The truth about Egypt

The US and the UK have backed and funded Hosni Mubarak's corrupt, tawdry dictatorship for far too lo

As the protests escalate across Egypt, I have a simple question: on which side are the US and UK governments? The side of the protesters, fighting for their democratic rights and freedoms, or the side of the ageing, corrupt dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and his secret police? The US and UK governments, aided and abetted by the US and UK media, might like us to believe that it is the former, rather than the latter.

But the reality is that Mubarak is in power in Cairo with the west's blessing, approval, support, sponsorship, funding and arms. Democrat and Republican presidents as well as Labour and Conservative prime ministers have all cosied up to Egypt's "secular" tyrant, a self-proclaimed but ineffective bulwark against "Islamic extremism", since he assumed the presidency in 1981.

Mubarak might be a son of a bitch but, as the saying goes, he is very much OUR son of a bitch. Some facts to consider:

* Egypt is the one of the biggest recipients of US economic and development assistance -- $28bn since 1975, according to USAid. Only Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan have received more cash.

* Egypt is the second-biggest recipient (behind Israel) of US military aid -- over $1.3bn a year.

* The US State Department describes Egypt as "a strong military and strategic partner of the United States".

* According to the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project, "The United States sells Egypt a large amount of military equipment and a significant number of small arms; such weaponry is both likely to be used for internal security and difficult to track once sold."

* This is what President Obama said about the despotic ruler of Egypt in August 2009:

I am grateful to President Mubarak for his visit, for his willingness to work with us on these critical issues, and to help advance the interest of peace and prosperity around the world.

Obama described Mubarak as a "leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States".

* This is what President Bush, that great neoconservative crusader for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, said about Mubarak in April 2004:

I'm pleased to welcome my friend, Hosni Mubarak, to my home. Welcome. I always look forward to visiting with him, and I look forward to hearing his wise counsel . . . Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States and we value President Mubarak's years of effort on behalf of the peace and stability of the Middle East.

* It's not just the dastardly Yanks who have been playing footsie with Mubarak, his torturers and his secret police. According to the UK's Foreign Office, "The British and Egyptian governments have a strong relationship and share mutual objectives."

* The UK is the largest foreign investor in Egypt.

* Tony Blair, that other great neoconservative crusader for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, visited Egypt with his family on holiday on several occasions, had countless meetings with Mubarak, but never chastised him in the manner that he now chastises, say, the Iranians. Shamefully, Blair, while in office as prime minister of the United Kingdom, allowed Mubarak to pay for his family's luxury holiday at the Red Sea resort of Sham-el-Sheikh in December 2001. Was he worried, I wonder, about the freedom and human rights of political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons while he sunned himself in his holiday villa, as a guest of Mubarak's dictatorship?

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.