Egyptian security forces monitor the streets in the southern city of Minya on April 28, 2014, after a court sentenced 682 alleged Islamists and a Muslim Brotherhood leader to death. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The UK must stand against Egypt's disregard of human rights

The mass death penalties and the wider crackdown on the opposition cannot be tolerated.

Last month, 528 supporters of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi were sentenced to death. This rightly brought widespread condemnation by international observers, including the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay. Most of the death sentences have now been commuted but worryingly, 37 of the death sentences remain in place.

Then the world was shocked by a second round of mass death penalties - to 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including Mohamed Badie, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders. Again, the decision and the subsequent judicial procedures leading to them are being widely condemned by international observers and human rights monitors and are confirming negative perceptions of the path Egypt appears to be taking.

Egypt is a pivotal state in the Middle East. Regional, and indeed global security, depends on being able to uphold stability, democracy and human rights in this country, home to one of the most ancient civilisations, with a population of 90 million people at the heart of the Arab world.

Last year’s removal of its first elected president, precipitated by massive street protests, has initiated a process of agreeing a new, generally praised constitution. At the end of this month, a presidential election takes place between Hamdeen Sabbahi, a Nasserist who came third in the 2012 presidential election, and the former general, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the hero of the movement that deposed Morsi, and who is widely expected to win.

However, an election alone does not establish a democracy. Parallel to the progress towards a new election, repeated negative steps have been taken by the interim Egyptian administration which have created obstacles on the path to democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood, home to the Freedom of Justice Party of Morsi, has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation. Al Jazeera journalists, Egyptian and from overseas, have been arrested, imprisoned and tried over a period of many months.

This latest crackdown on opposition is another step back from the democratic future that Egyptian people both deserve, and have fought so hard to secure. What Egypt needs now is wise leadership from its new president, whoever that may be, reaching out to try to create consensus, an essential precondition of the type of political reconciliation which is needed to stabilise its deeply wounded economy.

The new, inclusive constitution for Egypt, properly implemented, can provide a useful starting point for the country. However, political will is required to ensure that values of liberty, free speech and inclusivity are upheld in practice. Egypt has a wide religious and cultural identity which must be respected if a democratic future is to be secured. As Egyptians head to the ballot box on the presidential elections expected on 26 May, presidential candidate Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s comments that the banned Muslim Brotherhood group will “not exist” if he wins the election create real concern. However, the new Egyptian Constitution, overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Egypt, does, on the other hand, create hope.

The UK government must now make absolutely clear to the Egyptian government that tolerance and upholding of human rights and a fair judicial system are essential in a democratic society. If the British government’s work through its Arab Partnership is to have any real meaning, the next days and weeks will be crucial. Now is the time for the UK, and the international community, to unite to redouble efforts to impress upon the new government of Egypt the importance of open, tolerant debate on the path to a modern, stable, democratic country which is worthy of its unique, historic legacy.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.

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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.