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Libya, Egypt and the War on Terror

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On Sunday, Human Rights Watch announced the discovery of correspondence between the Gaddafi regime and British and American intelligence agencies. The papers suggest close cooperation within the context of the War on Terror. Not only did this involve sharing the details of Libyan dissidents, but it also included a programme of extraordinary rendition for suspected militants.

Whilst the documents have yet to be independently verified, the allegations are not without precent. Despite a variable diplomatic relationship throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the British and American relationship with neighbouring Egypt also took on an alarming dimension after 2001. The Egyptian military's annual $1.3 billion package of US military aid has been well documented. What has received less attention is the possible reasons for its existence beyond cooperation in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Since Egypt was a key destination for US extraordinary rendition programmes, the military are alleged to have overseen the torture of terrorism suspects in line with US wishes. Whilst there is little to suggest that the US issued direct instructions to this effect, a growing body of evidence backs claims that such a relationship existed in an informal, often implicit, capacity . According to Jane Mayer, 'the partnership between the American and Egyptian intelligence services was extraordinarily close: the Americans could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning,and get answers by the evening.' This could explain American hesitance to condemn publicly Mubarak's repeated renewal of the draconian Emergency Law. This legislation permitted the suspension of basic rights, prohibited demonstrations, censorship of newspapers, and the indefinite detention without charge.

Given the nature of the unspoken agreement between US and Egyptian officials, the Emergency Law provided the exact veil of unaccountability that American counterterrorism policy required. Since this state of affairs was mutually beneficial, the regime had little reason to consider bringing it to an end. Indeed, one could argue that the Law was kept in part because of the direct assistance it gave to the US.

Egypt's relationship with MI6 and the CIA was of course been defined by different concerns to those applicable in Libya. However, it would be highly surprising if British and American concerns related to the War on Terror led them to pursue a very different course of action with regards to cooperation on intelligence matters