Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Human rights in Egypt and European relations

Tensions have arisen in Egypt-EU relations over human rights. While Cairo must address EU concerns, it must defeat terrorism first, writes
Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the 30 June 2013 Revolution, when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, relations between Egypt and the EU and its members witnessed times of tension. Catherine Ashton, the then EU foreign policy chief, visited Cairo in a bid to mediate between the new regime and the former president, who was arrested and put on trial. When the US administration suspended the shipment of sophisticated arms to Egypt, EU countries did the same by suspending military equipment needed for internal security.

The new regime withstood this estrangement, starting a process of building its legitimacy and popularity. Realising this reality, the EU — on the institutional and bilateral level — started to reconsider its relations with the new regime. This was supported by the rise of terrorism in Sinai and the wider region.

The European about-face went further, to the extent that major European countries such as Italy, France and Germany expressed willingness to build and develop cooperation in critical fields such as arms, energy and investments. From France, Egypt received  Rafale military aircraft and  Mistral assault ships. From Germany, Dolphin-class submarines. During the same period, the Italian petroleum company Eni discovered large oil deposits in the Mediterranean.

On the EU level, as a visiting EU official recently revealed, cooperation was enhanced with Egypt in vital areas related to development, including water, transportation, Metro networks, renewable energy, education, training and small- and medium-sized projects.

Such cooperation came despite statements by the European Parliament criticising Egypt’s record on human rights and freedoms, which was embarrassing for the Egyptian regime, as the European Parliament comprises a wide range of European political forces.

A visiting EU delegation in Cairo, when asked whether the European Parliament reflects the EU’s position, said the EU could not ignore the EU Parliament as it represents all European political parties. The delegation added that in its view stability in Egypt would be maintained through the implementation of a constitution written and approved by Egyptians.

The tragic death of the Italian scholar Giulio Regeni in Cairo created dark clouds in Egypt’s relation with one of the more friendly European countries. The Italian’s apparent torture interfered with very promising economic cooperation between the two countries. In the process, Italian — and even European — public opinion was mobilised against Egypt and its record on human rights.

The Italian reaction went to the extent of withdrawing its ambassador in Cairo following the visit of an Egyptian judicial and security delegation to share full and detailed reports on Egyptian investigations into the incident.

Tensions in Egyptian and European relations will continue until Egypt settles a formula combining both the rule of law and respect for human rights and freedoms. Nonetheless, reaching this formula will have to wait until the regime is sure that terrorist organisations and activities in Sinai are defeated, and the violence that the Muslim Brotherhood and its followers are still carrying out inside Egypt has stopped. This will be a long and hard process.

The writer was executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2015.

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