LONDON (AP) — Britain has revoked five export licenses for equipment destined for Egypt’s military and police, the government announced Friday, an implicit criticism of the Arab nation’s military crackdown on a wave of unrest that has left dozens dead.
Egypt has been gripped by rallies and street skirmishes since President Mohammed Morsi was driven from power in a coup. In one particularly bloody incident, 51 protesters and three security personnel were killed on July 8 in clashes outside Cairo’s Republic Guard Club, where Morsi supporters believed their deposed leader was being held.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Egypt and the events which have led to the deaths of protesters,” British Business Secretary Vince Cable said in a statement. “The longstanding U.K. position is clear: We will not grant export licenses where we judge there is a clear risk the goods might be used for internal repression.”
The five licenses covered components for armored personnel carriers, machine guns, and armored fighting infantry vehicles, along with communications equipment for tanks and licenses for vehicle antennae and radio equipment.
Cable’s department said the restrictions did not relate to one specific incident, but rather to a buildup of events and Egyptian authorities’ recent actions with regard to crowd control. Cable said Britain had not seen any evidence that British equipment had been used in Egypt’s unrest, but that the decision to revoke the licenses was taken on the advice of diplomats.
Morsi’s ouster — which followed massive demonstrations against his rule — has heightened international concern over the human rights situation in Egypt. The country’s military and police both have a history of using deadly force against protests, particularly since 2011, when massive rallies against the government became a regular feature of the nation’s politics.
Under Morsi’s rule, the worst violence was meted out to protesters in the city of Port Said, when a large protest against a court ruling led to the deaths of more than 40 residents. At the time, Morsi praised the police, described the protesters as “thugs,” and declared a state of emergency.
During the transitional period of military rule in 2011, a large rally organized mostly by Egyptian Coptic Christians outside the state TV building turned violent, leaving 27 dead. Many of those killed were crushed by military armored vehicles speeding through the crowd.
It was unclear exactly why British officials have only now begun to start restricting Egyptian military exports, but the move comes just days after a report from British lawmakers urged the government to exercise more caution in approving applications for the export of arms to countries with authoritarian regimes.
The U.S. has thus far declined to term Morsi’s ouster a coup, a designation that would require a suspension in the $1.5 billion in American aid to the country, including $1.3 billion in direct military support. The U.K. has also treaded cautiously, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying the military’s move set a dangerous precedent but stopping short of calling it a coup.
Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said he was wary of reading too much into Britain’s decision to restrict military exports.
“I don’t believe the U.K. has much leverage over the Egyptian military, but it is bound by its arm control regulations to do this sort of thing,” he said. “If this was being done by the United States this would have great significance. But is the United Kingdom a major player in events in Egypt? I don’t think so.”
Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.