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Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2011

5. What recent reports he has received on the progress of negotiations between the Government and opposition parties in Egypt; and if he will make a statement. (46097)

We welcome the new Prime Minister and his Government in Egypt. Recent Cabinet changes are a promising step towards the reform that many Egyptians have been calling for. We will continue to urge the interim Government, as the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), did during his recent visit, to build trust with opposition groups and involve them in dialogue as the Government develop their reform plans and the timetable for elections.

Following last week’s debate on UN Women, which recognised the importance of women playing a full part in post-conflict political processes, what is the Foreign Secretary doing to ensure that women are fully involved in the post-Mubarak political and constitutional process as Egypt moves towards what we all hope will be free and fair elections?

We are looking to assist in Egypt with the development of civil society, political parties and electoral processes, through technical advice and by building links between organisations in Egypt and the UK. That will of course include a great deal of reference to, and experience of, the involvement of women in civil society and politics in this country. That is one way in which we can have a positive influence on Egypt. We cannot dictate how it constructs a democratic political system, but we can be a major influence on it.

What is the position of the UK Government on the legitimacy of Saturday’s constitutional referendum, given that many opposition leaders including Mohamed el-Baradei and Amr Moussa have called on their supporters to vote no to changes that they regard as something of a charade?

These things are of course to be decided in Egypt itself. There has been a tremendous chain of events, which led to the revolution in Egypt. The clear aspiration of the people of Egypt is to have not only good economic development but an open and democratic political system. That will mean the holding of elections, and in the view of the interim Government it means the holding of the referendum as well. It is not for us to determine the outcome of that referendum or what questions are put in it, but it is for us to urge that it is properly and fairly conducted. We would certainly encourage the Egyptian authorities to allow international observers to observe the referendum and the subsequent elections.

In the UK Government’s diplomatic contribution to current considerations in Egypt and to its future governance, will they have regard to the rights and interests of all minorities there, including Christians?

Yes, absolutely. The hon. Gentleman raises a vital point. It is extremely important that the development of a democracy and of a more open political system is not accompanied by increased discrimination and the harassment of minorities in Egypt. Although we must respect the fact that we will not be able to ordain what happens in an Egyptian democracy, we can be a positive influence on it, and that is one of the factors that we must try to influence.