Human Rights and Democratisation
153. After the events of 11 September 2001, the Egyptian
Government came under international pressure to implement democratic
reforms. In a key speech in Cairo on 20 June 2005, US Secretary
of State Dr Condoleezza Rice said that Egypt must give "its
citizens the freedom to choose":
Egypt's elections, including the Parliamentary elections,
must meet objective standards that define every free election.
Opposition groups must be free to assemble, and to participate,
and to speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence
154. Egypt held Presidential and Parliamentary elections
in 2005. A constitutional amendment meant that for the first time,
multiple candidates were allowed to stand for the Presidential
election. President Mubarak won a fifth six-year term with 88.6%
of the votes cast, on a turnout of 23%.
The election was met with criticism, after Mubarak's nearest challenger,
Ayman Nour of the Tomorrow Party, campaigned whilst on bail and
was later imprisoned for five years on fraud charges. The UK held
the Presidency of the EU at the time, and released a statement
expressing "concern" at his conviction and underlining
that it "sends negative signals about democratic political
reform in Egypt."
155. Egypt's 2005 Parliamentary elections were won,
as expected, by the ruling National Democratic Party. However,
individuals associated with the proscribed Muslim Brotherhood
movement were remarkably successful. The elections were marred
by violence and mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Dr Hollis told the Committee that "the Government were found
to be guilty of brutality and paying bribes to get people to vote
in the elections."
In the months following the elections, the Egyptian Government
launched a further crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.
156. Hugh Roberts from the International Crisis Group
has remarked that "there is no prospect of significant political
reform in Egypt in the foreseeable future. It's dead in the water
] Western efforts to shape reform in Egypt have been a
We put Mr Roberts' assessment to the Minister for the Middle East
when he appeared before the Committee. Dr Howells replied:
I would agree with some of it, which might surprise
you. Last December, President Mubarak announced constitutional
amendments, some of which we could recognise as real steps forward
towards a more democratic, open society. Some have been interpreted
as a step backwards. 
157. The constitutional amendments referred to by
Dr Howells were voted on in a referendum that took place during
our visit to Egypt. The opposition boycotted the process, leaving
the Egyptian Government's victory assured. We heard a range of
opinions on the constitutional amendments, but it seems clear
that they do not signal the advance of immediate political reform.
Dr Hollis highlighted to the Committee the difficulty facing attempts
at such reform:
The Egyptians sometimes describe their state as a
pharaonic state: it is all pervasive. Egyptians therefore have
great difficulty in getting their heads around the idea of progressive
] For fear of experimentation that could demonstrate
that the state does not need to be as all-pervasive, they are
not having any experimentation. Up against that, I simply do not
know what to advise; I do not think that you can make much change
from the outside.
158. Dr Howells focused on one of the root causes
for Egypt's reluctance to embrace democratic reform:
What is extraordinary about Egypt is that the most
progressive elements among the chattering classes, or the political
class, are very worried about the prospect of greater democracy.
They are very worried about the distinct possibility that the
extreme Islamic parties could make great progress if the elections
were freer and fairer, and that the secular state of Egypt, as
it exists at the moment, would come under great threat. 
159. Dr Hollis highlighted one reason for the electoral
popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that it "contrasts
very well with the Government in terms of corruption." She
warned against misinterpreting the causes of the rise of the Muslim
Brotherhood and pressed the point that whilst the current Government
may be perceived as corrupt, "that does not mean that the
state is discredited, or that there is a love affair with Islamism."
She said an interesting solution would be "a version of
democracy or reform that brings such opposition into the system
but does not overthrow the system overnight."
160. On our visit, we heard from analysts that the
Muslim Brotherhood has committed to non-violence and that it has
accepted the democratic process as a way of bringing about their
goals gradually. It remains uncertain as to what extent its goals
would challenge the secular Egyptian state, or indeed how diverse
these goals are. These issues may only become clear once the Muslim
Brotherhood is legitimately allowed to participate within the
Egyptian political system, rather than have its members sit in
Parliament as independents at fear of repression.
161. We conclude
that there are serious concerns about the progress of democratic
reform in Egypt. We recommend that the Government should use its
close relationship with Cairo to maintain pressure on the Egyptian
Government to widen participation in its political system. We
further conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful and
important force in Egypt. As long as the Muslim Brotherhood expresses
a commitment to the democratic process and non-violence, we recommend
that the British Government should engage with it and seek to
influence its members.
ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
162. Egypt is a member of the 'Arab Quartet' of countries
lobbying for rapid progress on the Middle East Peace Process,
the other countries being Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
Along with Jordan, it has also been asked by the League of Arab
States to explore with Israel the opportunity presented by the
Arab Initiative for Peace.
163. Egypt has a particularly important and historic
relationship with Gaza, as its only Arab neighbour. Before the
dramatic events of June 2007, Dr Hollis had told us that "the
fact that the heart of the struggle between Hamas and Fatah is
Gaza has increased the level of Egyptian influence". Ms Nomi
Bar-Yaacov commented that Egypt's involvement in Gaza was "vast",
in particular in the security sector and that it has an "extremely
positive and ongoing role to play." However, she noted in
February that "all the ammunition into Gaza is coming through
tunnels in Egypt that are being dug all the time. It is important
to monitor that issue, and more can be done on that front."
Dr Gooderham told the Committee that one of the agreements that
have come out of "trilateral meetings between Rice, Abbas
and Olmert is that the quadrilateral committee, which involves
the three plus Egypt, should reconvene" to tackle the problem
of arms smuggling.
It is clear that not enough work was done to prevent a build-up
of arms before the dramatic events of June 2007.
164. Dr Gooderham told us in February that Egypt
enjoys a "difficult" relationship with Hamas.
This is due, in part, to Hamas' historic roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The events of June 2007 may place this relationship under further
strain. At the time of preparing this Report, the Rafah crossing
between Gaza and Egypt had been closed since early June 2007.
Egyptian security officials estimated that up to 4,000 Palestinians
were stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing.
In late June, the deputy head of the EU monitoring mission at
Rafah said that European monitors would not return to the crossing
whilst Hamas retained sole control of the Gaza Strip.
On 5 July 2007, the Under-Secretary of State for International
Development, Shahid Malik, called the situation "unacceptable
from anybody's perspective."
165. We conclude
that Egypt has an important role to play in the Middle East Peace
Process. We recommend that the Government set out its policy on
the Rafah crossing, and that it continue to work with Egypt and
other parties to seek the re-opening of the crossing as soon as
253 "Remarks at the American University in Cairo",
20 June 2005, www.state.gov Back
"Egypt Election Row Sparks Protest", BBC News Online,
10 September 2005, news.bbc.co.uk Back
"EU Statement on Outcome of the Trial of Ayman Nour in Egypt",
27 December 2005, www.fco.gov.uk Back
Q 77 Back
"A country in crisis as fearful government cracks down on
Islamist opposition", The Guardian, 19 July 2007 Back
"Egypt finds democracy can wait", The Guardian,
16 May 2006 Back
Q 172 Back
Q 78 Back
Q 172 Back
Q 77 Back
Q 52 Back
"Arab leaders offer Israel guarded peace offer", The
Guardian, 30 March 2007 Back
Q 80 Back
Q 47 Back
Q 47 Back
"Ministers of Palestinian emergency government visit stranded
Palestinians in Egypt", International Herald Tribune,
8 July 2007 Back
"EU monitors to stay away from Rafah", Jerusalem
Post, 28 June 2007 Back
HC Deb, 5 July 2007, col 334WH Back