Foreign Office minister in Egypt to talk Israel, democracy

By Jennifer Lipman, March 9, 2011

The British foreign office minister for the Middle East is to discuss the direction of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with the new generation of Egyptian political leaders.

Alistair Burt is to meet senior politicians and key opposition players who are hoping to gain power when the Egyptian people replace the transitional government that has been in office since Hosni Mubarak’s departure.

Mr Burt will spend two days in Egypt looking at developments in the region, including the uprisings in Libya.

He said he was visiting “at a time of great opportunity” and said he planned to encourage the new leaders to “work quickly towards free and fair democratic elections”.

Mr Burt today also praised the Syrian authorities’ decision to release a human rights activist and government critic who was sentenced to three years behind bars last summer.

He said of the decision to let Haitham al-Maleh out of jail that he hoped Syria would allow the 80-year-old dissident “to live without hindrance to his rights”.

“Freedom of expression is fundamental to building democracy by allowing citizens to challenge their government and make informed decisions,” said Mr Burt. “Governments need to respond to these legitimate aspirations with reform, not repression, if they are to enhance their long-term stability and prosperity”.

Last updated: 3:51pm, March 9 2011