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Volume 574: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Karen Bradley.)

Before Mr Kwarteng introduces the debate, may I make a couple of comments? I think that people should know that I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on defence and diplomacy in the middle east and north Africa, which I run in association with the Royal United Services Institute. In addition, I would like to report that I visited the Egyptian embassy in London on 13 December for a meeting and lunch with both the Egyptian ambassador and the strategic adviser to the current Adminstration, Dr El Mostafa Higazy. I say that simply for the record, and I now ask Mr Kwarteng to kick us off on our subject, which is the political and economic situation in Egypt.

Thank you very much, Mr Havard; it is a pleasure to speak on this subject under your chairmanship. I am also delighted to see several Members of the House here to take part in the debate. Looking around, I can see that a number of people have a considered and well developed interest in the region.

As far as I am concerned, the developments in Egypt are, in terms of the middle east’s long-term history and development, in many ways the most significant. Why do I say that? Egypt is very much at the centre of the Arab world. Ninety million Egyptians reside in the country and a number of other people—from Saudi Arabia, from all around the Gulf, and from across the Arab world—live in Egypt. As a proportion of the Arab world, Egypt represents well over a third of the Arab-speaking peoples. Historically, it has always been a country in which developments are looked to. Culturally, the Egyptian film industry is dominant in the region, and anyone who has travelled in the region will say that the Egyptian dialect is the most widely understood, simply because of wide media outlets and the popularity of Egyptian film. Egypt is absolutely at the centre of developments in the middle east.

Two weeks ago, I returned from a delegation to Egypt organised by the Conservative Middle East Council. It was the fourth delegation of which I have been a member since the revolution in 2011, when General Hosni Mubarak was toppled. It is only really by going back to the country over a number of years that we managed to develop, I think, an interest, expertise and knowledge of what is going on in a fast-moving, complicated situation. Our aim has been to understand better the historic events that are occurring in the country, and we have spoken to many people in the Egyptian political scene.

Unfortunately, as people will know, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation at the end of last year and has effectively been outlawed. As a consequence, in our last delegation we were not able to meet members of that organisation, but we have—I can say this openly—met them in the past. We have engaged with many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, with people in the army and the armed forces in Egypt, and with people right across the political spectrum, from the Facebookers, who initiated the first revolution in January and February 2011, to other players in more recent events.

We always thought Egypt was a binary situation—I am talking on behalf of members of the delegation—and felt that the army and the Muslim Brotherhood were by far the two most powerfully organised and structured organisations in the country. It seemed to us at the time—we documented it in our short pamphlet, “Egypt 2011: Revolution and Transition”—that the political future of Egypt would largely be determined by the relationship between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. We saw, in effect, a temporary resolution to that dialogue in the way in which the army stepped in in the middle of last year.

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Unlike him, I was not on that delegation but spent time there recently on my own. Does he accept that although the army and the Muslim Brotherhood are the main players, the vast majority of the population, particularly those outside Cairo, have absolutely no interest in the conflict and are totally committed to a resolution and a cessation of any dispute?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Naturally when we go on such delegations, we tend to gravitate towards Cairo, which is the centre and capital of Egyptian life. I might add that as a capital, it is very significant. Twenty million Egyptians live in Cairo, which is a high proportion of the total population. However, he is absolutely right that Egyptians across the country are less interested in the power dispute and are more concerned about economic stability and the future for themselves and their families. I will talk about the consequences of the dispute between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army.

I compliment the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He seems reluctant to describe what happened last year in Egypt as a military coup, which, in reality, it was. Is he not concerned that that is a precedent, and that large numbers of opposition people have been arrested in the same way as many were arrested under Morsi? There is a serious denial of many people’s human rights throughout the country at present.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is undoubtedly the case that the army has been very heavy-handed in dealing with protesters and dissent. There is a new protest law under which people have been put away for three years simply for protesting and being out on the street. I am tentative about describing what happened as a coup, because the army’s view is very much that it was a popular uprising. The army would suggest that—I heard it many times in Cairo—although the events of February 2011 have been described as a revolution, what it feels was another revolution in June last year has been described as a “coup”. We have to be careful about the language we use.

Clearly, it is true that the army flexed its muscles at the end, but there was popular support, with Tamarod and people on the streets, so to describe what happened as a coup does not perhaps get the right tone. Generally, coups around the developing world are led from the top: a general and a few of his associates might seize power for themselves. The army in Egypt would very much contest whether a coup is an accurate description of what happened last summer and no doubt historians, politicians and diplomats will debate how to describe it for years to come. I am very reluctant to use the word “coup”, even though I appreciate that it has been widely used in the media.

The big question at the moment is how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. Clearly the army has gone down one route, which is heavy-handed—really the iron fist. Our perception was certainly that the army was willing and ready to deal with, in an uncompromising fashion, any attempts on the part of political Islamists to use violence. It was expressing the view that it had had enough of the Muslim Brotherhood and of trying to accommodate them, and that it would handle any threats from that quarter with a great deal of repression. Those were not the words that the army used, but that was very much the indication that it gave us. There is clearly a massive problem with that, potentially, because—

My hon. Friend is leading on to the point about the co-existence of the two particular factions. Does he also accept the point that was stressed to me on my visit, that the vast majority of all faiths peacefully co-exist, are friends with one another and have no dispute with one another, and that it is only the more extreme elements—for example, of the Muslim Brotherhood—that are necessarily pushing the dispute and the aggression towards the army and towards the alternatives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The two broad groups that I have characterised—I will talk about secular parties later—are the two most powerful groups, and of course within those groups there is a wide range of views and dispositions. There are extremist elements in the Muslim Brotherhood. There are also some quite extreme repressive elements in the army. My hon. Friend is right again to say that the majority of people are trapped in the middle of those two contending and powerful forces, but I must stress that the fundamental problem with Egypt at the moment, as I see it, is that one side is simply unwilling to reach any kind of accommodation with the other.

Let us look at the elections that have taken place in the past three or four years. The one fact that has come out starkly and undeniably is the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood. I can say, as a member of the delegation that has travelled to Egypt over three or four years, that each time we asked, “How popular is the Muslim Brotherhood?” its support was underestimated; it was never overestimated. People always said 15% to 20%, but then in the elections it always performed much better than anyone had anticipated. Equally surprising was the strength of the Salafis, who got one quarter of the parliamentary seats. Political Islam in Egypt is a powerful force. What I think should draw the attention of this House and Members of Parliament is the fact that the army’s attempt to sideline political Islam is fraught with danger. That is potentially one of the fundamental causes of stress and conflict in the years ahead.

The big question is how the army will deal with acts of terror in the future. Clearly, in the past two weeks we have seen an intolerable level of violence in Cairo. We have also seen sporadic terrorist bombings. Added to that is military repression. We are entering on a particularly vicious cycle, and everyone in the west—politicians, diplomats and everyone else in the outside world—will have to take a view on that. It is obvious to me and to members of our delegation that the army is determined to impose itself as the central player in Egyptian politics. Anyone who doubts that need only look at the referendum that took place two weeks ago.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He says that the military are imposing themselves as the dominant power in Egyptian politics. Does he not agree that they are putting themselves forward as the only power in Egypt’s politics? Now it looks very much as though the general who led the coup will put himself forward for the presidency, putting the country back into a situation in which the military are in charge.

Yes, that is a broad characterisation of where we are. However, we have to accept that the army is supported by a large number of people. That is why I am always hesitant to talk about coups and all that sort of thing. There is popular support for the army, and it is unrealistic and perhaps rather naive of us to think otherwise. It is not a military junta that has suddenly emerged out of nowhere and is seeking to dominate the country. There is a groundswell of support for the army. How big that is and whether it constitutes a majority, no one knows.

However, this is a much more nuanced situation than one in which a bunch of generals have decided to claim power for themselves. If we look at the economic conditions in which Egypt has suffered for the past three or four years—the total collapse of tourism, which constituted between 15% and 25%, depending on different estimates, of the economy—we see that there is a massive and pressing need for stability, and it was in that cauldron that that military regime, if we want to call it that, emerged. That has happened across modern history. Across the world, we have seen situations in which there is a cry for stability and then someone emerges, often from a military background, to try to impose order. That is a very similar situation to the one that we find in Egypt.

The leading indication, the most obvious example, of the army’s determination was the result of the referendum: 98.1% of people voted for the constitution. Those of us who live in democratic countries such as Britain will know that there is not a single issue on which 98% of people would vote one way. I even suggested to one of my researchers that if there was a referendum on what day of the week it was—on a point of fact—we would not see 98% of people agreeing to that. We might see 90%, but there would still be dissent on what is a very palpable and obvious question, so the 98.1% does arouse suspicions about the transparency, openness and fairness of the process. If we look for other examples in the Arab world of 98% mandates—actually, I was told that Saddam Hussein used to get 100% in his elections—we find that there are not that many other examples of people getting 98%.

The hon. Gentleman is very kind to give way again. On those statistics, does he agree that that 98% was based on a 38% turnout?

Absolutely, but 38% is not a disgracefully low turnout. That is quite a large turnout. In our local elections, we would be quite happy to get 38%. That does not invalidate them as exercises in local democracy, so I do not think that the turnout was particularly depressing. It was a reasonable turnout, but the 98% of the 38% does raise legitimate questions.

I promise that this is the last time I will intervene. Is not the endorsement not necessarily of the constitution but, in particular, of the desire for stability and a path back to some degree of economic prosperity?

My hon. Friend has made a number of very pertinent interventions, all of which I agree with. It is absolutely the case that what he refers to is what this whole issue is about, but what we have to consider—I want to deal with this in my closing remarks—is our relationship to incipient democracies, if we want to call them that, and to political governance in the Arab world.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Before he goes on to the other issue, may I put this to him? He mentions the constitution, which has increased provision for religious freedom compared with what there has been recently. However, in relation to ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Christians and Copts, does he not agree that words are fine—the constitution may make provision in certain areas—but the issue is the enforcement of and the abiding by those provisions and the human rights afforded to religious minorities in particular? How does he see the role of our Government in ensuring that those minorities are properly protected?

My right hon. Friend the Minister can speak with more authority than I can on this, but our Government have been absolutely clear about our commitment to human rights and to religious freedoms in Egypt. What the right hon. Gentleman should be aware of is that the Copts—we talked about a coup last year—were very much in favour of the military stepping in. They saw the Muslim Brotherhood as no particular friends to them. Indeed, they felt that the incidence of religious violence and of terror against their community increased dramatically in the brief period of Muslim Brotherhood rule.

There are many conflicting issues that we have to deal with. On one side is the protection of minority rights; on the other is the democratic will as expressed by the majority. Often in these cases in the Arab world, those two things are in conflict. One justification for military involvement was on precisely this issue. The army would say—it did say to us—that the Muslim Brotherhood did not look after the human rights of all Egyptians; it was sectional, and it looked merely to its own. In that context, the army has taken on itself the role of guardian of minority rights.

Egypt’s parlous economic situation is the context in which that military strongman, for want of a better term, may well emerge. The budget deficit has risen to $34.8 billion, which is 14% of GDP. To put that in context, our deficit was 12% of GDP in 2010, which was the highest proportion it had been in our peacetime history. Public debt in Egypt is running at about 90% of GDP. Clearly, there has been a massive economic crisis and the country is under a lot of pressure. There are also problems with terrorism and the rule of law. When we first arrived in Egypt in 2010, we managed to drive through the Sinai peninsula on our way to Gaza, but the presence of armed militias and armed forces in the Sinai peninsula, and the battles that rage there, make such a trip impossible today. The country suffers under massive economic pressure and the spectre of renewed terrorism.

The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. Does he concede that the new Government have displayed a disappointing attitude by not opening up the Rafah crossing, which has created further problems and tensions in Gaza? I recognise what he says about the journey across the Sinai; that is a fair point.

In the Sinai peninsula, which has generally been, for the past 40 years, under Egyptian control, the situation is one of relative anarchy. In that context, it would be asking a lot to expect any Egyptian Government to open the border. I cannot see such a development taking place, given where we are today. The army has a real job on its hands in trying to introduce some element of rule of law in the Sinai peninsula.

I conclude by making one or two remarks about our response. We went to our embassy in Cairo, where we received generous hospitality, and we encountered some hard-working and committed diplomats. The feeling that we received from people to whom we spoke in Egypt, at all levels, was that the west had failed Egypt and that we, as one of Egypt’s longest-standing partners, had not fully grasped the nature of the situation. That might be a misrepresentation, but I can only report what I was told. There was a perception that we had been slightly wrong-footed by events. In a fast-changing environment it is easy to back the wrong horse and then find that the winning horse is suspicious of people who have not fully supported it.

For decades to come, we will have to question the operation of the multi-party system. Over the past four years, secular parties have not emerged. The two power blocs of the army and the Muslim Brotherhood are the dominant forces in Egypt, and they may well be for some time to come. The Al-Nour party, which won a quarter of the parliamentary seats, is a Salafist party inspired by political Islam. It is difficult to see how a multi-party secular democracy can emerge in a country in which the army and political Islam, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, play such dominant roles.

In Westminster and across western capitals, we will have to come to terms with that. We will have to reassess the somewhat naive idea that Egypt might become a multi-party system like Australia, for example. If anyone thought in 2011 that that might happen, it was a rather naive assumption. We simply have to describe what we see on the ground and how popular will is expressed. Secular parties have not developed as many of us anticipated, and it is an open question whether we should try to encourage their growth or simply focus our attention on the humanitarian and economic situation in Egypt.

I am grateful for the care and attention with which Members of the House have listened to my remarks, and I look forward to listening to and participating in the subsequent debate.

Four Members have indicated that they wish to speak, and I want to start the wind-ups at about 10.30 am. About 15 minutes from each speaker with interventions will probably take us there.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) on securing a debate on this important subject. More than 98% of participants in the Egyptian vote in January this year voted in favour of approving a new constitution, and I concede that the turnout was a reasonably respectable 38%. That was, however, slightly lower than the turnout for a similar poll following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. Egypt’s new constitution strengthens the country’s three key institutions—the military, the police and the judiciary—and it appears to give more rights to women and disabled people. However, opposition members and rights campaigners have questioned the integrity of the referendum, saying that it was conducted against a backdrop of fear. Transparency International, an international monitoring group that sent a small delegation to observe the process, has said:

“Government officials openly promoted a vote in favour of the amendments; private and public media provided one-sided coverage in favour of the draft constitution; and the government harassed, arrested, and prosecuted peaceful critics, closing democratic space to promote views and debate before the referendum.”

The referendum process and outcome are clearly mired in controversy. If Egypt is to stand any chance of a more stable, prosperous and democratic future, lessons must be learned quickly. That will not be easy in a society that is being subjected to unbearable economic and other stresses. Under the social contract that bound Egyptians since Nasser, the state guaranteed education, health care, food, energy and even jobs to all citizens in exchange for their unconditional retreat from politics and matters of governance. That contract has been unravelling for decades and is now utterly frayed. The Egyptians, more than others in the region, are right to panic at the thought of persistent instability, fuelled by Egypt’s exclusionary, rudderless, confrontational and highly stressful political landscape. Given that uncertainty, the mounting economic pressure that has given so much violence is not surprising.

The population of the countryside and an urbanised underclass are growing in numbers, but the established elites still enjoy all the levers of power, and the latter are bent on keeping the former in check. Those tensions, which are increasingly manifest in society, have been decades in the making, and addressing them will be neither easy nor straightforward. Sadly, but realistically, it may not be possible to bridge some of the fault lines before things run their course on the streets, but we hope that fear of total collapse will continue to serve as a powerful safeguard. State institutions are dysfunctional but resilient, and Egypt can expect much support, whether benevolent or biased, from sympathetic states in the Gulf and the west. Democratic or not, many Egyptians see the referendum as delivering a constitution that legitimises the army’s powerful and unquestioned position in Egypt today.

Although the authorities maintain that the new constitution is a big improvement that delivers more rights and freedoms and is a crucial step on the road to stability, it would seem to be a version of stability that fortifies the power of a military who allow civilians to be tried in military courts. The constitution gives the military control over the appointment of the Defence Minister for the next eight years, and, most worryingly, it also stipulates that the military’s budget will be beyond civilian oversight.

Critics believe that the constitution favours the army at the expense of the people and fails to deliver on the expectations of the revolution of 2011 that overthrew the long-time military ruler, Mubarak. Egypt is a divided society, and it is in turmoil. Attending protests can result in a three-year prison term; that is part of an escalating clampdown on dissent. Rather than healing the divisions in Egypt, some fear that the new constitution will harden them. It is due to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in the coming months, and it now seems certain that the army chief who led the coup will run for President, possibly putting a military strongman back in charge of Egypt.

Although the authorities are insisting that the country is on a road map to democracy, some are not convinced and are predicting another mass revolt. Instead of rushing to endorse this or that leadership, hailing the political road map and hoping for the best, a constructive policy for the UK would be to combine healthy political scepticism with a more consistent approach to the issue of individual liberties and a clearer economic road map that would tie together Gulf money, western aid, international loans and a much-delayed reform programme.

Without doubt, Egypt’s economy is in serious trouble, with a growing budget deficit, an unprecedented increase in domestic debt, high interest payments and a slowing of the economy. Coupled with political unrest and other factors, that has led to a slow-down in industrial and economic activity in general. We can clearly see that Egypt’s economic health began to deteriorate immediately after the revolution in 2011. The world is now a small place, and communication channels are large, complex and in everyone’s hands. In the past, the world was somewhat blind to such turmoil amid the transition to democracy. Not now. Nightly, on our news channels, we see it, hear it and the world economy feels it.

I pay tribute to both previous speakers and, despite the friendly sedentary intervention of my friend, the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I intend to follow in their footsteps. I congratulate in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) on introducing such an important subject. I am pleased that people have not gone automatically into a mode of suggesting that all the good is on one side and all the evil on the other. In Egypt, we are confronted with a choice of which is the lesser evil. I agree with the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) that the correct course to follow is not to rush to endorse what has happened in Egypt. We should ensure that we maintain pressure on whatever Administration or regime emerges to follow a path back to constitutional democracy at the earliest opportunity.

It sometimes bothers me that people think that when a dramatic development occurs, it is automatically to be interpreted in the context of what we have experienced in recent European history. I felt the very coinage of the term “Arab spring” to be inappropriate. I did not feel that the spate of revolutions that took place in one middle eastern country after another should be compared to the attempt by central and eastern European countries, which had been well set on the path to constitutional democracy before they were hijacked by the Soviet empire, to go back to the democratic path. There was no direct comparison between those European countries asserting their right to return to democracy and what was happening in at least some of the middle eastern countries.

In 1941, Churchill was famously teased by one of his left-wing opponents when he spoke up for Russia after it was invaded by the Nazis. After all, Churchill was the architect of British intervention in the Russian civil war, and he famously wanted to “strangle Bolshevism at birth”. He had the right answer to his critic: he said that if Hitler invaded hell, he would at least have a good word to say for the devil in the House of Commons. In other words, he recognised that it was a choice between evils.

It is often thought that when a totalitarian regime emerges, based on a totalitarian ideology, it does so in a coup, with no popular support at all. That is not necessarily the case; in fact, I would say that it is not usually the case. There was certainly popular support for the Nazis, as well as for the communists in many cases where they succeeded in coming to power. The paradox in trying to deal with such situations was that there was a degree of democratic legitimacy to the initial taking over of the country, but once that had happened, the regimes proceeded to dismantle the very framework of democracy—however great or limited it was at the time—that had enabled them to come to power on the basis of some form of popular support. Such popular support was often allied to a specific type of devious perversion of political language when the regime was consolidating its grip on power.

The question that must be faced by democracies looking on as such situations develop is what we do when a group of people come to power, initially with a greater or lesser degree of democratic legitimacy, and proceed to subvert the system so that they will never again have to submit themselves to democratic elections. I suggest that what was happening in Egypt was a movement in that sort of direction. The country was faced with the choice of whether it wished to see Islamism take control, as it has done following what I prefer to call the Arab uprisings, to the disappointment of many of us who were hoping to see constitutional democracies emerge in other middle eastern countries. The issue is what we do about that. Do we simply rush to condemn the fact that Islamists have been ejected from power in Egypt, or do we recognise the real difficulty of the choice that Egyptians have had to make between one extreme situation and another?

The situation in Egypt was even more extreme than that, in terms of the groundwork laid for political Islam. In the parliamentary elections, 50% of the seats were won by the Muslim Brotherhood and 25% by Salafis, so 75% of the seats were won by parties that openly supported political Islam. There was no room for an alternative in that system.

That is absolutely correct. My hon. Friend will put me right if I am mistaken, but I recall that part of the deal at the outset was that the Muslim Brotherhood undertook not to run for the presidency—I think that I am right in saying that. That promise was very promptly broken.

In my time trying to comment as best I can on defence and security-related subjects in Parliament, not too many months—certainly not too many years—go by when I do not have recourse to mentioning one of my favourite political quotations from the late, great, Sir Karl Popper in his famous book, “The Open Society and Its Enemies”. I have quoted it before and I suspect that circumstances will require me to quote it again. The paradox of tolerance is that in a free society, people must tolerate all but the intolerant, because if you tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them. I am sure that this is what the people who ousted the Islamists in Egypt would argue was their justification. Although I said earlier that one must not make simplistic comparisons, I am now probably about to do just that. Those people would probably point to the situation in Germany in the 1930s and say, “Wouldn’t it have been better if the army had thrown the Nazis out, once it became clear that they were going to rip up the constitution and remove any chance of a democratic future, and when it saw what the Hitlerites were trying to do to the German system—which had more or less democratically elected them to power in the first place—using the techniques that we are so familiar with in totalitarian takeovers, to get an iron and irreversible grip on the society?” How would we feel now if the army had stepped in then?

I worry when I hear people use phrases such as moderate Islamism. The description of Islamism is the description of an extreme, intolerant ideology; there is no moderate Islamism, any more than there is moderate totalitarianism or moderate extremism. The reality is that there was a choice in Egypt between an Islamist takeover and the ejection of a group of people bent on destroying any sort of emergent democracy in that country and making a terrible mess of running it in the process.

While the hon. Gentleman is expanding on whether there can be moderate Islamism and the consequence of Islamism emerging in Egypt and other middle eastern nations, might I ask if he shares many people’s concern that religious minorities, including Christians and others, are being systematically purged, not just in thousands or tens of thousands, but in hundreds of thousands, from many nation states right across the middle east?

I endorse that, and pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues for raising this question more consistently and more often than any other group of hon. Members in the House. They are right to do so. We have to try to take a long view of the prospects for the re-emergence of some form of moderate government in Egypt. Those of us who have been in, and aware of, politics for a long time can remember the bad old days of Nasser. I am sure that some people would say, “Ah, but those days are likely to come back,” but I remember that most sensible, pro-democratic people were relieved when Nasser’s successor, Sadat, showed himself willing to moderate the more extreme outlooks of Egyptian politics and to make peace with Israel.

I remember, when Sadat was assassinated by what, today, we would call Islamists, how relieved we were that somebody else came forward who carried on his policies. Nevertheless, as is always the case when people come forward and get a grip, as Mubarak did, and do not want to give it up, corruption became rife and the situation ultimately became unstable. Of course, understandably, the people became fed up with him. However, although it took quite a while for the people to become fed up with that form of dictatorship, it did not take them terribly long to be fed up with President Morsi and his group.

I appreciate the way that the hon. Gentleman is developing his argument. He is outlining the difficulties that we in the United Kingdom have in reacting to what is happening in Egypt, and the difficulties of choosing between two evils, as he termed it. Perhaps he will give us some specific steps that he believes the UK should take to stabilise the situation in Egypt.

I shall try to do so, although I am conscious that I am coming towards the end of my fair share of time. I shall try to make a remark or two along those lines at the end.

I do not hold myself out as being any form of expert on middle eastern politics, so I was pleased to see the comprehensive debate pack assembled for this occasion by Library researchers, who culled many good contributions from national and international media. I was struck particularly by the contribution of Dr Hazem Kandil, who is described as a lecturer in sociology and a fellow of St Catharine’s college, Cambridge, as well as being the author of a book entitled “Inside the Brotherhood”. He says:

“the Brotherhood’s opponents could not have fielded enough protesters to secure the cooperation of the high command had the common folk abstained. It was the Brotherhood’s shocking incompetence at government that drove millions into the streets on June 30. And it was the Brotherhood’s decision to turn a political clash into a religious war that guaranteed the public’s blanket endorsement for brutally repressing them.

The Brothers were ousted not because of their political duplicity, but because they were so bad at it.”

In other words, the people saw through them. He continues:

“they were later hunted down because they never understood that their countrymen preferred to risk backtracking into a functioning secular authoritarianism to the certainty of sliding into incompetent religious fascism.”

If I used those words, I might come in for some criticism, but when a knowledgeable fellow of St Catharine’s college, Cambridge, uses them, we all ought to take them seriously.

In response to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), I simply say that we should have a policy of positive critical engagement with whatever Government emerges. We should at least recognise that the Government who propose to emerge are at least talking the language of democracy, and can be held to that agenda, in a way that the Islamists do not.

My last observation is this. A few days ago, I was listening to the “Today” programme and a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood was asked a simple question by the interviewer: “Will you take part in the forthcoming elections or not?” He could have had plenty of good reasons for saying, “We won’t do it.” He could have said, “We don’t think they’ll be fair,” or “We don’t think we’ll be allowed to campaign freely,” and so on. The fact was that it took the entire interview, with that question being asked over and over, to get any sort of final admission from this man that, no, it does not propose to take part. That reminded me of nothing so much as old debates with Marxists, 25 or 30 years ago: they never gave a straight answer to a straight question, because they were subject to a devious political ideology and had the language to match.

These people are not democrats. They were about to subvert democracy. The people who have ousted them may not be democrats, but we at least have a chance of making them work towards democracy in a way that the Muslim Brotherhood would never have wanted to do.

I thank the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) for securing this debate and for the remarks he made in introducing it.

The situation in Egypt is dangerous and sad. The abuse regarding the right of protest and the abuse of human rights has been continual in Egypt for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) correctly pointed out that the military are back in control of government, as indeed they have been in control or supportive of government for most of the period since the second world war, if not longer. The army is the big factor in Egypt. We also have to recognise that all of Egypt’s constitutions, including the latest constitution that has just been voted through by yet another referendum, which is the third in three years, gives a unique and special place to the army in society and gives it a degree of independence—way beyond any sense of parliamentary control—that nobody in this country or in Europe would accept. Indeed, the Egyptian army has its own economy and source of income. Egyptian society is essentially a process of debate with the power of the armed forces, as opposed to anyone else, and we have to recognise that as one of the big factors.

The other big factor, of course, is the events over the past three years since the Arab spring. Everyone who recognised what was happening across north Africa and the middle east always thought that Egypt would be the last place to have mass protests, but eventually there were huge protests in Tahrir square that resulted in the removal and trial of Mubarak, who is still in custody. The protests did not end the power of the army, which during that period was clever in presenting itself as some kind of democratic force on the side of popular opinion. A constitution was produced, which was followed by the election of President Morsi.

Initially, the rest of the world was keen to do business with Morsi. He was due to come to Britain, and somewhere I have an invitation to meet him. He was arrested and imprisoned on a Monday, and our meeting was due on the Thursday. I then got the most peculiar e-mail that I have ever received, saying, “It appears that President Morsi will not be able to attend the meeting.” The e-mail did not give any reason why he was not able to attend the meeting. I believe that you were also due to be at that discussion, Mr Havard. Morsi has been in prison ever since.

I am not a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood—I have many criticisms of many organisations, including the brotherhood—but one has to recognise that it has been an important factor in Egyptian society since its foundation in 1928. The brotherhood has large support, and its leadership and membership have suffered a lot of imprisonment since its foundation. The brotherhood has often been banned—by the British, by various Egyptian Governments, by Nasser, by Mubarak and by many others—so when the brotherhood finally won election it was an important turning point in Egyptian history.

Those who protested against the brotherhood presidency and Government—there were huge protests within a year—rather bizarrely turned to the army for their salvation. I have asked various friends on the left of Egyptian politics where that narrative came from. When people are making democratic protests against a Government and its authoritarian measures—indeed, there were plenty of authoritarian measures under Morsi—where in the democratic alternatives does one turn to the army for salvation? That is the conundrum. The Government that Sisi now leads, and of which he will no doubt become President in a short time, have been as oppressive of the opposition, albeit a different opposition, as the Morsi Government were. Large numbers of people have been killed or imprisoned, and the behaviour of Sisi’s Government towards human rights in Egypt is not good. Although one can understand the degree of opposition to Mubarak, to Morsi and now to the current Government, one should be careful of endorsing a military regime and the oppression of human rights that it is now undertaking.

Is that not the crux of the issue? The commitment to pluralism and peaceful change of Government, recognising that Governments come and go, is crucial. Is not one of the problems that, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) mentioned, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood failed on that level of commitment?

My right hon. Friend makes a fair point. Under the Morsi presidency and the then new membership of the Egyptian Parliament there was no development of plurality in politics or of a wide range of secular and non-secular political parties. There were a lot of attacks, particularly on religious minorities, which is totally unacceptable.

I have been to Egypt twice, both times en route back and forth from Gaza. I spent some time in Cairo this time last year, and I spent a lot of time talking to people in Tahrir square and meeting various others. I was struck by the level of antipathy towards the Muslim Brotherhood among people who had voted for it in the election a very short time previously. They voted for the brotherhood on the basis that it was not a continuation of the military governance of Egypt, but they rapidly became disappointed in what the brotherhood was doing. The situation is complicated, and of course there is a degree of polarisation, but there is also a massive abuse of the human rights of religious minorities and others, about which we should be concerned.

This is my last point. Will the Minister undertake to make representations on the position of religious and ethnic minorities in Egypt? Will he specifically make representations on the position of journalists who have been attempting to report what is going on in Egypt? I tabled an early-day motion on the arrest of al-Jazeera journalists on 29 December 2013. Those journalists include: the bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who is a Canadian national; Peter Greste, an Australian national who formerly worked for the BBC; Baher Mohamed; and an Egyptian cameraman, Mohamed Fawzy. One of them has been released, but the others remain in prison. As far as I am aware, they have not been tried, and I believe they are being held incommunicado in prison. Jim Boumelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists, has presented a statement:

“We join international condemnation of the journalists’ arrest and demand that they are released with immediate effect. These are working journalists who have committed no crime and were simply doing their jobs. By continuing to detain these journalists the Egyptian government is undermining the right to press freedom and freedom of expression in the country and calling into question its attitude towards basic human rights.”

A number of journalists have lost their lives in 2013: Mick Deane, a 61-year-old Sky News cameraman; Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, a 26-year-old journalist with Gulf News and the UAE-based Xpress newspaper; Ahmed Abdel Gawad, a reporter for Al Akhbar newspaper; and Mosab Al-Shami, a photographer for the Rassd news website. Those journalists lost their lives because they were trying to report the conflict.

Many people, including all of us in this Chamber, would argue about the way in which particular journalists allegedly report things. I have carefully watched how a number of international channels report what is going on in Cairo, including Russia Today, France 24, CNN, al-Jazeera, the BBC and Sky News, and one recognises that all of those journalists are doing their best to report the facts of what is going on. I guess those facts are unacceptable either to the army or other authorities in Egypt, hence the al-Jazeera team has been arrested—al-Jazeera continues to try to report in Egypt. The National Union of Journalists has produced a briefing on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists, and I would be grateful if the Minister would undertake to make urgent representations to the Egyptian Government for the release of those journalists. Will he also undertake that the British embassy will engage as rapidly and strongly as possible with the Egyptian Government on those questions and the questions of minorities and religious freedoms?

Today’s debate has given us an opportunity to try to understand something of the reality of life in Egypt, recognising that it is the largest country, with the youngest population and lowest level of natural resources per capita, in the region. It has some gas, oil and other natural resources, but their value is nowhere near that of what is held by other countries. Young people in Egypt have a thirst for jobs, homes and some success in life. One should not underestimate the level of economic demand behind much of the protest. If those economic demands are not met, the new Government in Egypt will also feel the wrath of the people, who feel they have been short-changed by poverty and corruption for a long time.

It is nice to have the opportunity to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) on securing the debate. I am not the only person to have been horrified by the television reports and by interviews with those who have fled Egypt. When I see the pain and fear in those people’s eyes I sometimes feel that I am not doing enough; and indeed we are not doing enough to alleviate that pain and fear.

I want to speak briefly about how the political strife and economic turmoil affect Christians in the middle east, and particularly Egypt. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) quoted the phrase “incompetent religious fascism”. There has also been concern about Sharia and how it affects those of a different religious persuasion. I want to speak about that.

My parliamentary aide went to Egypt with her husband in June and she came home absolutely raving about it. On her return her mother-in-law told her she had been praying for their safety. My aide had been unaware of what was happening in the rest of Egypt, as she was at a holiday destination. The story has been repeated over and over. Egypt is a beautiful country with tremendous tourism potential, but anyone who has watched the news recently would think twice about going there because of the unrest, which is damaging the economic climate. We have a duty of care to Egypt and I feel that we must do something to help in any way that we can.

My heart goes out in particular to those Christians who again seem to be the focus of many attacks. This morning I received information from some Christian organisations. According to there have been numerous attacks on churches and Christians in Egypt this month. Witnesses and sources in Egypt reported to International Christian Concern that although the attacks that I want to catalogue were thwarted, they added to the fear that is regularly experienced by Christians in Egypt.

On Friday 3 January supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attacked an evangelical church in the Gesr El Suez area of Cairo. The mob attacked in front of the church on Ahmed Esmat street. They began to pelt stones and to verbally abuse Christians and chant slogans against them. Mina Beshay, a Christian in the area, told ICC what happened. Reports indicate that there was no security for the church building and that the attackers operated with impunity.

On Sunday 5 January security forces in Suez disrupted a terrorist cell named “Supporters of Jerusalem”. They arrested the members when they discovered a plot to attack a nearby church on the night of its Christmas celebrations. Among many Christians in Egypt Christmas is celebrated a bit later than ours, on 7 January. On Monday evening, 6 January, a bomb was found in the bathroom of the Three Saints church in Beni Suef city. Police defused the bomb, which had been discovered by a church member. Missa Fawzy, a Christian in Alexandria, told ICC that a few days later, on 10 January, security forces

“arrested a bearded person in possession of four hand grenades in a handbag next to the Church of two Saints”.

On Friday 24 January the civil defence and civil protection forces in Assiut Governorate found explosives inside a car parked behind the church of Al Malak. Sources told ICC that the church, which is located in Al Numies street in Assiut city, was targeted “to be exploded”. There is a catalogue of attacks on Christians and their places of worship, orchestrated by terrorist groups.

My daughter and her family visited Egypt this year and I was concerned when I listened to the news. Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Egypt voted for a Government in democratic elections, hoping that that would bring freedom, including religious freedom, but that they were sadly disillusioned when instead they got greater persecution, especially of religious minorities, including Christians?

I could not agree more. I also get an awareness of that in feedback from people who have visited Egypt, and people with friends and relatives there or with a deep interest in the country. The people voted in a democratic process and hoped for a better life under the new regime, but it did not happen. As the hon. Member for New Forest East clearly outlined, their hope was lost in the midst of what happened. As the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, there is now a precarious situation of political strife and economic turmoil; but in the middle of that there are religious groups. Christians are targeted for their beliefs, and because of some people’s perception that they have an attachment to western life. That is not the case: Christians want to worship and tell people about God. That is who they are and what they are. It is a sad and serious thing when they are attacked for their beliefs.

On Saturday 25 January security forces in Ismailia security directorate found 26 Molotov cocktails in a bag next to the church of St. Bishoy in the area of Sheikh Zayed in Ismailia City. Witnesses said that the person in possession of the bag of explosives was sitting in a car next to the church, and that

“he fled when he saw the policemen.”

That is another example of persecution directed at Christians, their property and their churches.

The stories go on and because of time I shall not go into further detail, but unrest and upset is being experienced by many, because of the targeting of Christians. There is a duty of care in the House and elsewhere to step in and help all people who are being attacked. It is a sad fact that the heartland of many Bible stories and much Biblical history is now a place that Christians flee from in fear. I worry that the remaining Christian population will leave, as has happened in many middle eastern countries. We share those concerns, as elected representatives, about the effect on Christians in various countries, including Egypt, and about the possibility that ethnic cleansing will be completed if some extreme Muslims have their way.

What is being done to support people and ensure that they feel safe? Can diplomatic pressure be applied, and what is being done to ensure that the aid that is sent also reaches the Christians who are so fearful? Comments often come back to us through churches. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) would confirm that. The churches tell us that Christians in Egypt do not get the aid they should, and that is of concern to me.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Spelthorne on bringing the subject of this debate to the fore. I plead, on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ in this country, for the eloquence and passion of the debate to be turned into actions that will save lives, restore families and give hope to a country that has so much to offer and so much to give. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) referred in an intervention to how many words are spoken. Verbal reassurance is good, but we also need the Government to provide physical and practical reassurance in what they do. I hope that the Minister can reassure us. If not, I must ask him what he intends to do to help the small group of Christians who are being targeted for persecution. Their plight needs to be considered by the Government.

I shall move on rapidly, to give the Minister enough time to reply. I apologise for the absence of my colleague the shadow Middle East Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who is on a pre-arranged visit to Lebanon, which is of great importance and relevance. I congratulate the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) on securing this timely debate, and on his balanced speech and the way he stressed how important and relevant it is for the House that Members visit countries and gain in-depth knowledge over time. That is sometimes dismissed and misunderstood by the media. I thought he spelled that out very well.

This debate is extremely relevant and timely because it is clear that Egypt matters, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne recognised. Geography alone places it at the hinge of the troubled regions of north Africa and the middle east. It is the most populous country in the region and accounts for well over one third of the Arab world. It has a history and culture stretching back for millennia. It is a major centre of scholarship, media, as the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned, film and debate in the Arab world with a sophisticated, developed and articulate middle class, as we saw particularly in the early days of the Arab spring. As some hon. Members have mentioned, it was in the vanguard of change in the Arab world in the ’50s as well as more recently, and it lies across one of the world’s major trade arteries in the Suez canal, which, incidentally, is also a major source of revenue for the Egyptian Government.

However, we all share the concern about the all-too-familiar picture of a rising tide of violence and disorder with the usual complement of bombings and assassinations. Whatever direction Egypt goes in will have an impact not just on its citizens, but on the wider region and the world. At this crucial time for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, let us remember it was the bold and enlightened leadership of Anwar Sadat that helped to establish peace in the area, for which he paid with his life to those fundamentalists we have been talking about.

I was in Jerusalem and Ramallah last month and I was struck and encouraged by the more positive atmosphere in both jurisdictions, engendered not least by the tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry in trying to bring the talks together. Tribute was fully paid to him from both sides. An absolute precondition of the advance of those talks and a successful outcome is the Israeli need for territorial security and integrity. The stabilising efforts of the Egyptian army in Sinai and its discouragement of Hamas in Gaza are a crucial element of that.

We seek an early return of civilian government in Egypt, and recognise the important role of the military in ensuring the security environment that will allow effective democratic government and economic progress for the Egyptian people. The issue is not just about Egypt, but about the example in the wider region. It is fair to say that in neighbouring Tunisia, the more stabilised environment in Egypt has contributed to the recent encouraging developments and the move towards inclusive government, with the likelihood that elections there will be held later this year on a pluralist basis.

Another key lesson from Tunisia is the way in which the many parties that grew up rapidly during the changes since the start of the Arab spring have started to pull together in a progressive bloc, and will fight those elections in a pluralist society where both sides acknowledge that they will abide by the result and the subsequent change. That is an important change from the more Islamist-inclined party and reflects the outcomes of the less pluralist view of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the consequences.

I hope that we will provide, partly directly, partly through the European Union and partly through the Westminster Foundation—I hope the Minister will speak about this—the sort of work to enable not just confidence building but capacity building in the various parties, particularly the secular parties, in Tunisia and Egypt. The bedrock of a pluralist society is most important and within that is a significant issue. This touches on the point made by several Democratic Unionist Members—the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for South Antrim (Dr McCrea)—about the role of Christian and Coptic minorities, the protection of those religious minorities and the rights of women. They are not necessarily unconnected because there is an additional pressure on those Christian minorities from some extremists to conform to Islamic standards. That is another form of pressure and oppression.

With the European High Representative, Baroness Ashton, we should welcome recent developments in Egypt and the largely orderly referendum, and welcome the fact that the new constitution enshrines fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and of assembly and women’s rights. We must monitor that to ensure that those rights are upheld. We must also be aware of and concerned about the pressure that extremists place on minorities, particularly the long-standing Coptic and Christian communities and, as was mentioned today, by acquiescence at local level from some of the authorities in some of those actions. The new Government in Egypt will undoubtedly have to address that.

This week saw the third anniversary of the popular revolution in Egypt, and we all hope that we will see the return of pluralist democracy and civilian government as soon as possible. We welcome the passage of the new constitution by an overwhelming majority in the recent referendum, and what seems to be an early announcement of the dates for presidential and parliamentary elections. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) said, it is not necessarily the role of individuals from the military in government that concerns us. For example, in Indonesia, President Yudhoyono was a general, but has clearly been a civilian general and has been able to exert civilian control over the military. That is what we should be looking for in Egypt, certainly not military control. We want effective civilian government and control.

This is only the start. Egypt’s people and especially its very large young population, to which several hon. Members referred, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), desperately need economic development, and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde spelled out some of the economic data. That depends very much on the security environment, especially with the significance to the Egyptian economy of tourism and the need for security to attract tourists, but it also requires the EU to engage directly with the new Egyptian Government, when it is elected, to encourage economic relations and investment to bring back and to expand the aid from the EU that was so crucial in helping to relieve suffering and to promote development in Egypt. We look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government will do about that.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Havard, and I thank you for your declaration of interests. I suspect in common with many other hon. Members, I always find it reassuring to have someone in the Chair who knows something about the subject. It is good to see you here. I know that it is customary in the House not to acknowledge people in the Strangers Gallery but, I am sure on behalf of everyone here, I pay tribute to the work of the Egyptian ambassador in London and his staff. He is a charming and well-informed representative of his country. I am sure we all want to put on record our gratitude for his work.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) for securing a debate on this important issue of the political and economic situation in Egypt. It would be sensible to say at once and on the record that I am sure I speak for everyone in condemning the violence in Egypt over the weekend, when more than 60 people were killed and many were injured. All our thoughts are with the families of those affected. If the report in this morning’s press that the police chief in Cairo was shot overnight is correct, I am sure that again I speak for everyone here in saying that our thoughts are very much with his family and his colleagues in the Egyptian police. As came through in every contribution this morning, everyone wants all Egyptians to resolve their differences peacefully and to refrain from violence.

Egypt is in the middle of a political transition, which began three years ago in January 2011, in Tahrir square. Since then, the Egyptian people have seen three Governments: the military-led Supreme Council of the Armed Forces; a year of Muslim Brotherhood rule; and, since July 2013, an interim Government. This is a crucial time for Egypt’s future and long-term stability. As many have said, the referendum on the draft constitution that was held on 14 and 15 January was an important milestone on the political road map and allowed millions of Egyptians to express their opinion through the ballot box. Egyptians are now looking ahead to see what kind of political process will take shape over the next six months. We expect the presidential election to proceed, followed by parliamentary elections in the summer. Both will be crucial to Egypt’s transition and to the country’s political and economic trajectory for years to come.

I will go through the various contributions and respond, if I can, to the points that have been made My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne—I am delighted that CMEC still takes people to countries throughout the middle east—made a fair and balanced speech. He is absolutely right that the situation is very nuanced and that there is no easy right or wrong. Crucially, he made it clear how important Egypt is to us as a country and to the region. It has an unparalleled place in history, which was a point also made by the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar). Egypt is vital to the security of the region, as the major Sunni state in that part of the world.

This country is Egypt’s largest direct foreign investor. At the height of the tourism boom, in about 2008, some 1.5 million British tourists went to visit Egypt. This country and Egypt have many areas of mutual interest. As many Members have said, Egypt has a young and emerging population, and many of them want to learn English, which is crucial to their economic future. We have also just seen a London football club in the premier league sign a young Egyptian starlet, so I am sure that many more Egyptian fans will be watching English football.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), who has left the Chamber, was right to talk about the importance of an inclusive process. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) made a good point, which came out when I was in Egypt in the week before Christmas: the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood Government was not one of ideology, but that they were simply incompetent, as a number of people said to me. They almost brought the country to its knees. I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s hope that a democratic Government will emerge.

The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) mentioned something that I will certainly take up. I have not yet seen the letter from the NUJ, but we will look for it when we get back to the office, and I will read it and ensure that those matters are taken up by our embassy in Cairo. I shall come on to the issue of religious and ethnic minorities in a minute, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman was right about the Muslim Brotherhood—he may find it strange my agreeing with him—because by sheer force of numbers it will be an important force in Egypt for many years to come, as it has been for many years already. Finding an accommodation with it will be crucial to the long-term political stability of Egypt. By the same token, however, the Muslim Brotherhood must commit to a democratic process. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that. Until it does, that makes it very difficult for the Government of Egypt.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I often talk about religious things. He is absolutely correct to draw the attention of the House to the plight of Christians. When I was in Cairo in the week before Christmas, we specifically asked to see the Copts. We do not have the facility to ask everyone in the Chamber, but I suspect that if I asked Members how many Copts there were in Egypt they would probably pick a reasonably small number. I was amazed to find, however, that the answer is 10 million to 12 million, which is a considerable number.

The Coptic pope was away from Cairo on travels, but I met a couple of the bishops. We had a positive, delightful, informed and structured talk on the political situation in Egypt. I have to report to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that they were enthusiastic about the new constitution and thought that it was a step forward. As is often the case with senior bishops, the bishop I met was sensitive about the previous Government, but it was clear that life for the Copts had not been easy under the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, I heard that evening how the Ministry of Tourism in Cairo traditionally issues licences for Christmas celebrations, but when it tried to license the first Christmas celebrations under the Muslim Brotherhood Government it was told not to do so. It was therefore unable to license Christmas celebrations over that period. This year alone, 94 or 97 licences—I cannot remember the figure—were issued, so licences are being issued once again. For all the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman correctly drew attention, it was clear from my conversation that the Copts felt that they were in a much better place now than was the case a year before.

The right hon. Member for Warley again made a good and well-balanced speech. I do not worry about the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), because we have tried to ensure that he has a valuable week in Beirut by helping him to get the right briefing. I hope that that is worth while. I join the right hon. Member for Warley in paying tribute to the work of the United States Secretary of State in seeking a wider peace agreement throughout the middle east. The energy and commitment that he has put into that initiative has been second to none and we support those efforts. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to the importance of capacity building. I used to be a governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in a previous life, and it and many other organisations will play a crucial role.

If there are no other questions, I will conclude by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne again for securing this valuable and timely debate. For the record, this country’s relationship with Egypt is a long-standing one, and I want that relationship to be constructive and positive. We will continue to do everything that we can to support the Egyptian people in their country’s ongoing political and economic transition, although on occasion we will need to express our concerns about human rights and democratic principles. It is important that the political process is inclusive, and that is what the people of Egypt were looking for three years ago. We continue to believe that that will be the best route to long-term stability, security and economic success in the area.

Thank you, Minister and Members, for your considered behaviour and opinions. While the changeover to the next debate is taking place, I remind people who have entered the Chamber, if they have any electronic equipment that might make noises or otherwise disturb us, to turn it off or put it on silent running. The next debate is on Ofsted and standards in education.