Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU stops some arms sales to Egypt

EU countries have punished the Egyptian army for massacring Muslim Brotherhood protesters by stopping sales of items "which might be used for internal repression."

They said other arms exports, and joint security projects, can go ahead, with each member state free to "review" and "reassess" which ones it wants to pursue.

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EU countries also plan to "review" financial aid to Egypt.

They noted that payments for schemes designed to help NGOs and "vulnerable groups," such as women in rural areas, will go ahead, however.

The decisions came at an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday (21 August) in reaction to the Egyptian military's crackdown last week.

The violence saw soldiers kill at least 800 protesters, some of whom were burned alive in tents or shot by snipers. On the other side, Muslim brothers killed some 40 members of the security forces and destroyed Coptic churches and public buildings.

Wednesday's EU statement called for a "democratic" and "inclusive" solution to the crisis.

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said twice she is personally willing to go to Cairo if it would help.

"We want to continue to be able to have a strong relationship with Egypt … and if we could be of any assistance, we would do so, I would do so," she said.

With anti-Muslim-Brotherhood groups in Egypt increasingly hostile to the EU due to its criticism of the army, Wednesday's statement made a number of pro-military concessions.

Bloomberg reports that one draft version referred to the "alarming number of people killed" and called on soldiers to "desist from the use of lethal force." But both phrases were cut.

The final version also referred to "acts of terrorism such as the murder of policemen in the Sinai, destruction of many churches and the targeting of the Coptic community" - lumping together the murder of Egyptian police by unknown militants in the Sinai peninsula with violence by urban pro-brotherhood supporters.

British foreign minister William Hague voiced the EU's dilemma, saying it had to show the army there are "consequences" for its actions, but "not to take sides," if it is to have a peace building role.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans noted "it would not be wise" to deliver arms to Egypt while the crisis unfolds.

But he predicted security co-operation will resume "in the long run" because Egypt is too important to Europe to let it slide into instability.

He said another negative scenario would be a return to the 1990s, in which the Muslin Brotherhood felt "very comfortable" as an underground opposition force and the security establishment felt equally comfortable keeping down dissent.

"All those young Egyptian people with aspirations, who just want to prosper and to be free, all their aspirations would be lost," he said.

The UK's Hague and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday also urged Syria to give access to UN weapons inspectors to verify reports it killed over 1,300 civilians using chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus.

Hague said: "There is no excuse for Syria to refuse access to the UN team."

Fabius gave credibility to the Syrian opposition account of the attack, saying: "We cannot accept a massacre using these kinds of weapons … The last time gas of this type was used was in the Iraq conflict by [late Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein."

For its part, Russia took Syria's side in rejecting the rebels' claims.

"We are faced with a new provocation, which was planned well in advance," its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told press.

EU diplomat: Both sides guilty in Egypt

The EU's envoy to north Africa has said events in Egypt are "more complex" than a simple story of the army killing Muslim protesters.

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