EU reconsiders arms sales, financial aid to Egypt
19.08.13 @ 11:17
BRUSSELS - As EU diplomats meet on how to stop bloodshed in Egypt, figures show that France, Germany and Spain led arms sales to the post-revolutionary country in recent years.
EU member states' ambassadors will in Brussels on Monday (19 August) discuss potential sanctions against the Egyptian military regime after it killed at least 830 people in a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters in the past few days.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy in a statement on Sunday indicated the Union might block up to €5 billion in aid.
"The EU will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt," the communique said.
"This is my demand: The €5 billion have to be held back," Austrian Chancellor Michael Spindelegger told Austrian daily Kurier the same day.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the ZDF TV channel that German arms exports to Egypt will be "subject to measures which clearly show our scepticism about what is happening."
She added that an EU-level arms embargo might be imposed after an emergency meeting of foreign ministers, expected later this week.
The US is the biggest provider of financial and military assistance to Egypt.
But according to official EU figures on arms export licences granted by member states in 2011 - the year in which Egyptians overthrew former dictator Hosni Mubarak - Europe annually sells some €300 million of weapons to Egypt.
In 2011, France led the way with €26.5 million of electronic components, €25 million of arms-production equipment, €23 million of military aircraft and €21 million of bombs, rockets and missiles.
Spain authorised the sale of €78.5 million of military aircraft.
Amid Merkel's warning, Germany gave permits for €57.3 million of military ground vehicles, €9 million of electronic equipment and €6 million of naval vessels.
Other notable exporters were Bulgaria (€12.7mn of mostly missiles, ammunition and military armour), Italy (€11mn of mostly ammunition), the Czech republic (€6.6mn of mostly ammunition) and Slovakia (€3mn of ground vehicles).
Belgium, Poland and the UK also sold around €2 million each of arms.
The Barroso-Van-Rompuy statement criticised Egypt's military chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for rejecting an EU-and-US-brokered peace deal with the Muslim brothers last week.
"We regret deeply that international efforts and proposals for building bridges and establishing an inclusive political process, to which the EU contributed actively, were set aside," it said.
It added that "the violence and the killings of these last days cannot be justified nor condoned."
Using unusually vivid language by EU standards, it also spoke of "calls for democracy and fundamental freedoms" being "washed away in blood."
France spoke more softly.
Its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told media on Sunday that Europe must react, but he added: "France cannot take decisions in place of the Egyptian people." He also noted that el-Sisi "is supported by a large part of the Egyptian population" despite his use of force.
El-Sisi himself in a TV speech at the weekend said he acted because the Muslim Brotherhood government, which he deposed in July, was "destroying" the country.
He added, on a conciliatory note, that: "There is room for everyone in Egypt."
But his interim foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, hit back at the EU and US.
He told Egyptian TV that the crackdown is an internal matter, that the Muslim brothers are "terrorists," and that Western countries' "silence" on the brothers' abuses "encourages armed groups to continue murdering and using violence and intimidation."
He indicated that Egypt is ready to turn away from Europe and the US to pursue closer ties with countries such as China or Saudi Arabia.
"We are not looking to replace one friend with another, but we will look out to the world and continue to establish relations with other countries so that we have options," he said.
His views were echoed by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which represents some 8 million Egyptians, and which has seen several of its buildings burned down by Muslim attackers.
It said in its statement that Western media are providing "misleading" coverage and giving "international [and] political cover for terrorist and bloodthirsty groups."
With further unrest expected in major cities, France and Germany have advised their nationals to avoid all travel to Egypt.
The UK says hotels on the Sinai peninsula's Red Sea coast are still safe to visit.
But on Monday, militants in the north of the peninsula shot dead 24 Egyptian policemen travelling in a convoy of two buses.