British Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed the British government was wrong “in the past” in supporting dictatorships in the Middle East and condemns the “appalling violence” against protesters (1).
Yet his government is still backing these dictatorships and their violence by approving sales of lethal arms and crowd control weapons to Kuwait, Saudi, Egypt and many others besides, as they torture, jail and kill democracy protesters and dissidents. This has been hidden behind the fig leaf of suspending a most export licences to Libya and Bahrain in order to try to give the false impression that all arms sales to dictatorships have been suspended (2) – (6).
Cameron travelled to Egypt with a delegation of British arms company salesman on his coat tails. Egypt’s government is not a democracy. It remains an entirely undemocratic government even after Mubarak’s resignation. It includes the Generals of a military which has been involved in torturing democracy protesters, sitting alongside Mubarak’s appointed henchmen, including his notorious torturer in chief Omar Suleiman, who has said Egypt isn’t ready for democracy (7) – (17). These are the people who helped Mubarak torture and murder Egyptians for decades – they’re not going to have changed overnight. This regime refuses to hand over to a government of national unity that would include the opposition and exclude Mubarak’s cronies (18) – (22). That means that it’s promise of democratic elections could be as empty as Mubarak’s was in 2005 (23).
It's also a bit late to suspend arms export licences if you wait till after the dictatorships start killing people by the dozen or the hundred - as in Bahrain and Libya respectively.
The Guardian reports that "Labour MP Denis MacShane has called for an immediate stop on all arms exports to Bahrain. Amnesty wants a ban extended across the region." (that suggests the UK government is still issuing some export licences for arms to Bahrain). The Guardian continues "Defence contractors said they felt "battered and bruised" by the condemnation that they had received, following the violence throughout the Middle East and north Africa.". The poor souls. They're so much worse off than all the people who have been tortured, beaten and murdered by the dictatorships they're arming for profit.
Cameron responded to criticism of his hypocrisy by saying that it’s “unrealistic” to expect “small democracies” like Kuwait to produce all their own arms (24). Kuwait is not and never has been a democracy. The Emir rules like a medieval king, appoints his own governments without having to respect election results and has anyone who criticises his government or organises political meetings jailed. There are elections to the Kuwaiti parliament, but that parliament is largely powerless in practice and the Emir can disband it at any time (25) – (30).
Cameron's strange definition of democracy seems to be "sells us oil cheaply and buys our weapons".
So is our Prime Minister actually going to support democracy, or does he prefer to just continue mouthing empty platitudes while securing profits for British firms by selling dictatorships weapons with which they are still intimidating, torturing and murdering their own people whenever they demand democracy? It can’t be both at once, no matter how much he might like it to be. His government’s foreign policy is currently as much of a hypocritical joke as Blair’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ was.
(1) = guardian.co.uk 22 Feb 2011 ‘Cameron says UK prejudiced for believing Muslims cannot manage democracy’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/22/david-cameron-uk-muslims-democracy
(2) = guardian.co.uk 21 Feb 2011 ‘Abu Dhabi arms fair: Tanks, guns, teargas and trade at Idex 2011’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/21/abu-dhabi-arms-fair-idex-2011
(3) = guardian.co.uk 21 Feb 2011 ‘UK firm defends Libya military sales’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/21/uk-firm-defends-libya-military-sales
(4) = guardian.co.uk 21 Feb 2011 ‘David Cameron's Cairo visit overshadowed by defence tour’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/21/cameron-cairo-visit-defence-trade
(5) = Independent 19 Feb 2011 ‘Crackdown on arms exports to Bahrain’,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/crackdown-on-arms-exports-to-bahrain-2219269.html
(6) = Campaign Against the Arms Trade 18 Feb 2011 ‘CAAT condemns empty words from Government as arms sale drive continues’,http://www.caat.org.uk/press/
(7) = ABC News 13 Feb 2011 ‘Egyptian army vows transition to democracy’,http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/13/3137352.htm ; ‘"The current government and governors undertake to manage affairs until the formation of a new government," a senior army officer said in a statement delivered on state television.’
(8) = BBC News 14 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt crisis: Protests switch to demands on pay’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12448413 ; ‘During the transition the cabinet appointed by Mr Mubarak last month will go on governing, submitting legislation to the army chiefs for approval.’ ; ‘Military statement - Constitution suspended ; Council to hold power for six months or until elections; Both houses of parliament dissolved; Council to issue laws during interim period; Committee set up to reform constitution and set rules for referendum ;Caretaker PM Ahmed Shafiq's cabinet to continue work until new cabinet formed ; Council to hold presidential and parliamentary elections ; All international treaties to be honoured’’
(9) = Al Jazeera 12 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt's military leadership - Brief profiles of members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as it assumes power from Hosni Mubarak’,http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121185311711502.html ; ‘General Omar Suleiman, vice-president and former intelligence chief, is among the key retired or serving military officers on the council.
(10) = Press TV 13 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt army to decide on Suleiman fate’,http://www.presstv.ir/detail/165105.html ; ‘"The role of Omar Suleiman will be defined by the Higher Military Council," Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on Sunday.’
(11) = Reuters 10 Feb 2011 'Egypt VP democracy comment misunderstood-state agency', http://af.reuters.com/article/egyptNews/idAFLDE7192CG20110210 ; ‘In the ABC interview in Cairo on Monday, Suleiman was asked if he believed in democracy. Speaking English he answered: "For sure everybody believes in democracy, but when you will do that? When the people here would have the culture of democracy."’
(12) = Al Jazeera 07 Feb 2011 ‘Suleiman: The CIA's man in Cairo - Suleiman, a friend to the US and reported torturer, has long been touted as a presidential successor’, by Professor Lisa Hajar of the University of California, http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/201127114827382865.html
(13) = ABC News 01 Feb 2011 ‘New Egyptian VP Ran Mubarak's Security Team, Oversaw Torture’,http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/egypt-crisis-omar-suleiman-cia-rendition/story?id=12812445&page=1
(14) = New Statesman 17 May 2004 ‘America’s Gulag’, http://www.newstatesman.com/200405170016
(15) = Human Rights Watch 09 May 2005 ‘Black Hole – the fate of Islamists rendered to Egypt’,http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11757/section/1
(16) = Bloomberg Businessweek 01 Feb 2011 ‘Mubarak’s Top Spy Rejected by Cairo Streets as Masses March’,http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-02-01/mubarak-s-top-spy-rejected-by-cairo-streets-as-masses-march.html
(17) = guardian.co.uk 09 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt's army 'involved in detentions and torture'’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/09/egypt-army-detentions-torture-accused
(18) = guardian.co.uk 13 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt's military rejects swift transfer of power and suspends constitution’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/13/egypt-military-rejects-swift-power-handover
(19) = guardian.co.uk 12 Feb 2011 ‘Army and protesters disagree over Egypt's path to democracy’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/12/egypt-military-leaders-fall-out-protesters
(20) = Reuters 30 Jan 2011 ‘ElBaradei urges U.S. to abandon Mubarak’,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/30/us-egypt-usa-elbaradei-idUSTRE70T30920110130?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews ; ‘"I have been authorized -- mandated -- by the people who organized these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government," ElBaradei told CNN.’
(21) = Scoop NZ 14 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt's Protesters Communique Number 1’,http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1102/S00466/egypts-protesters-communique-number-1.htm
(22) = ABC News 13 Feb 2011 ‘Egyptian army vows transition to democracy’,http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/13/3137352.htm ; People's Communique No. 1", issued by the protest organisers, demands the dissolution of the cabinet Mr Mubarak appointed on January 29 and the suspension of the parliament elected in a rigged vote late last year.The reformists want a transitional five-member presidential council made up of four civilians and one military person. The communique calls for the formation of a transitional government to prepare for an election to take place within nine months, and of a body to draft a new democratic constitution. It demands freedom for the media and syndicates, which represent groups such as lawyers, doctors and engineers, and for the formation of political parties. Military and emergency courts must be scrapped, the communique says.’ (From the full text linked to above - (27) – ‘syndicates’ here is almost certainly a mis-translation of ‘trade unions’.)
(23) = Human Rights Watch 23 Nov 2010 ‘Elections in Egypt’,http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/11/23/elections-egypt
(24) = guardian.co.uk 22 Feb 2011 ‘David Cameron hits out at critics of Britain's arms trade’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/22/david-cameron-britain-arms-trade
(25) = US Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs ‘Background Note:Kuwait’,http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35876.htm
(27) = Human Rights Watch 21 Jul 2010 ‘Operation Roll Back Kuwaiti Freedom’,http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/07/23/operation-roll-back-kuwaiti-freedom
(28) = Human Rights Watch 11 Dec 2010 ‘Kuwait: Permit Peaceful Political Gatherings - Security Forces Violently Disperse Parliamentarians and Professors’, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/12/10/kuwait-permit-peaceful-political-gatherings
(29) = Human Rights watch 31 Jan 2011 ‘Kuwait: Free Speech and Assembly Under Attack’,http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/01/31/kuwait-free-speech-and-assembly-under-attack
(30) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2011: Kuwait , http://www.hrw.org/en/world-report-2011/kuwait ; ‘Freedom of expression markedly deteriorated in 2010. The government continued criminally prosecuting individuals based on nonviolent political speech, denied academics permission to enter the country for conferences and speeches, and cracked down on public gatherings. In April state security forces summarily deported over 30 Egyptian legal residents of Kuwait after some of them gathered to support Egyptian reform advocate Mohammed El Baradei.
In May prominent writer and lawyer Mohammad al-Jassim was detained for over 40 days and charged with "instigating to overthrow the regime, ...slight to the personage of the emir [the ruler of Kuwait],... [and] instigating to dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society" over his blog posts criticizing the prime minister. A judge released al-Jassim in June and adjourned the case until October.’