Middle East and North Africa

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 10th July 2013.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary 1:37 pm, 10th July 2013

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it.

I come first to events in Egypt. Although the events of the past two weeks have been a major setback for democracy, they need not represent an irreversible trend. The role of the military in any democracy must be both clearly defined and subject to Executive oversight, so the priority must now be a return to civilian rule through a credible transition process that results in swift, fair and free elections. I welcome the recent statement by interim president Mansour setting a deadline for new elections to be held before February 2014. However, recent reports suggest that not all parties have accepted that process, and there have been recent statements from the Muslim Brotherhood apparently refusing to take part. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is vital that the transition process from interim to full civilian government must be inclusive and representative if it is to be seen to be legitimate?

Recent reports of the arrest and imprisonment of political activists, representatives and journalists in Egypt are deeply concerning, including reports today about Egypt’s prosecutor’s office issuing warrants for a number of people affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Will the Foreign Secretary make clear the British Government’s position on political prisoners in Egypt?

Egypt’s long-term future will be secured not simply by an end to violence but also by the start of economic recovery. The Foreign Secretary spoke of the Deauville partnership. How much of the $38 billion originally intended from that fund, as cited in his answer to me in October 2011, has now been allocated? If he cannot give the figure this afternoon, will he place a note in the Library setting out the allocation figures?

I turn to the ongoing crisis in Syria. I welcome, of course, the confirmation of the uplift in the UK’s commitment to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, but the situation is none the less deteriorating. Only this morning, the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report that expresses “serious concern” about al-Qaeda elements gaining access to the “vast stockpiles” of chemical weapons within Syria. It is therefore a matter of real regret that the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland, hosted by the United Kingdom, failed to deliver the breakthrough that we all wanted to see in relation to Syria. We all hoped that a firm date would be set for the start of Geneva 2, but even that was missing from the final communiqué. Will the Foreign Secretary set out a little more specifically what he judges the prospects to be for Geneva 2 being convened in the weeks and months ahead? I welcome his commitment that the Prime Minister intends to recall Parliament and call for a vote on a substantive motion if any decision is taken by the Government to send lethal military equipment to the Syrian opposition.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary about Jordan? It seemed a curious omission from his statement. Jordan has been a long-standing ally of the United Kingdom. I am aware that humanitarian support is being provided to Za’atari and other camps in Jordan. May I press him on what consideration the Government are giving to what other practical assistance and support can be provided to Jordan, beyond humanitarian support? The country is feeling the strain, given the extraordinary generosity it has shown during the crisis.

On the middle east peace process, we welcome the recent efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to bring parties together and reinvigorate the stalled talks. On departing from Israel last week, after the last of his five visits to the region alone this year, Secretary Kerry spoke of important, though not irreversible, progress that has already been made. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement of support for this process, but can he set out what specific steps the British Government are taking to ensure that negotiations are urgently begun as part of Secretary Kerry’s efforts?

These negotiations take place at a time of great upheaval and uncertainty in the wider region. We welcome the election of President Rohani, but there are key steps he must now be prepared to take if the ongoing nuclear crisis is to be resolved. I echo the sentiments expressed by the Foreign Secretary: a nuclear-armed Iran is not simply a threat to Israel, but a risk to all nations. The Government will have our support in pushing the E5 plus 1 talks that have regrettably so far not yielded sufficient progress.

In conclusion, the Foreign Secretary’s statement comes at a time of almost unprecedented uncertainty across the middle east and north Africa. This transformative time of upheaval, revolution and conflict poses fundamental questions not just for the Foreign Secretary, but for policy makers across the region. That should therefore add to the urgency of efforts being made to try to resolve the ongoing and apparently intractable conflicts that have for too long defined the history of the region.