Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Punitive measures

Could a freeze on annual EU aid to Egypt force the pace of reform, asks Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The European Union’s recent threat to freeze the financial aid allocated to Egypt could mean further difficulties for the already ailing Egyptian economy, according to Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a founder of the leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party, putting further pressure on government attempts to reduce the country’s budget deficit and on President Mohamed Morsi.
According to Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the decision would add to other factors putting pressure on the government, including the deteriorating economic situation, the isolation of the regime, the failure of the president to pacify the people of Port Said, protests within the police and other issues.
Members of the European parliament (MEPs) passed a resolution last Friday instructing the EU to withhold aid from Egypt until the government carried out democratic reforms and showed respect for human rights and freedoms. Although European parliament resolutions do not commit the EU, they do have moral value.
The resolution read, “the EU should withhold budget support from Egypt unless it makes significant progress with human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” EU aid to Egypt is worth approximately five billion euros annually.
The MEPs also wanted to see the use of the death penalty suspended in Egypt, including suspension of the death sentences handed down to 21 defendants in the Port Said football stadium case last month.
The MEPs expressed their concern at the increasing polarisation and violence in Egypt, and they were alarmed by the rise in violence against women, in particular female protesters and women’s rights activists. Members of the parliament stressed that the perpetrators of such acts must be brought to justice.
The MEPs advised the Egyptian government to make use of time before the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which have recently been suspended, to “set up an inclusive political process based on consensus.”
Hassan said that the resolution passed by the MEPs had not been a surprising one, since the EU could not continue giving aid to a country that violated the freedom of the press and human rights on a daily basis.
“Besides the 60 who died in Port Said, people are being beaten and killed in the streets, no investigations are being held, and the judiciary is being attacked. How could the members of the European parliament defend such practices before their constituents,” Hassan asked.
He said that Egypt did not suffer from a lack of resources. The problem lay in the use it made of them, he said. “Resources coming from tourism, for instance, are worth far more than those coming from EU aid,” he added.
The present resolution came just a few days after EU high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton had delivered a speech in which she acknowledged that there were major challenges facing Egypt, among them economic problems, political divisions, and widespread violence, especially against women.
 Nevertheless, she underlined the importance of “working with all sides in order to build bridges and promote reconciliation, to respect and safeguard the fundamental human rights of all citizens, whether they are ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in the process.”
At the end of her speech, Ashton said that “this is a very difficult time for Egypt. As I have indicated, there are challenges that need to be faced. I believe the EU has an incredibly important role to play in that. We are determined to play it. To be a friend and partner, but also to be a critical friend in times that are extremely difficult for the people of Egypt.”
Ashton, Hassan said, had tried to strike a balance between saving Egypt from economic collapse and addressing violations of human rights and violence.
Some commentators had not expected the parliament to pass the resolution, especially after US Secretary of State John Kerry had promised Egypt $250 million in American aid at the end of his two-day visit to Egypt earlier this month.
“When Egypt takes the difficult steps to strengthen its economy and build political unity and justice, we will work with our Congress at home on additional support,” Kerry said.
Egypt has also been trying to seal a deal with the IMF over a proposed loan through tax increases on a number of goods, among them steel, cement, soft drinks, alcohol and cigarettes.
However, such tax increases are likely to raise the prices of many goods, something that could spark more anger on Egyptian streets.
This was not the first time that the MEPs had discussed EU aid to Egypt. They had already debated the issue last November, following President Morsi’s constitutional declaration giving him sweeping new powers.
The MEPs stressed then that they would consider attaching more conditions to EU aid, but cutting it altogether was not an option.
The fact that they have passed the present resolution now indicated that “there are many negative signals coming from the policies of the government, the ruling party and the president,” Shukr said.
Hassan said that one of the problems was that the Muslim Brotherhood was behaving like an underground organisation and not as a party of government, and therefore it was not possible to predict its behaviour.
“While the European decision underlines the necessity of a genuine review of Brotherhood policies, one can never tell whether it will do this. However, a review of its policies should have been carried a while ago,” he said.

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