One year ago today, the revolution in Egypt began. Since then, those calling for democracy have been put through military trials, tortured and killed. Yet the UK is still arming the regime. Today, before joining the vigil outside the Egyptian Embassy, we delivered our petition of over 7,000 signatures to the Foreign Office, the department responsible for licensing weapons sales to the regime. Our message was clear:
On the anniversary of the beginning of the popular uprising in Egypt, we are calling for an end to the UK’s promotion of arms sales to repressive regimes.
The UK can choose to support democracy and human rights, or it can continue to prop up authoritarian regimes with weapons sales. It cannot do both.
The focus of government policy is clear. Successive UK governments have supported the sale of weaponry to repressive regimes and that policy continues. While this government has made great play of the fact that it cancelled some arms licences to the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, its own data shows that arms sales and promotion barely slowed.
In Egypt, hundreds of protesters have been killed in the uprisings and thousands injured. Assaults in custody have included ‘virginity tests’ for female protesters. No To Military Trials estimates 12,000 people have been referred to military courts since the overthrow of Mubarak. Essam Atta was tortured to death while imprisoned after being sentenced by a military court, just one of a number of torture in custody cases reported. In October, 28 people were killed when armoured personnel carriers were driven at protesters and live ammunition fired. More than 40 died in a violent crackdown on protests in November.
The government was well aware of the ongoing repression and human rights abuse: in November, William Hague condemned “the unacceptable violence” by the Egyptian authorities and called for an end to military trials for civilians. Yet the UK has continued to promote and approve arms sales to the military rulers responsible.
The government’s latest arms export figures show that it licensed the sale of more than £1million of military equipment to Egypt between July and September 2011. In September, the government invited Egypt’s military rulers to the DSEI arms fair in London.
Enclosed are messages from over 7,000 people who say: It’s time to end government support for the arms trade and end support for the DSEI arms fair.
Many thanks to the thousands of people who signed the petition. It’s not over yet – we’ll be taking it to all the key decision-makers throughout 2012, starting with the Business Department in February. If you haven’t already done so, please add your voice.