a “mockery of government claims to be promoting peace and justice” in the Middle East.
Mr Blunt, while accepting that it was important to have a “practical engagement” with strategically important countries such as Egypt, particularly in relation to the recent concerns of a terror threat over the Russian plane crash, said: “Some would claim that in 2013 the then-general Sisi and the military reclaimed stability and security for Egypt in the way that they removed President Morsi and his administration from office, but no one should be in any doubt at what the price has been.
“Possibly thousands of people were killed when the squares were cleared; 40,000 are in prison; we’ve seen death penalties be handed out in batches of several hundreds; and many of us will have had first-hand testimony of people being tortured in the Egyptian justice system.
“And I’m not entirely sure that inviting President Sisi to the United Kingdom is necessarily wholly appropriate at this time, until these issues are properly addressed and there is some accountability for the conduct of the operation of 2013 and the conduct of policy since.”
Downing Street has insisted that “no issues are off the table” during the talks between Mr Cameron and President al-Sisi at Downing Street on Thursday and said it was vital to maintain relations with influential players in the Middle East such as Egypt.
The visit of president al-Sisi comes amid revelations that Britain has been ramping up its arms sales to Egypt’s military dictatorship in recent years.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills figures on arms export licences from the UK to Egypt show a sharp increase in weapons and controlled military hardware sales
The British government must give consent for all arms exports and has allowed millions of pounds in sales to the Egyptian dictatorship.
A £40m licence for armoured vehicles to the regime was granted by the Government in March 2015, compared to a total of £156m in licences to Egypt throughout the whole of the Coalition government.
Andrew Smith frp, Campaign Against Arms Trade, which collated the figures, said: “The Sisi government has an appalling human rights record.
“It has locked up journalists, tortured opponents and clamped down on all dissent. The UK should be calling out for change, not rolling out the red carpet and arming his regime.”
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