Minister leads UK-Egypt trade visit, despite human rights concerns

January 13, 2015

Image of Ibrahim Halawa

13 January 2015

The UK has launched its biggest trade delegation to Egypt in a generation, despite widespread concerns about mass trials and death sentences handed down by authorities in the country.

The Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Tobias Ellwood, is this week leading a major UK trade delegation to Egypt in an effort to take advantage of what the Foreign Office has called “signs of recovery after recent turbulence.” In a statement late last year, the Foreign Office said that the UK was “by far the largest foreign investor in Egypt” and that UK firms in the country have enjoyed “continued profitably [sic] and growth… even in the difficult years” – an apparent reference to the 2011 revolution and subsequent 2013 ousting of Mohammed Morsi’s government.

The UK embassy in Egypt tweeted last week that the visit was “the biggest British trade delegation to #Egypt in more than 15 years”.

Scores of protestors have been arrested in Egypt since 2013 and put on trial en masse, with hundreds receiving death sentences in proceedings that have been condemned by the UN, rights groups and countries including the UK. Speaking last September, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Egyptian government must “ensure human rights are respected in Egypt.”

Legal organisation Reprieve has written to Mr Ellwood raising concerns about the timing and scale of the trade visit in light of an ongoing mass trial of nearly 500 people, who face potential death sentences if convicted by the Cairo court. Among them is an Irish teenager, 19 year old Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested at a 2013 protest when he was 17, and legally a juvenile. Mr Halawa has been subjected to continued mistreatment during his 2 years of confinement in Cairo’s Tora prison. Last week saw the latest of several recent hearings in which he was not brought into the court.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Halawa, said:

“It beggars belief that the UK is taking a ‘business as usual’ approach to a country where hundreds of people, including children, face potential death sentences in farcical mass trials. If David Cameron’s proclamations about the need for human rights in Egypt are to be believed, why is his government boasting about its biggest trade visit there in 15 years?”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: alice [DOT] Gillham [AT] reprieve [DOT] org [DOT] uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8160

2. Copies of Reprieve’s letter to Tobias Ellwood are available on request.