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Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt discusses the situation in Egypt

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Alistair Burt: It’s essential that all political parties are able to take part in future elections.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt

Alistair Burt discussed the situation in Egypt in an interview with Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News this morning.

Dermot Murnaghan: So a very good morning then to Alistair Burt and first of all on that, I’m sure you read it with some interest, the thoughts of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair saying we’ve really got no choice but to deal with what’s there, we have to engage with this military backed Government in Egypt.

Alistair Burt: I think Tony Blair’s comments entirely reflect what William Hague was saying this week which is, in that wonderful phrase, we are where we are. The reasons why we’ve seen the events over the past few days are complex but they are, they are quite well known. They result from a breakdown in the political process in Egypt, a polarisation between the former Government and the opposition over a lengthy period despite lots of efforts, including from us, to try and bring politicians together amidst a background of a declining economy, decisions not being taken.

But it has left a very polarised and very tense situation and it is essential that we move as quickly as possible to civil administration and to elections.

Dermot Murnaghan: But it’s interesting, I mean, I think Tony Blair goes a bit further from what we’ve heard from the Foreign Secretary on that, as you said there, we are where we are. I mean Mr Blair is also, seems to be suggesting that what happened has some form of legitimacy because of what Mr Morsi was doing and because of the number of people on the streets, that this was a different form of democracy.

Alistair Burt: Well it’s a, a different form of military intervention than that sort of conventionally expected because the, the relationship of the military with the politicians in Egypt is, is well known. I mean they, they played a part in the removal of the former President Mubarak by not taking action against the people on the streets, there were huge numbers of people on the streets to represent those who were against the President. But now, of course, we see those on the streets in favour of former President Morsi so it’s a very difficult political process there and the military engagement in trying to, in a way, hold the ring, being worried about security and violence is very clear.

But what they must not do now is they must not demonstrate by their actions that they are taking, trying to take sides in, in a future election, they should release those who have been arrested on, for political reasons if they’ve not been in inciting violence or anything like that. So if they are the guardians for the people they’ve now got to make sure they take the next step because it’s essential that all political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP Party, are able to take part in future elections.

Dermot Murnaghan: Well that’s the point then isn’t it, then what is the position for the UK Government if the Muslim Brotherhood are elected again, you have to say do you not to the army, you really, what ever they do you really can not intervene this time?

Alistair Burt: Well we worked with the, with the previous Government. We entirely accepted the election of President Morsi, by all judgements it was a free and fair election, there was no come back afterwards. It was what happened after that, it was a process of polarisation by the Government that at times appeared not to understand that just winning an election is not enough there has to be an inclusive process of government by an opposition that itself also seemed to sometimes want to be polarised and not part of a process.

And all the time underlying there were serious economic issues, there were concerns about these being addressed and then the Government took decisions in relation to the constitution, the recent appointment of governors, particularly the one in Luxor, that was very controversial and all in all the political process broke down.

But I think we also have to see this as part of a longer term transition. I don’t believe that the evidence in Egypt suggests that the Arab Spring is dead or anything like that, this is just another part of what is actually quite a long running process, we don’t know where it’s going to end, it will take a long time and this is another stage in it. But if we’re to see any progress from what has happened I think it’s essential now, the Government thinks it’s essential now, that the military move towards that civilian administration, move towards elections and ensure that the political process is free and does not give a sense that by locking up large members just of one part of the political process that they’re taking sides or preventing them from being involved in the future. Then the people can make a judgement.

Dermot Murnaghan: What happens if they, they do keep doing that, as you say locking up members particularly of the Muslim Brotherhood? Is there a danger, because it is a febrile situation as we’ve just been discussing is there a danger then that elements of Muslim Brotherhood supporters say well look democracy doesn’t work let’s go another route and we know what that route could be?

Alistair Burt: I think that’s a potentially very dangerous narrative. I don’t think that the intervention in the past few days necessarily means that that is the only other option but certainly if it wasn’t to be clear that politicians of all particular stripes, providing they don’t espouse violence or anything like that, are able to take part then I think we will be reading something more difficult in to it.

It’s absolutely vital that the sectarian issues which have now emerged in Egypt, and Egypt was not a particularly sectarian country, it’s vital that those sectarian issues do not become more part of the political process and lead to more risk of violence. So there is an absolutely essential need for politicians on all sides, including the Muslim Brotherhood who will be very bruised by events, to, to take part in the political process from now on, but it will require the release of those who have been arrested who’ve taken no part in violence to make sure they’re part of the process, the proper engagement of opposition parties and then the military having held the ring and made sure the place was secure can then move back to, to a different role.

Further information

Read the Foreign Secretary’s 4 July interview on Egypt

Read the Foreign Office travel advice for Egypt

Visit the UK in Egypt website page

Follow Alistair Burt on Twitter @AlistairBurtFCO

Follow the Foreign Office on Twitter @foreignoffice

Follow the Foreign Office on Facebook and Google+

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Published 7 July 2013