UK to advise Egypt on quelling Sinai militants


General Sir David Richards will lead team advising how to ween Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula away from smuggling.

UK to advise Egypt on quelling Sinai militants

Mohammed Morsi has made an ‘interesting and impressive’ start as Egypt president, according to David Cameron. Photograph: Maya Alleruzzo/AP
Britain is to provide military advice to the Egyptian government to help it crack down on militants in the Sinai Peninsula who are destabilising relations with neighbouring Israel.
In his first meeting with the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in New York, David Cameron will announce that Britain’s most senior military figure will travel to Cairo. General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, will lead a British effort that will also see a stabilisation team despatched to Egypt. The team, which will mainly consist of field experts from the Department for International Development, will advise on how to ween Bedouin tribes in Sinai away from smuggling.
The prime minister believes that Morsi has made a good start as Egypt’s first democratically elected president. In one of his first moves Morsi sanctioned a crack down on militants in Sinai.
Cameron will reach out to Morsi by announcing that Britain will press its European partners to relax stringent EU sanctions on Egypt to allow up to £100m in frozen assets to be repatriated to the government. A taskforce will be established to ensure that assets belonging to the family of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak are returned to Egypt.Cameron wants to show Britain’s support for the first democratically elected president of the largest Arab country.
Morsi’s move against militants in Sinai was seen as a particularly positive signal because Israel was acutely nervous about the election of an Islamist president in Egypt. Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in the election, and Egypt shares a border with the Gaza Strip which is run by Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party, that has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The UN, EU, US and Russia, which oversee the Middle East peace process, fear that instability in the Sinai Peninsula could disrupt the Camp David accords which led to demilitarisation of the area after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Israel withdrew its forces from the peninsula on the understanding that it would be a non-military zone.
A senior British government source said it was important to respond after Morsi’s impressive start as president. The source said: “President Morsi, newly elected, is making an interesting and quite impressive start. It is going to be an absolutely key country for that region’s future.”
Britain understands the concerns of some, notably Israel, who fear the appointment of an Islamist president. “Of course everyone has concerns and worries and interests,” the source added. “There will be all sorts of questions in people’s minds. You have got to judge people by what they do. He made an impressive start going after the militants in Sinai. That is quite an important move.
“The Arab Spring is working. Look at the reaction in Libya to the appalling events at the US consulate. There were 35,000 people on the streets saying this is not us and going after the militants. There all sorts of reasons to be worried. But net net we should be positive.”
Cameron will tell Morsi that he shares his frustration at the slow pace of repatriating assets that belong to the Mubarak family. Under the EU sanctions rules a series of highly complex legal hurdles have to be cleared before the assets can be unfrozen.
• This article was amended on 26 September 2012. An editing error in the seventh paragraph led to the misattribution of a quote to David Cameron rather than a senior British source. This has been corrected.

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