Advertisement
VICE News

The UK is Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Egypt's President Sisi — And Some Egyptians Are Pissed

British Prime Minister David Cameron will welcome the Egyptian president to Britain, with a face-to-face meeting planned for Thursday morning.

by Sally Hayden
Nov 4 2015, 7:25pm

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration organized by anti coup/pro-democracy supporters outside Downing Street in London, Britain, 18 August 2013. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

British Prime Minister David Cameron was the first world leader to visit Egypt after the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak. Now he's gearing himself up to welcome the Egyptian president to Britain, with a face-to-face meeting planned for Thursday morning.

This news has been met with outrage from many in Britain's Egyptian community, and several hundred people were expected to protest outside Downing Street on Wednesday.

One of them is Mahmoud Bondok, a 24-year-old British citizen and Egyptian activist who witnessed Egypt's 2013 Rabaa massacre, when as many 1,000 mainly pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters were killed in the streets by Egyptian security forces.

"It was so shocking to us, me and my two friends couldn't speak to each other for two days."

The computer science student, whose parents are Egyptian, had arrived in the country at the start of the summer, shortly before the coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

"I thought we had to take a stand," he said, recalling how he decided to participate in the demonstrations with friends.

What followed were weeks of a sit-in in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square culminating in some of the "most horrific scenes I've ever seen in my life: bodies everywhere, blood everywhere, people being shot in the torso, the leg, everywhere… It was so horrific and the bodies just kept coming."

On the night of August 14, 2013, Bondok's memories include hiding behind a staircase after witnessing violence and death close-up.

"The person standing inches away from me got a bullet to his neck," he said. "It was so shocking. I looked and just saw blood pouring out of his neck."

Related: College Students in Egypt Keep Getting Arrested, Disappeared, and Killed

His close friend, Ahmed Sonbol, 24, was volunteering at the field hospital when he was shot dead. Sonbol was an American University of Cairo graduate and teaching assistant, Bondok said.

Bondok hasn't been back to Egypt since — he said he doesn't think it's safe for him — but he was shocked when he heard Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was planning a visit to the UK.

"This is just so morally wrong on all fronts," he said earlier this week."[Sisi] is the number one person who's responsible for every crime that's happened in Egypt ever since he assumed power in July 2013. He is the culprit… He came about saying 'I'm bringing security and stability' but he didn't bring any of that. It's the total opposite."

"The international community's response has been so weak," he said. "[Sisi] has been able to get away with what he's done, and it's still going on. Torture, sexual abuse is being used as a state tool of repression."

Bondok plans to be out protesting against Sisi's visit this week during the demonstrations that will include the Muslim Association of Britain, the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, the Egypt Solidarity Initiative, and the Stop Sisi campaign. It is also expected to include Muslim Brotherhood members — the group, outlawed in Egypt, has an office in London's Cricklewood.

Bodies lined up in Al-Eman Mosque the day after the Rabaa massacre in August, 2013. (Photo by Mahmoud Bondok)

British citizens have also joined in condemning the visit, including al-Jazeera English journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who were charged and convicted in absentia for aid terrorists. They wrote a letter in the Financial Times on Monday with their colleague, Australian al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste.

"Seven journalists tried in absentia, including the undersigned British citizens and Greste, are still convicted terrorists under Egyptian law with outstanding prison sentences," it read. "This means we cannot travel not just to Egypt but to dozens of countries across the world that have extradition or bilateral agreements with Egypt. Whenever we get on a plane we could risk arrest or deportation."

"We believe that Egypt's people need a free media, a fair judicial system and economic stability," it continued. "The UK, as the country's largest single investor, is in a unique position to request President Sisi to pardon us."

Related: Anatomy of a Killing: How Shaimaa al-Sabbagh Was Shot Dead at a Cairo Protest

The UK government has overseen £85 million ($130 million) in arms sales to Egypt since Sisi unseated Morsi. In a statement sent to VICE News, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the Sisi government has an "appalling" human rights record.

"It has locked up journalists, tortured opponents and clamped down on all dissent," he said. "The UK should be calling out for change, not rolling out the red carpet and arming his regime."

Smith said that if the government cares about human rights and democracy, it should end arms sales to Egypt and stop offering Sisi's government political support.

The exact schedule of Sisi's visit hasn't been announced, and it comes nearly two months after Egyptian security forces killed 12 tourists and tour guides while "chasing terrorist elements" in the country's Western Desert.

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch reported that dozens of Egyptian citizens are being barred from leaving the country. These include activists, leaders and members of political parties, and people associated with nongovernmental groups. Mass trials have also been a fixture of Sisi's rule, with as many as 683 people being condemned to death in one single verdict. As many as 36,000 political detainees were jailed in the year after Rabaa.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of his visit, Sisi said democracy in Egypt was a "work in progress, and we haven't yet achieved everything we would like."

"At the political level, I think we have seen very positive change. When the people first took to the streets on January 25 [2011] all they wanted was to change the regime, they wanted to stop people inheriting power. Was this achieved? Yes. And today we also have fair and transparent elections."

He added: "The thing is, people imagine we can reach all the goals quickly, but this is not true, the nation cannot develop like this."

"Democracy is all about will and practice."

Related: In Photos: Visiting Egypt's Deserted Tourist Traps

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Watch VICE News' documentary Egypt Under Sisi: