Ahead of Sisi's UK trip, protests fall on deaf ears..

2015-11-05 13:01:14

UK activists join Egyptian opposition groups based in the country to oppose President Sisi’s visit to London this week, but the British government is unmoved

Ahead of Sisi's UK trip, protests fall on deaf ears..

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s visit to London this week has caused activists to question Britain’s self-professed commitment to human rights.

Sisi will arrive in the city on Wednesday afternoon following an invitation from Prime Minister David Cameron nearly five months ago.

The U.K. government said that it needed to work with Egypt to combat terrorism and extremism, and described the visit as an “opportunity to hold open and frank dialogue”.

But activists say Sisi is the leader of a regime with countless human rights infringements to its name and should never have been invited in the first place.

“We think it's horrendous that David Cameron has invited Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the U.K. despite his horrific human rights track record since coming to power two years ago,” Sarah Ahmed, a member of the internet-based “Stop Sisi” campaign, said.

“Under Sisi's rule, Egyptians have witnessed unprecedented levels of oppression. Thousands of people have been killed; 40,000 people have been detained for political reasons; and the government has been quick to silence any voice of dissent, imprisoning minors and journalists alike,” Ahmed said.

It was under Sisi’s watch that several hundred people died on the streets of Cairo when security forces moved in to disperse demonstrators protesting the removal of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, from office. The Rabaa massacre, as the August 2013 incident became known, was described by Human Rights Watch as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day”.

The key point for Ahmed – and so many other activists – is that inviting Sisi to the U.K. contradicts traditionally “British values” such as democracy, freedom of speech and respect for human rights.

Their call on the British government to cancel the visit is likely to fall on deaf ears, but a demonstration is planned outside Downing Street, Cameron’s official central London residence, where Sisi is expected to arrive on Wednesday afternoon.

The protest is being assembled by Egyptian opposition bodies based in the U.K., as well as a broad range of British groups of all political stripes.

“This is not a matter of right and left,” conservative commentator Peter Oborne said at a press conference convened by the opposition Egyptian Revolutionary Council on Tuesday. “This is a matter of right and wrong. And it is entirely wrong that President Sisi should come here to Britain.”

Oborne attacked Cameron, who he described as “a man who talks about British values”, for inviting “a bloodstained dictator with mass murder on his record”.

His words were echoed by Lindsey German, whose left-wing credentials as a member of the Stop the War coalition make her an unlikely ally for Oborne.

German told Anadolu Agency that Sisi “has shown absolutely no inclination towards democracy since they've got thousands and thousands of political prisoners in Egypt, and it's yet another dictatorship that Britain wants to do business with”.

The presence of heavyweights on either side of Britain’s political spectrum underscored the vehemence with which some believe Sisi’s visit should be called off.

A lawyer who represented the deposed President Morsi in court has even argued that members of Sisi’s team could be liable for arrest during the London visit.

“There are many people in the entourage and others who’ve come who don’t benefit from immunity, including military persons, security persons. It’s only a very small group that under international law may benefit from immunity,” Rodney Dixon told the same press conference.

But the U.K. government is having none of it.

In response to a parliamentary question in the House of Lords on whether Sisi’s visit was appropriate “in the light of the state of the rule of law and human rights in that country”, Earl of Courtdown Patrick Stopford, a government whip, said on Monday that it was in Britain’s national interests.

He said: “We must work together on the immediate issues facing us, such as bringing stability to Libya, combating ISIL [Daesh] and countering extremism. The United Kingdom is also committed to supporting political progress and economic development in Egypt, which will be the foundations of its future stability.

“President al-Sisi’s visit to the United Kingdom will be an opportunity to hold an open and frank dialogue on all these issues and to develop a program of practical co-operation.”

The Egyptian leader is not on an official state visit, meaning he will not receive the lavish welcome granted last month to President Xi of China, another country whose human rights record has come under strong scrutiny within the U.K.

But with protests planned throughout the visit, any discussion of Egyptian domestic politics between Sisi and Cameron is likely to take place firmly behind closed doors. 

Anadolu Agency

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