Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

EU’s mixed signals on Egypt

Relations between the EU and Egypt have improved since the low ebb that followed the removal of the Islamic president, Mohamed Morsi, on 3 July 2013. But recent criticism of Egypt by the European Parliament shows that more work needs to be done, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt recently came up in discussions at the European Union and its institutions. On 12 January the European Parliament released what it calls a “motion for a resolution.” The resolution was very negative in its reference to political developments and realities in Egypt.

The resolution said that “violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights have acquired alarming proportions in Egypt” since the “military coup” of July 2013. It continued, “In the absence of a parliament, a number of repressive laws have been passed by the government of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ... 1,400 protesters have been killed as a result of excessive and arbitrary use of force by security forces since July 2013.”

It also referred to “the severe restrictions on NGOs and political associations operating in Egypt.” The resolution concluded by calling on Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all persons detained for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. The parliament made clear that it will “expect the Egyptian authorities to reverse the death sentences handed down without consideration for due process.”

The statement urges the European Council and the European Commission to conduct EU policies towards Egypt in the spirit of “more for more” and “less for less”, making any further assistance to the Egyptian government, including financial assistance, conditional on achieving specific benchmarks for improvements in human rights.

It was to be expected that the European Parliament resolution would provoke angry reactions in Egypt, both from official and civil society organisations. On the official level, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement expressing its surprise and rejection of the resolution, saying it contains a number of allegations, misconceptions and wrong conclusions that reflect a lack of realisation or awareness of the nature of Egyptian society and realities in the country.

On the civil society level, the resolution was met with anger, with some organisations considering the resolution “interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.” Some analysts regarded the resolution as responding to the pressure and exhortations of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many also expressed surprise that the resolution came after progress in relations with major countries, as evidenced by President Al-Sisi’s visits to France and Italy, as well as Egypt receiving a number of European countries’ officials and delegations.

On the other hand, it was encouraging that the EU Ambassador to Egypt, James Moran, disassociated the EU from the European Parliament statement, saying, “It doesn’t reflect the European Union’s views on Egypt.” Also encouraging was the statement by Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative to the EU Parliament in Brussels.

She underlined that Egypt is still in a process of political transition pending parliamentary elections planned to start at the end of March, and which will be a crucial step concluding the political roadmap. She said that two steps have been achieved: Egypt has passed a new constitution and elected a new president — steps monitored by the European Union.

As for the coming parliamentarian elections, Mogherini said that the European Union will dispatch an expert mission to closely assess and report on the electoral process, including the political environment and electoral campaigns. She said that the upcoming elections are an important step towards providing a broad base for political engagement.

This base will better ensure fundamental rights and freedoms and the acceptance of security and economic reform by the whole of society. Open political engagement and discussion, she said, will reduce the risk of radicalisation. Morgherini raised another challenge facing Egypt: “the deteriorating security situation spreading beyond the Sinai.” She affirmed that the EU stands with Egypt in fighting terrorism.

On Egypt’s role in its region, Morgherini welcomed Egypt’s re-emergence as an important regional player, particularly the role the country played last summer in reaching a ceasefire in Gaza, facilitating Israeli-Palestinian talks and, more recently, with the conference for reconstruction in Gaza that was held in Cairo in the autumn.

Morgherini said that while Egypt remains in political transition, and faces grave security threats, it needs to urgently tackle its economic situation. She said that steps taken by the authorities are headed in the right direction, with subsidy cuts and large-scale infrastructure projects such as the new lane in the Suez Canal.

Morgherini said that the EU will continue to support Egypt in addressing socioeconomic reform and will participate in the international investment conference planned for March. The EU will continue to focus its support on socioeconomic conditions, to help improve living conditions for the most vulnerable among Egypt’s population.

In commenting on the human rights situation, Morgherini offered no compromise, considering that Egypt needs to address its human rights record, including restrictions on political space and freedoms of assembly and expression.

EU officials recently said it is ready to table proposals for a five billion-euro package of financial aid to Egypt. The pack comes within the framework of the “task force” agreed between the EU and Egypt in November 2014 to enhance EU engagement with countries in transition.

On the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, the EU issued a brief statement focusing on the necessity of “dialogue.”

These mixed signals in the EU attitude towards Egypt indicate that Egypt needs to sustain its dialogue with the European Parliament, to inform its members of the situation in Egypt regarding the issues of human rights, freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary.

In this regard, it’s not only official institutions that can play a role but also civil society organisations, particularly when the new parliament is elected.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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