Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt-EU ties on the rocks

As a European delegation prepares to visit Cairo next month, the EU ambassador to Egypt criticises the cabinet for lack of a clear vision, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

A European parliament delegation will visit Cairo in September to discuss the ongoing tension in Egypt-EU relations following the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni and recent EU resolutions on human rights in Egypt.

Over the past few weeks EU Ambassador to Egypt James Moran held several meetings with leaders from Egyptian political parties to discuss internal political affairs. The meetings also included public figures and journalists. All the meetings were off the record and attended by the commission’s political consular Gabriel Munuera Vinals. 

Informed sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Moran expressed concern over “security practices and human rights violations”. He also discussed the current situation of civil society organisations and the investigation over foreign funding of local NGOs.

Additionally, he urged the officials he met to press the Egyptian government to cancel the restrictions imposed on imports to Egypt, saying that such measures “have created an unnecessary barrier to trade”.

Moran said that the new conditions imposed by the Egyptian government requiring the registration of factories that export to Egypt added uncertainty to foreign investors and would make it harder for Egyptian companies to sell to the European market. He also gave a similar statement about the new measures on imports to Bloomberg on 21 July.

Moran also criticised Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s government, saying it has no “clear vision” on how to solve the current economic downturn. He also described the Central Bank’s recent policies as “temporary solutions,” and said it “will not solve the currency foreign reserve problem”.

On the ongoing tension between EU and Egypt in the wake of the murder of Regeni, Moran told the meeting that the “Egyptian government has made mistakes that gave the Italians an impression that the officials in Cairo are covering up something, and that led to a state of mistrust between the two sides”.

Regeni was an Italian Cambridge University graduate who was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt. His mutilated body was found in a ditch alongside the Cairo-Alexandria highway on the outskirts of Cairo in February this year. The murder remains unresolved.

In March, the EU issued a resolution prompted by the murder of Regeni, claiming that his death was “not an isolated incident” but part of a “pattern of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances” in Egypt.

The resolution passed with 588 European MPs voting in its support and 10 against. It also expressed concerns over the “arbitrary detention of government critics” in Egypt, calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all persons detained and sentenced solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in the country.

Moran added that providing Regeni’s phone records is a demand that the Italian government would not give up “under any circumstances”.

Moran’s comments were a strong indicator that tension between Egypt and the EU is growing despite the Egyptian government’s efforts to ease the stress.

“It is clear that EU bodies including the commission and the EU parliament do not have a way to ease the tension with Egypt at a time when the big EU members are taking a totally different direction,” said a senior Egyptian official.

He added that French President François Hollande’s visit, along with that of German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who was accompanied by a large delegation in Egypt in April, sent a strong message to the EU parliament that the union’s largest states — France and Germany — will not condone any disturbance in relations with Cairo or other strong allies in the Middle East over human rights concerns or other internal issues.

He pointed out that Egypt expected the EU to help the current government tackle its economic problems, not just criticise the Central Bank’s policies or judge Ismail’s government.

“Such comments and such meetings will not help make any progress in our relations with the EU. This time is critical for both of us. I think they should review their policies with Egypt and take a different track,” the official said.

However, a resolution from Brussels on human rights in Egypt said the EU “deplores the continued security cooperation and arms deals by EU member states, notably France, Germany and the United Kingdom, with Egypt”.

This was not the EU’s first such resolution on Egypt. In January 2015, the EU issued a similar resolution condemning what it called “the Egyptian government’s abuse of power”. It also referred to “severe restrictions on NGOs and political associations operating in Egypt”.

The resolution urged 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 assistance to the Egyptian government, including financial assistance, conditional on achieving specific benchmarks for improving human rights.

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