Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘An indispensable actor’ in the region

On a recent visit to Egypt, Elmar Brok, chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasised EU support for Egypt in an interview with Nesmahar Sayed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“We are aware of the security threat Egypt faces, particularly from Daesh [Islamic State] affiliated groups in Sinai. During our meetings, we expressed to the Egyptian authorities our commitment to tackle together the common challenge of terrorism,” said Elmar Brok, a European Parliament MP and chair of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, during a recent visit by a delegation to Egypt.

“We believe that terrorism needs to be fought within respect for the rule of law. Otherwise we might be creating breeding conditions for further radicalisation,”

The delegation included Brok, Lars Adaktusson (Sweden), Neena Gill (UK), Javier Lopez (Spain), Ryszard Czarnecki (Poland), Takis Hadjigeorgiou (Cyprus) and Barbara Lochbihler (Germany).

The EU representatives spent a day and a half in meetings with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal, the deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, and civil society representatives, academics, intellectuals and businessmen from a broad range of horizons.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Brok answered questions on a range of issues relating to EU relations with Egypt.

 

Although Europe does not allow religious influences on political life, there was European support for the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. Why was this?

The EU is ready to support democracy in the region as we firmly believe that it is a real vehicle towards progress and prosperity. We welcome the current transitional phase in Egypt and call for the implementation of the constitution and the revision of earlier legislation. The policies of the Muslim Brotherhood do not therefore have our support.

 

What is your opinion of what is happening in Egypt in the political, economic, cultural, and military areas, as well as of the so-called transitional phase and road map?

While recognising the social, economic and security challenges Egypt is facing, during our meetings in Cairo the European Parliament delegation underlined the importance for Egypt to continue with the necessary economic, social and democratic reforms to respond to the aspirations of Egyptian citizens.

We believe that the rule of law and economic development are essential for stability and prosperity, as they create a positive climate for investment and business which could offer opportunities to the large young Egyptian population. In our view, the road map will be concluded once the constitution, and its robust human rights provisions, is implemented and legislation that is not in line with it is reviewed.

 

How do you see the parliamentary elections in 2015?

Legislative powers play a major role in shaping public policies. During the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on 10 December 2015, a public debriefing on the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections took place. Several observations made by experts raised concerns about the parliamentary elections, particularly regarding inclusion and transparency.

The existence of the parliament is crucial, despite these problems, as a step towards stronger democratic rule. The new parliament must become a leading institution in the time of transition in order to strengthen the rule of law and the reconciliation of society.

 

What were the main issues discussed with Egyptian officials? What were the impacts of the meetings?

We met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Investment Minister Salman, Deputy Defence Minister Al-Keshky, Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and the leadership in parliament, the deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, civil society, academics, intellectuals and businessmen coming from a broad range of horizons. Our meetings focussed on the political and economic situation in the country, EU-Egypt relations, as well as the political and security situation in the wider MENA region.

As regards the main operational conclusions of our meetings, I invited the leadership in the Egyptian parliament to jointly study the possibility of developing a capacity-building programme for the new parliament. More than 80 per cent of the members of the parliament are new, including many who ran for public office for the first time.

Moreover, the newly established parliament will have the important task of implementing the constitution and reviewing legislation that is not in line with it. It is for these reasons that we believe that the parliament could benefit from the technical assistance and expertise of the members and staff of the European Parliament.

I also encouraged our Egyptian counterparts to increase our cooperation within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. I believe that both the bilateral and multilateral cooperation tracks can be mutually beneficial in order to tackle common challenges.

 

How is the European Parliament dealing with the situations in Libya and Syria?

The parliament is following closely the situations in Libya and Syria. The region is in turmoil. Whereas the EU has been trying to support the development of a “ring of friends” in its neighbourhood, recent developments have turned the region into a “ring of fire”.

Egypt remains a key player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and an indispensable actor for finding a solution to current challenges, such as migration and regional conflicts, be they in Libya, Syria or the Middle East Peace Process. During our visit members of the European Parliament insisted on the importance of Egypt’s continued commitment to fostering peace, security and prosperity in the Mediterranean and the MENA region.

 

Why has there been no clear reaction to Israeli actions in the Middle East?

This perception is wrong. The European Parliament is deeply concerned about the persisting stalemate in the Middle East Peace Process and has publicly criticised unilateral measures that threaten the viability of a two-state solution. We support a viable Palestinian state and a secure state of Israel.

The parliament has repeatedly condemned the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, which violates international law, and called on the Israeli authorities to reverse this policy. The Palestinian Authority’s health and education system, as well as teachers and medical personnel, is financed by the EU.

 

How do you intend to resolve the refugee crisis in Europe in a way that does not affect humanitarian considerations?

The refugee crisis is an important challenge Europe is facing today, but it is also one for the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. On 4 February, the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region resulted in overall pledges of over $10 billion for 2016-2020 and $5.6 billion for 2016 to help solve the crisis.

The EU is the leading donor in the international response to the Syrian conflict with an overall pledge amounting to more than 3 billion euros. The EU Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has reached a total of 645 million euros. Further cooperation with third countries is necessary to overcome the refugee crisis, however.

Therefore, the conference also addressed the situation in Syria’s neighbouring countries, in particular Jordan and Lebanon. In order to tackle the refugee crisis there is a need to implement broader measures, including support for socio-economic aspects in the hosting countries as well as education and job opportunities for Syrian refugees.

 

Regarding hate speech in some European countries towards Islam, how do you intend to deal with this within a framework of freedom of expression?

The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another begins. This axiom is also applicable to the freedom of expression. I will not go into the legal framework applicable to hate speech and freedom of expression, but I would like to underline that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of citizens’ personal rights, which are guaranteed on the national, European and international levels. These rights, however, should not infringe on the fundamental freedoms of others, and they should respect cultural, religious and other differences.

 

This was the first time you have met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Could you something about your impressions of him as an interlocutor?

The discussions were very successful and were held in a positive climate. We had a good exchange on the political and economic situation in the country, as well as on EU-Egypt relations and the political and security situation in the wider MENA region and the fight against human traffickers. Egypt is a cornerstone of security in a dangerous environment.

 

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