The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that conclusions reached by European Union foreign ministers about Egypt’s political situation reflect either a “lack of knowledge of what is happening on the ground” or “deliberate European disregard.”
EU Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on Monday to convene the Foreign Affairs Council, which discussed a variety of EU foreign policy issues, including the situation in Egypt. The conclusions of the council on Egypt contained 15 points, some of which praised aspects of Egypt’s development, including the referendum process, the 2014 constitution, the transitional roadmap and the upcoming elections. However, the ministers expressed a wide variety of concerns relating to escalating violence, human rights, media freedom, “selective justice”, and the economy.
“These conclusions show that the EU is adopting a more critical line on developments in Egypt,” said Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, “some European officials were hoping that more moderate groups within the governing coalition would gain more influence,” he said, adding that the results of Monday’s meeting “reflect a view in Europe that this is not happening and that the crackdown on dissent in Egypt is becoming more entrenched.”
Addressing the suggestion that the EU has a “lack of knowledge” regarding the situation on the ground, Dworkins said, “the EU is putting forward an assessment of what is happening in Egypt that is very different from the picture presented by Egyptian authorities. But this difference of view should not be confused with a lack of knowledge.” He stressed that the EU follows the situation in Egypt through its delegation based in Cairo and the various embassies of EU member states.
“The EU has been very cautious in its response to developments in Egypt over the last nine months, so the fact that it is now speaking out more critically reflects a careful analysis of the situation,” he said. Despite this “the EU was careful to emphasise those points on which it agrees with Egyptian authorities.”
Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Badr Abdelatty praised the positive points raised by the ministers, including their comments on the constitutional referendum and the constitution itself.
The ministers took “positive note” of the referendum, describing it as “an important step of the roadmap.” However, the ministers added, “the EU deplores the absence of a fully inclusive process, the lack of attempts to overcome the polarisation of society and the closing of political space for dissenting opinion before and during the referendum.” They also stressed the importance of applying the provisions set out in the constitution that was passed by the aforementioned referendum.
Abdelatty described the negative points raised by the EU foreign ministers “as a dangerous indication as it reflects a certain political orientation and not just adopting issues linked to human rights or democracy.”
On the issue of human rights the EU ministers said they are “concerned” over the deteriorating situation, “including the indiscriminate detention of political opposition and activists.”
“Freedoms of expression, assembly, and peaceful protest must be safeguarded,” they said, stressing the importance of civil society as a component of democracy.
The ministers condemned all forms of violence, including “the loss of life during the constitutional referendum, and on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, including from the disproportionate use of force and of live ammunition.” The ministers also noted that the “killing of protesters and security forces during violent events since 30 June 2013 have not been investigated,” and called on the government “to act on its promise and complete a transparent and independent investigation.”
The issue of media freedom in Egypt is one that some EU ministers were eager to discuss during the council. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans all expressed concerns on Egypt’s handing of the media ahead of Monday’s meeting.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy last week said Egypt is open to foreign journalists, as long as they work within Egyptian law.
The council called upon the Egyptian authorities to “ensure a safe working environment for all journalists and to end politicized arrests as well as intimidation of and incitement against domestic and foreign journalists.”
The ministers also outlined their concerns over “selective justice against the political opposition,” calling on the authorities to ensure international standards are implemented and to guarantee fair trials “based on clear charges and proper and independent investigations” and access to lawyers and family members.
Concerns over the state of Egypt’s economy were also raised. The ministers said the EU would continue to provide support to improve the “social and economic conditions of the people, especially the poor, and stands ready to assist Egypt in carrying out these reform measures.”
“The EU is committed to work with Egypt as a key partner in the region,” and to “maintain dialogue with all political forces that reject violence and support credible initiatives for dialogue and reconciliation,” the ministers said.
Dworkins believes that the EU can have a short-term influence in Egypt. “For instance, European criticism (and criticism from other countries) may have an influence on questions like the detention and prosecution of journalists,” he said. “In the longer term, the most important thing that the EU can do is to give a frank assessment of how it sees developments in Egypt and make clear what it considers will be necessary for true democracy, stability and economic development to take place.