Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Britain learns from Egypt

By David Hearst


While a serving British general threatened a coup if Corbyn is elected, an Egyptian general accused of war crimes was welcomed by the Ministry of Defence in London

One of the stranger conceits of the British is to lecture the rest of the world about democracy. To the oligarchs of post-Soviet Russia, the Brits shook their weary heads - while laundering their money. They preached about the green shoots of democracy and how long it takes to cultivate an English lawn.
To the corrupt, blood-stained generals of Egypt, Michael Fallon, British defence secretary offered praise. He hailed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s “vision of a more prosperous, more democratic society” and said he saw Egypt’s top religious Islamic institutions Al-Azhar and Dar Al-Iftaa as partners in Britain’s anti-extremist strategy.
Scores of negotiators from the Middle East have been to Northern Ireland to see conflict resolution in action in Stormont, Belfast. This is somewhat ironic as this power-sharing experiment is about to collapse.
Cue the anonymous serving general in the British Army, who told The Sunday Times, that if Labour’s popularly elected leader Jeremy Corbyn ever came to power - presumably through the popular vote - there would be a military coup.
He said feelings were running high: “There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”
The anonymous general was chastised by the Ministry of Defence, but only mildly.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told The Independent: “It would be fair to say that these remarks are not helpful. No one thinks that it is a good idea for a senior serving officer to undermine a potential future government.” However a leak inquiry was ruled out.
And that is where the matter ended. There was no public outcry, and no calls for an investigation as to who this serving general might be. It was treated as fair comment. Indeed, the Independent quoted a political source who said the general reflected a broader concern among service chiefs: “It does show the level of concern in the armed forces, which in itself is alarming,” he said.
Michael Fallon welcomes Egypt’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mahmoud Hegazy (Ministry of Defence)
The general’s words were music to the government’s ears, who have been making the same point for over a week now. Fallon and David Cameron banged the drum that Labour under Corbyn would be a "serious risk to our nation's security, our economy's security and your family's security".
Corbyn, we are told, would be invited to the National Security Council summits at Downing Street and he would get security briefings as a member of the Privy Council. But there was reassurance even here. Corbyn would not be given “active intelligence’ or the real stuff.
Little of this is foreign to countries who struggle with democracy. Turkey and Egypt have militaries which have staged coups regularly in the past. The general who spoke to the Sunday Times was doing no more than the late Egyptian intelligence chief and vice president Omar Suleiman who warned in 2012 that a coup would happen against a democratically government.
He was right. When it happened a year later in 2013, Britain backed it. It does so more fervently now than ever before. As the Corbyn morality play was being performed in public, there was a telling entrance and exit off stage in the MoD.
Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy, the chief of staff of the Egyptian Army, was in Britain on a four-day visit. The MoD was so confident of Hegazy’s presence in the UK it even issued a press release about him, calling his visit “a new step in British Egyptian military cooperation”. Hegazy met the ever-willing Fallon and General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Chief of Defence Staff for the UK Armed Forces - the same Defence Staff who are so unhappy about Corbyn.
In order to allow the Ministry of Defence to entertain their guest from Egypt, the Foreign Office obligingly issued Hegazy with “special mission status”. This was given to immunise Hegazy from an arrest warrant, either a private or police one. If detained, Hegazy would have been liable to questions on suspected crimes against humanity, under the universal jurisdiction obligations of British courts.  
Hegazy is one of around 25 Egyptian generals and officials who had command and control responsibility for the massacres which took place in Egypt after the fall of Morsi. Rabaa in Cairo in August 2013 is the worst but there were others. More than 3,000 Egyptians have been killed, and 40,000 jailed, amid numerous allegations of torture and mistreatment. 
Immunity is usually given after much legal thought. It is limited to existing or previous members of foreign governments, and even then, to heads of state or senior ministers. The handing out of immunity to a general, against whom such a weight of evidence exists and on the gravest of crimes, is open to legal challenge. Indeed, a case is about to be launched in the High Court.
Hegazy is no hapless foot soldier. Bound together by family (Hegazy’s daughter is married to Sisi’s son), he has been following his patron Sisi around, replacing him as head of intelligence before being anointed chief of staff. Sisi wants Hegazy to replace the current Defence Minister General Sedki Sobhi, but he is resisting being moved, and used the constitutional protection Sisi once afforded himself as defence minister.
Egyptian generals are no strangers to politics. Egypt has been run by field marshals for most of its modern history. Britain is no stranger to lavishing attention and bodyguards on dictators. Hegazy visited Longmoor military training camp, where 15 Egyptian officers are currently receiving close protection training from British army experts. Close behind military relationships are commercial contracts. Britain is Egypt’s largest foreign investor. As Fallon reminded his Egyptian hosts when he attended the opening of the widened sections of the Suez Canal, BP’s $12bn investment this year was the largest in Egypt’s history.
Corbyn appealed to, and tapped into, a profound political vein in Britain, one that has been fed by a mood that goes back further than the last two decades of war. That yearning is for Britain to be on the right side of history, when it comes to promoting peace, justice and internationalism. Naturally it is not how foreign policy realists say diplomacy functions. But when the “real world” is in such a mess, and so unstable, the appeal of that argument falters. An electoral mandate is quickly produced for a foreign policy which places principle at its core.
As Reg Keys, whose eldest son Tom died in the Iraq War, wrote: "A true patriot would not mislead or deceive his fellow countrymen or put them in harm’s way with no good reason. A patriot would wish to see his country held in high esteem on the world stage with other UN nations firmly in support. This is the man we know Jeremy Corbyn is, from all his words and deeds. Sadly, in sharp contrast we had a false patriot in a leader such as Tony Blair who would gladly smile and sing his heart out to the national anthem for all to see, but who at the same time was misleading parliament on Iraq, misleading the people and worst of all misleading those brave troops who were to lay down their lives.”
No wonder the generals, who greet their comrades from Egypt with open arms, feel threatened by Corbyn.
David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/what-britain-learning-egypt-1534514104#sthash.2AqpA7jQ.dpuf

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