CAIRO: The foreign ministry cancelled its Wednesday meeting with the EU due to what it deemed the negative environment resulting from European Parliament (EP) resolution criticizing Egypt’s human rights record.
Meanwhile, more than 30 Egyptian NGOs signed a joint statement urging the European Union’s sub-committee for human rights to take action against the alleged government clampdown on Egyptian civil society.
A meeting of the EU-Egypt subcommittee on political affairs was scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday in Cairo, but Egypt cancelled the meeting – without stating when or whether it would be reconvened – following recent tussles over the European Parliament’s draft resolution criticizing Egypt’s human rights conditions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki released a statement saying that the cancellation was “in light of the negative reaction concerning the strained atmosphere resulting from the European parliament’s recent resolution.
“The Egyptian side informed the European Commission that it was unsuitable to convene the political consultations subcommittee in the current phase.
The proposal that has caused a political ruckus over the past days was passed by the EP on Thursday, calling on Egyptian authorities “to end all forms of harassment, including judicial measures, detention of media professionals and, more generally, human rights defenders and activists.
The resolution also called for the release of political dissident Ayman Nour and for the revision of the law on the use of military courts – a practice which the Egyptian authorities have allegedly used to prosecute political opponents.
The letter, signed by 30 Egyptian NGOs – including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) and the Egypti an Association Against Torture – echos the EP’s statement, saying that “Egyptian civil society has been the subject of governmental vexations since the beginning of 2007.
“There is a blatant contradiction between the Egyptian government’s commitments to human rights as per the plan of action agreed upon between Egypt and the European party in March 2007, mainly the commitment to ensure the independence of the civil society, and what practically happens today, stated the undersigned.
As a further illustration of their claim, the NGOs recite the closings of the Center of Workers and Syndicate Services in April 2007 and the Association of Legal Support for Human Rights in September with what they call “no legal grounds or justification.
Moreover, the undersigned express worries over reports that the authorities are seeking to undermine the activities of NGOs by proposed amendments.
The EP resolution also criticized Egypt for not doing enough to secure the border with Gaza.
In the Foreign Ministry’s statement, Zaki said the meeting was cancelled because “it was important for the committee’s meeting to realize its current objective, namely, the profound and calm exchange of viewpoints on all issues.
However, the spokesman stressed “Egypt’s keenness to maintain good and firm relations with European countries and the European Union within the framework of mutual respect and understanding.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit hit back, attacking Europe’s record by saying that “if there are parliamentary blocs in the European parliament that consider themselves global sponsors for human rights, then they would better concentrate on pursuing their countries’ governments to guard the rights of communities and ethnic and religious minorities to suit what they declaim in their relations with the outside world.
Despite the current political tension, the latest incidents are not expected to irredeemably affect Egyptian-European relations, namely due to the huge trade volume between the two sides.
The EU is Egypt’s biggest trade partner with 43 percent of the country’s imports and 31 percent of its exports traded with the European bloc.