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.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.