As Egypt marks the third anniversary of the Arab Spring the situation is still unstable. 49 people were killed at protests to mark the anniversary, which comes at the same time as one former president goes on trial and a new one is to be elected. With this backdrop you would expect that the powers of Europe would be supporting the Egyptian people and promoting democratic reform in the region.
Unfortunately you would be wrong. The latest EU arms exports report, which includes figures for 2012, shows that EU countries added to the instability by licensing a record €363,212,688 of sales to the Egyptian government, including €16,959,044 in ’weapon firing equipment’, €28,322,921 in ’exploding devices’ and €45,941,673 of ’military vehicles’.
Unfortunately Egypt was not the only unstable country to see significant licenses. Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were also major customers buying over €2.2 billion and €1.5 billion worth of arms. In fact, of the 51 authoritarian governments listed in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2012, licences were awarded for military sales to 43 of them. Overall, a record €9.7 billion in arms licences were issued to the Middle East, representing a staggering 22% increase.
The European Union is meant to be underpinned by a commitment to human rights and democracy, and this needs to be central to its foreign policy. The policies of member states haven’t just been unethical, they have also been extremely short-sighted. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Libya.
In 2004 the EU arms embargo on Libya was lifted and almost immediately the member states courted Gaddafi for arms sales. In 2010 alone EU states licensed £294 million worth of arms exports, including ’weapon firing equipment’, ’ammunition’ and ’explosive devices’. This policy continued right up until the Arab Spring, when Gaddafi used European exports against pro-democracy campaigners. Following Gaddafi’s fall, sales to Libya continued, with almost €22 million of military export licenses having since been approved.
Of course EU member states are far from the only countries to do this. In fact lots of countries export all sorts of weapons to oppressive governments. However, as we are always being told, Europe has a major global influence and should be using it to promote freedom and democracy instead of providing legitimacy to dictatorships and human rights abusers.
Earlier this month DAPA, the South Korean export agency, announced that, following an international campaign supported by Campaign Against Arms Trade, they would cancel a shipment of 1.6 million gas canisters to Bahrain. This sets an important precedent which Europe should be following. Rather than providing a fig-leaf of respectability for tyrants, member states should be leading the way in calling for an immediate end to arms exports to all countries that abuse human rights.