On one hand, he's an ambassador in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper. Habits of decorum prevent him from saying "Well, frankly, I think it's all going to be a train wreck" if that were his opinion. That, and, saying the wrong thing could summon a potentially unstable gaggle of protesters to the British embassy.
On the other hand, there was a mostly missed opportunity (save for the mention of the EU's position on capital punishment) here to send a message that Britain's relationship with the new regime depends on its handling of human rights. The end of the report mentions that Britain and other EU countries plan to extend financial assistance to Egypt in the near future.
In extending aid, we in the West have leverage that we are not currently using. Any future aid to Egypt must be made contingent on substantive, verifiable, and continuous improvements in:
- The treatment and legal rights of non-Muslims, the right to build churches, and reciprocal rights of conversion and visibility in public life.
- Women's rights.
- The eradication of female genital mutilation.
- Transparency and good government, due process, and rights in custody for anyone detained by the police or army.
"Hope is not a method," as the military adage goes, and it is well worth insisting on these points now, rather than waiting for another thug regime to get entrenched and comfortable. "British ambassador: Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary majority not worrying," from Al Masry Al Youm, January 14:
The Muslim Brotherhood's majority in Egypt's next parliament is not a source of worry for Britian, said British Ambassador to Egypt James Watt.
In an interview with Akhbar al-Youm, Watt said the results of the parliamentary elections reflect the choice of Egyptians and Britain will have to deal with these results.
He added that he has met with several Brotherhood leaders and the meetings have left a good impression on him. He added that he is optimistic about the future of Egypt and the formulation of policies that will achieve freedom and development.
Asked about whether Britain will hand over former Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali to Egypt, he said that Egypt has submitted a request for Boutros-Ghali, but there is no extradition treaty between Egypt and Britain. Ghali's status is being examined by the Home Office, though, he said.
Asked about funds former President Hosni Mubarak holds in Britain and the possibility of returning them to Egypt, he said that Britain has received requests, but the lack of accurate account information has impeded progress in this regard.
Mubarak's trial is an internal Egyptian affair, he said, but as a member of the EU, Britain is against capital punishment because it is considered a violation of human rights. If Mubarak is sentenced to death, that may cause disagreement between the two countries, he said.
Watt also said that Britain intends to provide financial assistance to Egypt in the near future, through its membership in the EU, the G8 and other donor institutions.
Egypt needs investments rather than assistance in this stage, he said.
You can't buy good government by throwing money at it. You can buy plenty of the opposite that way.
Britain is the biggest foreign investor in Egypt, with US$30 billion investments over the past five years.