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Tories are hand in glove with Egypt’s dictator and his backers

Generous donations to Conservative Party coffers raise the question of quid pro quos

Egypt is run by a general who got power through a coup, so human rights are in a bad way.

That doesn’t stop our government being very friendly to General Sissi’s regime. The main reason is in the first sentence: the Conservative government likes dealing with countries run by generals, dictators and autocrats.

But it also probably helps that some Egyptian oligarchs, who seem supportive of Sissi, also pour quite a lot of money into the Tory Party.

Even the Foreign Office, in its latest Human Rights and Democracy report issued last October, said that “the human rights situation in Egypt continued to deteriorate.” They say here were “restrictions on civil society and freedom of expression” and “widespread reports of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.”

General Sissi came to power by overthrowing President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected out of the “Arab Spring” uprising. Sissi has held on to power by a mix of some popular moves and a lot violent repression. The 2013 military takeover that put Sissi in power involved bloody massacres, and the killing has not stopped.

Britain has found dealing with a general-for-president pretty much to its taste. The Foreign Office says that “we will continue to raise our human rights concerns with the Egyptian authorities in public and in private.” But it really doesn’t look like that. The last big public statement on Egypt came when then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Egypt to meet General Sissi in 2017.

Johnson boomed out that: “The UK is a longstanding friend of Egypt. We are Egypt’s top economic partner and strong allies against terrorism and extremist ideas. The UK is a champion of a renewed Egypt, because stability, peace and growth in this region are the bedrock of opportunity and security for British people and people in the region.”

Egyptian oligarchs, who appear happy with the repressive Egyptian regime, have become some of the Tories’ bigger funders

Johnson didn’t mention Egyptian human rights in public. And in private, the UK licenses huge arms sales to Egypt. The British government invites Egypt to arms fairs like DSEI, where you can buy guns and tanks. It also invited Egyptian security staff to Security & Policing 2019, a secretive Home Office trade fair arranged so companies can sell the equipment security services use to spy on mobile phones, emails and the like — all perfect equipment for catching dissidents.

The Conservatives have a long history of supporting and selling arms to repressive generals, so they don’t need an excuse to do it, but it probably helps that Businessmen who seem supportive of Sissi in turn help fund the Tory Party.

This January one of the Tories’ biggest donors was Unatrac Ltd. It gave £175,000. That’s quite impressive because its latest accounts (2017) show Unatrac’s total UK annual turnover is $143,389 — I don’t know why the accounts record it in dollars, but that works out at  around £110,000, so it gave the Tories more than its entire annual turnover.

Unatrac is the British arm of the Mansour Group, owned by billionaire Egyptian Mansour Brothers. Their empire includes car dealerships, real estate and the main supermarket chain in Egypt.

Mohamed Mansour is a firm backer of President Sissi’s authoritarian crackdown, which he said makes Egypt “much more stable.” He was a transport minister for four years under Hosni Mubarak, the previous Egyptian dictator. Unatrac have given the Tories £307,000 since 2015.

At the end of 2018, one of the Tories’ biggest donors was OCI UK Ltd — they gave £150,000, bringing its total Tory donations up to £200,000. OCI UK is the UK branch of Dutch firm OCI NV, formerly known as Orascom Construction Industries, which is part of the Sawiris family empire. Egyptian billionaire Onsi Sawiris founded OCI in the 1950s, building it into one of Egypt’s biggest general contractors. Sawiris put one of his sons, Nassef Sawiris, in charge and moved the HQ to Holland.  

The Sawiris have attracted other big investors into OCI, including Bill Gates, so it is no longer a purely family firm, but they are still the dominant investors.  

According to their accounts, the “principal activity” of OCI UK is “advertising, public relations and data processing” for the larger OCI group. So the £200,000 to the Tories looks like a bit of “public relations.”

The Sawiris family influence with the Egyptian government arguably includes backing for the 2013 coup that put General Sissi in power. According to the Tony Blair Foundation “the July 2013 coup against Morsi would not have been possible without the broad backing of the country’s business elite, centred around Egypt’s richest man, Naguib Sawiris.”

I do not know what either Unatrac or OCI said to the Tories when they handed over their hundreds of thousands of pounds. But it seems that Egyptian oligarchs, who appear happy with the repressive Egyptian regime, have become some of the Tories’ bigger funders. Happily enough, the Tories are themselves also quite happy to keep up good relations with the same Egyptian ruler, selling him all the arms he needs.

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