activism human rights

UK arms sales to Egypt

The news out of Egypt this week is tragic, and hard to miss. On Wednesday the authorities moved in to clear the protest camps that have been in place in Cairo since the ousting of president Morsi. Both sides blame the other for what happened, but the camp clearance turned into a massacre. The official count is 638 dead and over 4,000 wounded, with the protestors claiming that the bodycount is nearer 2,000.

Western powers have all lined up to condemn the atrocities and call for restraint. One thing they won’t be drawing attention to is where the  army that opened fire on the protest camps with sniper rifles and machine guns got its weapons from. Because they got them from us. As usual.

The US is the biggest supplier of arms to Egypt, and it provides aid for military spending. Germany has provided warships, Austria sent tanks, the Netherlands anti-infantry vehicles. Britain’s arms companies sold weapons to Egypt under Mubarak, paused briefly during the revolution and then began selling them to the new government. Licenses have continued to be issued even after the recent military coup/intervention (insert preferred term here). £66 million pounds worth of arms have shipped from Britain to Egypt since the revolution, including machine guns and ammunition.

This does not register on the political conscience at all. David Cameron takes Britain’s arms companies on tour with him on official foreign visits. Last week he entertained King Hamad al-Khalif of Bahrain at Downing Street, despite the ongoing crackdown on protestors in the Gulf state. On the agenda: a £1 billion deal to supply the country with Typhoon fighter jets. The government views Britain’s arms trade solely through the lens of ‘British jobs and growth’, and endlessly parrots the line that Britain’s arms sales regulations are the tightest in the world. Maybe, but that doesn’t make it okay to sell weapons to dictators or unstable regimes.

A couple of things we can do about this. First, we can press the government to suspend arms sales to Egypt. This would be a symbolic gesture, since they already have what they need and other countries may well continue selling arms, but it matters. “All exports of military equipment, whether or not they can directly be used in repression, send a message of UK support to the recipient regime, and undermine calls to respect human rights” says the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. There’s a letter to William Hague that you can send here.

A second thing you can do, if you want something a bit more hands-on, is to join the demonstrations at this year’s DSEi exhibition in September. It’s one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, held in London every two years with the full support of the government. Delegates fly in from all round the world, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and many other regimes that we shouldn’t be touting our weapons to. This year the Stop the Arms Fair coalition have a variety of events planned to disrupt the occasion, including an unofficial welcoming committee for exhibitors and a vigil for victims of drone attacks. Occupy will also be visiting the Excel centre.

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