Saturday

28th Nov 2020

EU builds situation room for Arab League in Cairo

  • Arab League meeting room in Cairo. 'In Egypt, the crisis is happening in Tahrir Square. You can watch it from the window' (Photo: Bahrain ministry of foreign affairs)

Catherine Ashton's foreign service has built a situation room for the Arab League in Cairo to help handle future crises.

Agostino Miozzo, Ashton's top official on civilian crisis response, told EUobserver on Monday (25 June) the "red telephone" project is creating new "trust."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"The flow of secure, reliable information in real time is essential for a civilian protector ... This will create trust with important partners in a conflict-prone part of the world," he said.

"If there is a terrorist attack, for instance, we need to know who to talk to. We have had huge difficulties in the past to find out exactly what is happening with European citizens on the ground ... We need reliable people on the other side of the line."

EU officials began installing €1.9-million-worth of computers, TV screens and satellite communications last November in a room one floor above Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby's office in the Egyptian capital.

The material includes Tarika - open source intelligence monitoring and scenario-planning software developed for the European Commission before Ashton's European External Action Service (EEAS) came along.

The Arab League room was switched on in spring and is currently manned 16 or 18 hours out of 24. It will be inaugurated by Ashton and Elaraby once the dust settles after Egyptian elections.

The EU expects the league in future to buy satellite imagery on the open market.

It also expects Arab countries' foreign ministries and EU countries' foreign ministries to link up to the new facility to create a "pan-Arab" information centre.

The man in charge of the situation room, a senior Egyptian diplomat, and eight of his staff, are in Brussels for three days this week to see how the EEAS crisis centre works and to get to know EU diplomats.

Miozzo said the Arab staff are mostly young university graduates with IT experience who speak Arabic, English and French. Some of them are former journalists.

Another EU official noted: "In Egypt, the crisis is happening in Tahrir Square. You can watch it from the window [of the Arab League building]. Some of the people operating the computers have scars on their hands from when they took part in protests."

Miozzo added: "With this instrument, they [Ashton and Elaraby] will be able to talk immediately, to have a video conference with each other ... They may need to have a video conference linking other people, linking [the UN envoy on Syria] Kofi Annan for example, linking some [EU] member states, or the US, or Russia. At any given moment we might need to link to anybody, to Israel for example. Why not?"

He said it took long negotiations to overcome the Arab League's initial "scepticism" about Western "intrusion."

But the project has attracted interest from other parties.

The EEAS is developing a similar system for the African Union headquarters in Addis Abbaba. It is also in talks to build a crisis room tailored to natural disasters for the league of Asian countries, Asean, in Jakarta.

"In the medium to long term, we might also do something with Central and Latin American countries," Miozzo said.

Recalling his time as head of Italy's civilian protection centre during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, he noted: "There was a black hole for days on end. Nobody knew anything about how many casualties there were, how many Italians were affected, and [EU] embassies were in a total panic. I was there one day after [the tsunami struck] in Sri Lanka and it was a disaster."

Opinion

Mr Morsi goes to Brussels

The visit to Brussels by Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi is an opportunity for Europe to create better ties given its checkered past with the former regime and lacklustre engagement since its fall, writes Nick Witney.

EU red-flags Israel's Givat Hamatos settlement

New Israeli settlements around Jerusalem could do more harm to Middle East peace than Israel's recent deals with Arab states did good, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell has indicated.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

Opinion

The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE

An internal power struggle has undermined the world's leading international security body since the summer. The OSCE is due to finally get new leaders in December but the unprecedented power vacuum has hit at a crunch time for hotspots worldwide.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us