British foreign policy and the "Arab Spring" - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

5  New partnerships

126.  The Arab Spring has brought about different levels of change to the leaderships and institutions of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but in each state it has already brought about a new set of international partners with whom the FCO must build relations. In this section we consider some of the key changes to the relationship between the UK and these three states, as well as particular concerns during the transitional period.

UK-Tunisia bilateral relationship


127.  Prior to the revolution, the UK's Embassy in Tunisia was one of our smallest in the region and the FCO described the UK's bilateral relationship with Tunisia as "limited". It attributed this mainly to the closed nature of the Ben Ali regime but added that the presence in the UK of Rachid Ghannouchi, a leading Tunisian opposition figure, and the UK's "policy of contact with opposition parties and human rights groups in Tunisia" also "triggered negative reactions" from the Tunisian government.[186]

128.  Despite this, the FCO told us that "our access to decision-makers on trade and investment issues was generally good."[187] Although the UK's presence in the Tunisian market is a low 1% of Tunisian imports, the UK is the market leader in Tunisia's energy sector. We were told that Tunisia's "significant appetite" for English language cooperation meant that the British Council had forged ties with the ministry of education and was supporting an overhaul of English language teaching in all secondary schools "with a view to influencing the coming generation and opening up the country to wider influence."[188]


129.  Following the fall of the Ben Ali regime, an interim government was announced on 17 January 2011. The Foreign Secretary spoke to Tunisia's Foreign Minister and its President on 24 and 25 January respectively and was the first Foreign Minister to visit Tunis, on 8 February. The FCO told us that "the swiftness of this response has been widely recognised in Tunisia as putting the UK at the forefront of those supporting the transition."[189] Since then, the UK has hosted three Tunisian ministerial level visits, including a recent visit by Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam on 28 March 2012. The Foreign Secretary has visited Tunisia twice and Alistair Burt has visited Tunisia three times since its revolution.

130.  Despite a general understanding that the UK is starting from a lower position in Tunisia compared to other EU countries, witnesses to this inquiry were on the whole optimistic about the future of the relationship and suggested that there was an appreciation in Tunisia of what the UK could offer. Intissar Kherigi and Dr Claire Spencer both pointed out that a number of Tunisian opposition figures who lived in exile in the UK, including Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem and Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, had now returned to Tunisia. Dr Spencer suggested that the UK could help to raise its profile in Tunisia by, for example, "making a virtue of having hosted Mr Ghannouchi over all his years of exile".[190] Ms Kherigi noted that Mr Ghannouchi's political party, Ennahda, favoured a parliamentary system based on the Westminster model, concluding that "there are very valuable opportunities for providing political assistance that will feed in to a long term process."[191]

131.  While disagreeing with the suggestion that the bilateral relationship was beginning from a low base, the Minister told us that Tunisia was looking to the UK "much more than it did in the past," adding that the UK is "seeking to make the very most of that."[192] We conclude that the UK should continue to pursue stronger ties with Tunisia and should encourage Tunisian former exiles to maintain a relationship with the UK and with the British embassy in Tunisia even after they have returned to their first home.

Trade and investment

132.  Both the British and Tunisian governments have consistently expressed a desire to increase trade and investment between the UK and Tunisia. Tunisia's economy was badly affected by the revolution, which prompted over 80 foreign companies to leave Tunisia and caused foreign direct investment to fall by 20%.[193] In a statement about the visit of the Tunisian Foreign Minister in March, the Foreign Secretary expressed support:

British companies are significant investors in the energy and tourism sectors. There is real potential for expansion. We are working with the Tunisian Government to create openings in other areas where the UK is a global leader, such as renewable energy and financial services, and these initiatives in turn would create new job opportunities for the Tunisian people.[194]

133.  The Government also drew our attention to events run by UK Trade and Investment that had generated "a good level of interest" in business opportunities in Tunisia. Dr Spencer asked that the Government consider the provision of expertise rather than simply providing funding, suggesting that the UK could play a valuable role by helping to facilitate relationships between young British and Tunisian entrepreneurs, and by providing technical and managerial expertise on how to grow small companies.[195] The UK also continues to have a strong tourist presence in Tunisia. After a drop in numbers immediately after the revolution, 31,000 British tourists visited Tunisia in May 2012 following a strong marketing campaign in Britain by the Tunisian tourist office, which described the UK as "one of our most resilient markets".[196] We conclude that there is great potential for the UK and Tunisia to improve their bilateral trade and investment to their mutual benefit.

UK support for transition: visibility

134.  The UK's Arab Partnership Fund has provided £1.2 million of support to Tunisia in 2011/12 for projects on political participation, good governance and economic reform. However, both Intissar Kherigi and Dr Claire Spencer raised concerns that these UK programmes supporting the transition were not particularly visible in the region, nor is it well-understood how they are allocated. On Tunisia, Intissar Kherigi told us:

It is felt that, while we see announcements of funding being made, the follow-up to that—where the funds actually go, whether they are actually allocated, and in what way—is missing at the grass roots level[197]

Another Tunisia observer, Alexander Lambeth,[198] has reportedly argued that DfID's donations to the African Development Bank are also not well known, saying that "the French and German development agencies have a much louder presence than the British."[199] We conclude that the value of the Arab Partnership and DfID funding as a tool of UK soft power and sign of British support for democratisation will be limited if its projects are not visible to most of the public in those countries.


135.   Tunisia's new government has been significantly more active in its foreign policy than it was under the previous leadership of President Ben Ali, suggesting that it might be willing to play a more active international role. This has been particularly evident with regard to the Maghreb, as Tunisia's new president, Moncef Marzouki, visited a number of North African states in February in a bid to revive the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA). The Minister welcomed this development, stating that the UK had long considered Maghreb integration to be an important objective, particularly given its potential for easing the economic pressures in the region.

136.  Tunisia had also been bold in its approach to the Syrian crisis, expelling the Syrian Ambassador and hosting the first international 'Friends of Syria' meeting on 24 February 2012, which was attended by the UK Foreign Secretary. The Minister concluded that in light of Tunisia's "very active" approach, "we do see the prospects for developing a good, sound relationship on foreign policy issues with friends in Tunisia."[200]

UK-Egypt bilateral relationship

137.  The FCO told us that the UK's relationship with Egypt remains strong, and stated that:

The FCO's overarching priority is to see Egypt continue as an effective commercial and political partner of the UK, contributing to peace and stability in the region and representing an example of successful reform.[201]


138.  Egypt has long been a key commercial partner for the UK. The UK is the largest foreign direct investor in Egypt with over $20 billion invested, and Egypt is also the UK's third largest trading partner in Africa. Tourism ties are also strong; over 1.5 million British nationals visit Egypt every year.[202]

139.  The FCO told us that Egypt was central to some of the UK's main foreign policy goals, including the Middle East Peace Process, Sudan, Iran and nuclear non-proliferation. In addition, President Mubarak cooperated with the US and UK on counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation concerns. Given this cooperation, the UK has understandably been seen as close to the Mubarak regime, as well as a supporter of US policy. A Chatham House workshop conducted with Egyptian participants in April 2011 recorded that:

While the participants did not all see UK-Egypt relations as entirely negative, they did all perceive the UK as having played a part in supporting the Mubarak regime. Although the US was identified as having been the greatest supplier of military aid to Egypt, little differentiation was made between the foreign policies of the US, the UK and the EU, all of which were perceived to have been supporters of Mubarak's regime.[203]

The FCO emphasised to us that it had regularly pressed the Egyptian authorities on issues of political reform, freedom of religion, and lifting the emergency laws.[204]


Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

140.  The UK was swift to establish contact with the new leadership in Egypt. Two days after President Mubarak stepped down, on 13 February the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Egyptian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. On 15 February the Prime Minister spoke to Field Marshal Tantawi, who headed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The FCO told us that both calls included discussion of the need for a clear timetable for democratic transition. On 21 February, only 10 days after the end of the Mubarak regime, the Prime Minister extended a scheduled trip to the Gulf in order to visit Cairo, becoming the first foreign leader to arrive in post-revolutionary Egypt.[205] He met Field Marshal Tantawi, Prime Minister Shafiq and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, as well as democratic activists who had taken part in the revolution, and visited Tahrir Square.

Emerging democracy?

141.  Egypt's transition period under the executive control of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been considerably more unstable and subject to sudden and unexpected twists and turns than that of Tunisia. Most damagingly, the SCAF's leadership during the transition has been widely criticised and doubts have emerged as to the extent to which the old order, or the Egyptian 'deep state', has been overturned, and relations between the transitional authorities in SCAF and the newly-elected Muslim Brotherhood have sharply deteriorated. Although the SCAF has repeatedly offered assurances that it intends to hand over executive power at the end of the transition, some Egyptian and international observers have increasingly doubted whether the army will be willing to give up its privileged position in Egyptian society after decades of holding power and influence and to submit to civilian government. The political situation has remained tense and the transition has seen a number of large scale protests and violent clashes with the Egyptian authorities, and the SCAF has been further criticised for its heavy-handed approach to protests and its use of military courts to try civilian protestors.

142.  Despite these concerns, some progress has been made. Largely peaceful elections that were considered broadly free and fair took place for the Egyptian parliamentary assembly in November 2011-January 2012, and for the presidency in May-June 2012, although the latter was dogged by controversy over a number of candidates who were barred from running by an Egyptian court, and a failure to agree a constitution that would delineate the new President's powers.

143.  However, a number of decisions by Egyptian authorities over the last few weeks have prompted alarm that the SCAF is attempting to consolidate its control of parts of the Egyptian state. In early June, an Egyptian court made up of Mubarak-era appointees which was considering allegations that one third of the parliamentary elections were flawed surprised many by declaring the entire Egyptian parliamentary elections void and dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament just days before the presidential elections. On the day of the presidential elections, the SCAF issued a 'constitutional declaration' granting itself considerable power and autonomy, control over Egypt's foreign and defence policy, reinstating its ability to detain civilians, and a significant role in the constituent assembly that will draft the country's new constitution. The move prompted domestic outcry and accusations of a "military coup", as well as significant international concern.[206]

144.  The SCAF has since appeared to pull back from the brink. After a delay in announcing the results of the election, in which both presidential candidates claimed victory, it was announced that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party candidate, Dr Mohamed Mursi, had won. There have also been reports in the media that the court's decision to dissolve parliament could be reversed, and a court has overturned the army's power to arrest civilians.[207] Nevertheless, the new Egyptian president will take up the role in the absence of either a parliament or constitution, and with the role of the SCAF and Egyptian army still unresolved.

145.  It is disappointing that the Egyptian people had such a limited and polarising choice of presidential candidates. However, now that Egypt has chosen a president the UK should provide support and assistance to President Mursi to help him achieve much-needed stability in Egypt and a transfer to civilian control.

Muslim Brotherhood

146.  The UK's relationship with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has emerged as the major political force in the country, has developed over the last year. The Minister told us that although in the past the United Kingdom had almost no relations with the Muslim Brotherhood at all, the Government had "been on a recalculation of relationship", which he described as "cautious and step by step". Recognising their success in free and fair elections, and noting that the manifesto of the Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing) "did not cause the United Kingdom any particular concern", the Minister told us that there had been "a gradual step-up of engagement" and noted that "in the future, prime ministerial engagements will be possible if the elections confirm the present trend and the Muslim Brotherhood and its parties maintain their positions in relation to moderate policies, human rights protection and the like."[208]

147.  More than one submission highlighted that the Prime Minister did not meet any members of the Muslim Brotherhood on his visit to Egypt in February 2011. According to MEMO: "To many observers, this was a missed opportunity to reach out to the forces that currently lead the process of democratic change in Egypt. Whether we like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood remains one of the most influential political bodies in Egypt and the wider region."[209] The Muslim Brotherhood's English language website referred to the "snub", and stated that it believed that the UK was "mirroring US suspicions because the Brotherhood seeks a democracy based on Islamic principles."[210] At the time, when the Prime Minister was asked why he had not met any of the Muslim Brotherhood he replied that:

Part of the problem is that people say, either you have the Muslim Brotherhood or the old regime. But actually most of Tahrir Square was taken up with people who want more openness and freedom… My argument is that by opening up societies, opening up participation, you give particularly young men something to believe in other than a more extreme Islamic route.[211]

However, Mr Burt responded to questions about the trip by stating that it was simply "an issue of time. The Prime Minister does not need to meet everyone on foreign trips."[212] The Foreign Secretary has since met with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. We conclude that with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been beneficial if the Prime Minister had met the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in February 2011, particularly given the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr Mohamed Mursi as President of Egypt in June 2012.

148.  Following the announcement that Dr Mohamed Mursi had won the Egyptian Presidential elections, the Prime Minister wrote to President Mursi to congratulate him on his victory, and to welcome his statement that he intends to form an inclusive government. The Prime Minister emphasised the need for functioning democratic institutions and a broad representative government.[213] We welcome the Government's willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and we urge the Government to deepen its engagement at this early stage in order to demonstrate the assistance and support available to those who respect human rights and democratic reforms.


149.  The transition period has not witnessed the improvement in human rights that had been hoped. Human rights organisations have expressed increasing alarm, with Amnesty International reporting that:

Egypt's military rulers have completely failed to lived up to their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights and have instead been responsible for a catalogue of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak.[214]

Human rights abuses include the use of military trials to prosecute civilian protestors, allegations that 'virginity tests' were performed by military physicians on female protestors, and arrests of foreign and Egyptian NGO workers. The transition has also been marred by sectarian clashes between Egypt's Muslim and Coptic Christian communities. The Government told us that it had made representations to the Egyptian authorities on all of the above issues. The FCO's 2011 Report on Human Rights and Democracy, published on 30 April 2012, recorded the Government's concern over the human rights situation in Egypt, and the FCO committed to review the Egyptian case in six months' time.[215]

150.  The human rights situation in Egypt under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' leadership is a matter of serious concern, and we welcome the Government's recognition that extra monitoring is required. The UK should maintain a consistent and robust approach to supporting human rights in Egypt and should prioritise women's rights and the rights of religious minorities as particularly under threat.


151.  Lord Malloch-Brown commented that alongside the US, the UK had adeptly "switched sides" at the time of the revolution, although it had not wholly been able to escape its past. While visiting Egypt, we observed that there remained notable scepticism about UK interests in the region, as well as popular conspiracies that hugely inflated the amount of Egyptian assets held in the UK. Several of our interlocutors expressed particular dissatisfaction that former Mubarak associates and Ministers were thought to be living in the UK. We put these concerns to the Minister, who insisted that the UK must follow due legal process, and that "if we are honest and transparent in what we say about our processes, which can be objectively checked by anyone in the Egyptian system, I do not think it harms our reputation for supporting Egypt".[216] We conclude that some degree of scepticism about the UK's intentions is to be expected, but a poor perception of the UK among the Egyptian public is of increasing concern as Egypt's political leaders become more responsive to public opinion. The FCO should dedicate further staff resources to its public diplomacy in Egypt.


152.  The departure of President Mubarak, who was closely aligned with US foreign policy in the region, threw into doubt Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the wider Middle East Peace Process. Both the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood were quick to affirm that they would abide by all existing treaties, including those with Israel. However, there have been a number of worrying indications of public anger against Israel, including the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo by Egyptian protestors on 10 September 2011 following the deaths of five Egyptian security officers in an incident on the Sinai border, and a symbolic vote by the Egyptian Parliament in March 2012 in support of expelling Israel's Ambassador in Cairo and halting gas exports to Israel.[217] At the same time, the Egyptian government has opened the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and adopted the role of mediator, moving quickly in 2011 to negotiate an agreement between Hamas and Fatah to work toward a unity government and elections. More recently, following four days of cross border-attacks in March 2012, Egypt reportedly brokered a truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip's Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.[218]

153.  The majority of witnesses to this inquiry have expressed hope that Egypt's new leaders would concentrate on domestic difficulties and would not provoke conflict. Lord Malloch-Brown, speaking in January 2012, told us that "the trend is not good" but concluded that:

I just think that a government that gave in to its hotheads and went that last step would condemn itself and its people to economic disruption, no growth, more unemployment, more internal instability at home. I think Israel will find itself with a much more uncomfortable neighbour that will press for peace, but not a neighbour that will hurtle itself and Israel over the edge into new conflict.[219]

Similarly, Dr Claire Spencer and Dr Eugene Rogan both said that there will be more pressure on Israel to provide a settlement. [220]

154.  The FCO acknowledged that "It is difficult to predict the direction of Egyptian foreign policy in the medium-term." The Minister told us that he had "no reason to disbelieve at present" the assurances of Egyptian leaders that they would abide by the treaties, but he agreed that "we have to be honest—that is not necessarily the feeling of all the Egyptian people." He concluded that the situation should be seen as an opportunity "to inject urgency into the Middle East Peace Process."[221] We conclude that it is too early to judge if a free and democratic Egypt will prove to be a stronger partner in the Middle East Peace Process than Egypt under President Mubarak.

UK-Libya relationship


155.  The UK has had a turbulent bilateral relationship with Libya over the last four decades, characterised by suspicions over the Gaddafi regime's involvement with the terrorist IRA, and traumatic events including the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 and the bombing of a Pan Am aeroplane as it passed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. The UK terminated its diplomatic relations with Libya in 1984 and they were not restored until 1999, when Lockerbie bombing suspects Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al Amin Fhimah were handed over by the Libyan authorities to stand trial, and Libya made a statement accepting responsibility for the death of WPC Fletcher.


156.  Steps were taken by the previous Government from approximately 2000 onwards to re-establish some form of relations with Libya. This diplomatic effort culminated in a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2004, which came to be known in the press as the 'deal in the desert'. The meeting and the subsequent oil and gas commercial contacts elicited considerable criticism in the press. PLATFORM maintained that the UK's foreign policy priorities since 2003 had "focused primarily on improving relationships with the Gaddafi regime and promoting British business interests, at the expense of human rights and engaging with popular and oppositional opinion." PLATFORM added that that this approach had "strengthened Gaddafi's hand while effectively shunning democratic opposition movements and those subject to continued human rights violations." [222]

157.  The current Foreign Secretary told us last year that the rapprochement had had three important benefits: it had ensured that those suspected of the Lockerbie bombing could be tried; it had resulted in the decommissioning of Libya's Scud missiles and chemical weapons; and an agreement had been reached with the Libyans that they would desist from their nuclear programme. He described this policy as "the right thing to do".[223] Robin Lamb, Director of the Libyan British Business Council, provided support for this position, placing the deal in the context of "a period in which we were focusing in foreign policy on counter-terrorism and on the fears of development of the weapons of mass destruction", and arguing that "although the policy of normalisation is understandably much criticised now, it did achieve something with Libya". He accepted, however, that it had not improved the human rights situation.[224]

158.  The FCO described its efforts from 2004 onwards to increase bilateral cooperation with Libya in a variety of fields, including economic and administrative reform, defence and security cooperation, international affairs and the commercial relationship. Nevertheless, it characterised the UK's relationship with Libya by 2010 as "limited". The FCO told us that its assessment in the years prior to the revolution was that Colonel Gaddafi intended his children to succeed him in Libya, and that in the absence of any prominent opposition figures, the prospects of reform appeared to depend on the attitudes of his close family. The Government said that it therefore focused its efforts on Saif al-Islam Gaddafi "as the son most open to talking about reform and as a family member with strong links to the UK."[225]


159.  The UK has worked to re-establish an embassy presence in Tripoli following the end of the Gaddafi regime. The FCO told us that the UK Ambassador arrived in Libya ahead of "most of the comparable countries", and the embassy in Tripoli formally re-opened in November 2011. The Minister emphasised that Tripoli was "a significant embassy for us", and explained that the UK now had a team of over 100 staff in post (compared to approximately 80 before the revolution), comprising 20 UK-based staff from across Government; 60 locally engaged staff; a UKTI team of 10; a defence advisory team of 10; and six Arabic speakers.[226]

160.  The UK's leading role in the international response to the crisis in Libya and its rapid establishment of links with the National Transitional Council in opposition appears to have been rewarded with close ties and a warm relationship with the new Libyan government. The Foreign Secretary has recently described the UK-Libya relationship as "changed beyond all recognition". The Henry Jackson Society commented on the "high levels of goodwill that exist across a broad cross-section of Libyan society",[227] and Libyan Ministers have expressed gratitude to the UK for its response. The Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib visited the UK in May 2012, where he met the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, among others, and expressed his "wholehearted appreciation and gratitude for the continued support of both the British people and Government."[228]


161.  The Libyan interim authorities face formidable challenges, including the need to secure a transfer of control over parts of the country from militia groups to the central government; the provision of healthcare, particularly for those wounded in the civil war; the organisation of elections; the writing of a new constitution; transitional justice; justice and security sector reform; infrastructure development; and corruption. The UK has expressed its willingness to provide support and "stand shoulder to shoulder" with Libya through its transition, and agreements were signed between the UK and Libya in May 2012 on health, education, cultural and civil society cooperation and on open government and information technology.[229]

162.  A number of submissions to this inquiry have emphasised a need for the UK to engage with Libya on human rights and justice issues during the transition period, in what Amnesty International called a "golden opportunity to establish the norms by which the new Libya will operate".[230]

Detention and torture

163.  There has been significant disquiet among NGOs and observers about the safety of detainees in Libya. Over 7,000 people detained during or after the conflict were believed to be held by government and militias in Libya by autumn 2011. Human rights organisations estimate that thousands are still being held and there have been reports of extra-judicial killings and reprisals.[231] Amnesty International, Reprieve and Medicines Sans Frontieres have all claimed that there is "widespread torture and ill-treatment" in post-revolutionary Libya, particularly by militia groups on Libyans accused of having belonged to pro-Gaddafi forces. In a speech on the anniversary of the start of the uprisings in Libya in February 2012, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the UK's commitment to Libya and set out a number of support programmes, including the Government's intention to:

hold a conference in the Spring on human rights, which will look to identify ways the Transitional Government can take urgent steps to implement commitments made on upholding human rights and ensure reports of detainee abuse are being addressed.[232]

The Government is correct to press the Libyan authorities on the need to establish human rights protections in Libya and to eliminate the use of torture in places of detention. We recommend that the Government encourage the Libyan authorities to issue a standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country as soon as practicable. In its response to this report the Government should set out its timetable and objectives for the conference on human rights in Libya that it announced in February 2012.

Transitional justice

164.  The history of grievous human rights abuses under Colonel Gaddafi, as well as allegations that human rights abuses and even war crimes were committed by both sides during the recent conflict, presents a serious challenge for the new authorities. Amnesty International has called on the Libyan government to investigate all sides and to ensure that there is no impunity for human rights abusers.[233] A number of submissions also pointed to Libya's refusal to hand over Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and former head of intelligence Abdullah al-Senussi to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for trial. Up to this point, Libya had refused to do so and had stated that it intends to try the men in Libya.[234] We conclude that the UK should continue to encourage the Libyan authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Court and deliver Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi into its control. The Government should explore options with Libya and the international community to agree that the suspects could be returned at some point in the future to stand trial in Libya.


165.  The UK's commercial ties with Libya under the Gaddafi regime were a source of significant controversy. Since the revolution, the UK has been criticised by some business representatives in the media for not doing enough to promote British business in Libya.[235] However, Robin Lamb told us that other states have suffered damage to their reputation by taking private sector representatives to Libya too quickly; other evidence agreed, adding that in contrast "Britain has been patient, for example the oil and gas mission arranged for January 2012 has been postponed."[236] On his recent visit to the UK, Prime Minister al Keib stated that he was "happy to meet with British business leaders to discuss the opportunities for trade between our two countries." He was accompanied by Libya's Oil Minister and the Head of the Libyan Investment Authority. BP has since announced that it intends to re-start its operations in Libya.

166.  Several witnesses to our inquiry warned the UK against any attempt to secure favourable contracts from Libya as a form of thanks or of compensation. Robin Lamb, representing the Libyan-British Business Council acknowledged that "We may well be in a slightly better position in terms of the view that is taken of countries that did or did not assist the rebellion," but told us that "we do not expect favours. I think that would be wrong."[237] We conclude that it is important that the UK does not squander the goodwill it enjoys in Libya. The Government should maintain its steady approach to the promotion of trading ties during Libya's transition.


167.  The Government told us that it is discussing ways in which to address the unresolved 'legacy issues' in the relationship between the UK and Libya. These include responsibility for the killing of WPC Fletcher in April 1984, responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, and the Gaddafi regime's support for the IRA. The new Libyan authorities have indicated that they are willing to cooperate, and Prime Minister al Keib reinforced this message on his visit to the UK by laying flowers at the memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Officers from the Metropolitan police force have since travelled to Libya on 11 June 2012 in connection with the Yvonne Fletcher case.[238] However, it is not yet clear how, and how quickly, the investigations will be able to move forward. We conclude that the Government should negotiate permission for British investigators in the Lockerbie and Yvonne Fletcher cases to have access to Gaddafi regime records in Libya as a matter of urgency. We suspect that resolution of these issues, for all those who suffered personally, may be more important than financial compensation for what was done. We encourage the Government to consider the merits of promoting a resolution which is not contingent on payment by the Libyan authorities to victims if such payment is an obstacle to gaining access to information and records.


168.  In September 2011, international media reported that Human Rights Watch had discovered documents in Libyan former intelligence offices in Tripoli which appeared to indicate that the UK had provided intelligence to the Libyan authorities in 2004 on a terrorist suspect, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, as a result of which Mr Belhadj was subject to extraordinary rendition.[239] Abdul Hakim Belhadj was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which opposed Gaddafi in the 1990s. He reportedly moved to Afghanistan after 1998 where he is alleged to have developed "close relationships" with al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban chief Mullah Omar, and ran and financed training camps for Arab mujahedeen fighters, according to an arrest warrant issued by the Libyan government in 2002. Mr Belhadj was arrested in Thailand in 2004 and allegedly 'rendered' from Thailand to Libya, where he was held in the Abu Selim prison until 2010.[240] Mr Belhadj had since become a commander in the rebel forces and an important political figure in Libya. He has alleged that the UK had been involved in the rendition and that he was subsequently tortured by the Libyan authorities. Another Libyan, Sami al-Saadi, also made allegations that the UK was involved in his rendition from Hong Kong to Tripoli, along with this wife and daughters, despite the risk that they would be tortured.

169.  On 12 January 2012, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Metropolitan Police Service announced that allegations relating to Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi and their alleged ill-treatment in Libya were so serious that it was in the public interest for them to be investigated immediately. Given that investigations were expected to take many months if not years, the Justice Secretary announced to the House on 18 January that the Detainee Inquiry, which had been charged with examining whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries, would cease its work. The Justice Secretary said that "the Government fully intends to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry, once all police investigations have concluded, to establish the full facts and draw a line under these issues".[241] The two Libyans have since announced their intention to bring a civil action against Sir Mark Allen, a former intelligence official, and Jack Straw MP, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of their alleged renditions.

170.  The Government has consistently denied any involvement in the practice of extraordinary rendition. Our predecessor Committee has commented on allegations about British involvement in rendition in the past. In its 2005 Report on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism, the Committee concluded that the Government had "failed to deal with questions about extraordinary rendition with the transparency and accountability required on so serious an issue", and argued that "If the Government believes that extraordinary rendition is a valid tool in the war against terrorism, it should say so openly and transparently, so that it may be held accountable."[242] In its Human Rights Annual Report 2005, the Committee concluded that:

the Government has a duty to enquire into the allegations of extraordinary rendition and black sites under the Convention against Torture, and to make clear to the USA that any extraordinary rendition to states where suspects may be tortured is completely unacceptable.[243]

Since then, our predecessors have pursued allegations about the use of British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia for re-fuelling flights being used in renditions. A compilation of Committee conclusions and Government statements on renditions is attached as an annex to this report.

171.  When asked about the Libyan rendition allegations, the Minister was unable to comment on the documents that had allegedly been discovered. However, he maintained that the UK's relationship with Libya was "very broad based" and was not "hampered" by the allegations that the UK participated in these renditions, or any other "legacy issue". We are surprised at the Minister's indication that the allegations of British involvement in rendition and subsequent torture of two Libyan nationals have had no effect on the UK-Libya relationship. We conclude that even if the allegations have not caused immediate damage, they may do in the long-term if there is no adequate investigation and resolution of the matter. In its response to this report the Government should set out the progress of police investigations so far, including whether British police have been given all necessary access to information held in Libya, and also provide an estimate as to when it expects police investigations to be completed.

172.   We would be deeply disturbed if assurances given over many years, including assurances given by Ministers to this Committee's predecessors, that the UK had not been involved in the rendition of any individuals are proved to be inaccurate. We expect to return to this issue.

186   Ev 66 Back

187   Ev 66 Back

188   Ev 66 Back

189   Ev 70 Back

190   Q 63 Back

191   Q 14 Back

192   Q 219 Back

193   Lahcen Achy, "Tunisia's Economy One Year after the Jasmine Revolution", Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, via Carnegie website ( Back

194   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Foreign Secretary meets Tunisian Foreign Minister", 29 March 2012, Press release via FCO website ( See also HC Deb, 21 March 2012, col 722W. Back

195   Q 48 Back

196   "Tunisian tourism shows signs of recovery", The Telegraph, 14 Jun 2012, via Telegraph website (  Back

197   Q 14 Back

198   Alexander Lambeth is Director for Africa and the Middle East at British Expertise. The British Embassy in Tunis has described British Expertise as the UK's leading association for professional services.  Back

199   Interview on with Alexander Lambeth, "Developing Tunisian-British economic relations", FCO website in Tunis ( Back

200   Q 222 Back

201   Ev 71 Back

202   Ev 67 Back

203   "Egypt in Transition", Workshop Report, April 2011, Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme, via Chatham House website ( Back

204   See, for example, Ev 94-5. Back

205   Ev 96-97 Back

206   See, for example, "Egypt in peril", Economist, 23 June 2012, via Economist website (; "How the army won Egypt's election", The International Herald Tribune, 3 July 2012, p.8.  Back

207   "Egypt Ruling Clips Military Powers", Wall Street Journal, 26 June 2012; "New Egyptian president looks to reinstate parliament", Foreign Policy, 2 July 2012, via Foreign Policy website ( Back

208   Q 165 Back

209   Ev 175 Back

210   "Ignoring the Snubs-The Brotherhood Moves Forward", Ikhwanweb, 26 February 2011, via Muslim Brotherhood's English language website ( Back

211   "With David Cameron in Egypt", Economist, 21 February 2011  Back

212   Q 167 Back

213   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Prime Minister congratulates President Mohamed Mursi on his election victory", Press release, 25 June 2012, via FCO website (  Back

214   Amnesty International, Egypt: Military rulers have 'crushed' hopes of 25 January protesters , Press release, 22 November 2011, via Amnesty International website ( Back

215   HC Deb, 30 April 2012, Col 55W Back

216   Q 174-5 Back

217   "Egypt's parliament wants Israel's ambassador out", Associated Press, 13 March 2012 Back

218   "Egypt brokers truce between Israel and Gaza", Foreign Policy, 13 March 2012. See also Ev 161 [Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre]. Back

219   Q 112 Back

220   Q 50 [Dr Claire Spencer] and Q 33 [Dr Eugene Rogan]. See also Ev 144-146 [Roger Higginson]. Back

221   Q 188 Back

222   PLATFORM is a London-based research organization which monitors the impacts of the British oil industry. Back

223   Foreign Affairs Committee, Oral and written evidence, Developments in UK Foreign Policy, 7 September 2011, HC 1471-i, Q24 Back

224   Q 85-6 Back

225   Ev 108 Back

226   Q 228 Back

227   Ev 196 Back

228   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Foreign Secretary welcomes Libyan Prime Minister's visit to the UK", press release, 26 May 2012, via FCO website ( Back

229   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Foreign Secretary welcomes Libyan Prime Minister's visit to the UK", press release, 26 May 2012, via FCO website ( Back

230   Ev 216. See also Ev 183 [Human Rights Watch]. Back

231   Ev 184 [Human Rights Watch], Ev 201 [Royal African Society and Libya Analysis], Ev 212-3 [Amnesty International] Back

232   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Reaffirming the UK's commitment to Libya", press release, 16 February 2012, via FCO website (  Back

233   Amnesty International, "Militias threaten hopes for new Libya", 16 February 2012. See also Ev 158 [Redress Trust]. Back

234   Saif al Islam is being held in Zintan in Libya. Abdullah al-Senussi was detained in Mauritania in March and is still being held. Both the ICC and Libya have requested his extradition. Ev 212-216 [Amnesty International] and Ev 183 [Human Rights Watch]  Back

235   Ev 196 [Henry Jackson Society]  Back

236   Q 81 and Ev 204 [Royal African Society and] Back

237   Q 101. See also Ev 123 [Eugene Rogan] and Ev 182 [PLATFORM] Back

238   HC Deb 19 June 2012 col 879W  Back

239   Human Rights Watch, "US/UK: Documents Reveal Libya Rendition Details", 9 September 2011, via Human Rights Watch website ( See also Ev 215 [Amnesty International] Back

240   "Profile: Libyan rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj", BBC News Online, 4 July 2012, via BBC website ( Back

241   HC Deb, 18 January 2012, col 752 Back

242   Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2004-05, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism, HC 36-I, para 98 Back

243   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574, para 52 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 July 2012