5th Mar 2021

Egypt: Over 100 dead, tourists evacuated, multiple EU statements

Anti-Mubarak protesters in Egypt have called for a general strike on Monday (31 January) and a "march of the millions" on Tuesday after weekend violence claimed over 100 lives.

Reports indicate that thousands of protesters are camped out in Tahrir square in Cairo and that police have been ordered to go back onto the streets as the demonstrations head into their seventh consecutive day.

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  • Egyptian woman throws stones at police. Over 100 people are said to have been killed, with a possible general strike on Monday (Photo: Leil-Zahra Mortada)

Former UN diplomat and Nobel laureate Mohammed El Baradei defied house arrest to speak to a crowd of 10,000 or so in Tahrir on Sunday evening. Protesters, including families with children, chanted "Leave, leave, leave" and held up pictures of President Honsi Mubarak with his face crossed out, as military jets streaked overhead in a show of force and tanks stood parked nearby.

Protest rallies also took place in Alexandria, Mansoura, Damanhour and Suez. Cairo has been hit by looting and burning, with gangs of armed men roaming the streets. Looting was also reported in tourist resorts in the Sinai peninsula, with some hotels erecting barricades.

Tourists trying to make their own way out through Cairo airport have been blocked by widespread flight cancellations, with reports of "chaotic" scenes in the travel hub.

Most EU governments have urged people not to travel to Egypt. But so far only Bulgaria and Greece have begun to evacuate nationals in anticipation of worse to come. Azerbaijan, Canada, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US have also begun evacuations, with the US set to fly people to Athens, Istanbul and Nicosia.

"As yet the situation has not reached the stage where we would necessarily be considering chartering planes and getting larger numbers out," a British foreign ministry spokesman told the BBC on Sunday.

The roll call of EU tourists currently in Egypt includes some 30,000 UK citizens, 15,000 Swedes, 10,000 French people, 3,500 Finns, 3,000 Dutch citizens, and 200 Bulgarians. Tourism accounts for some six percent of Egyptian GDP and one in eight jobs in the country.

In terms of international diplomacy, the leaders of France, Germany and the UK - the EU's three biggest foreign policy players - issued a joint statement on Saturday urging both protesters and Mr Mubarak to refrain from violence. "We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections," the leaders said.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told press in Berlin: "The German government stands by those who are calling for democracy and civil and human rights ... Nothing can return to the order of the day; nothing will be as it once was."

The EU institutions in Brussels issued three separate statements.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek put an accent on freedom of assembly and communication. "Internet services and phone lines need to be accessible to all," he said. EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy underlined the need to free political detainees and said he is "deeply troubled." EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton mostly urged "calm and restraint," adding that EU foreign ministers will discuss the situation at a scheduled meeting on Monday.

US President Barack Obama took broadly the same line as France, Germany and the UK. "There must be reform - political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people ... ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people," he said.

China and Israel have so far stood out in siding with Mr Mubarak.

"We hope Egypt will return to social stability and normal order as soon as possible," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Sunday. The authoritarian country's censorship machine has blocked news and online discussion of events in north Africa.

Israeli leaders have kept silent. But a senior Israeli official told the country's Haaretz daily that the West is making a mistake. "The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," the official said. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications."

The Egyptian protests come in the wake of a popular revolution in Tunisia and similar protests in Algeria, Jordan and Yemen, with Syria also showing concern the movement could spread.

The new Tunisian foreign minister, Ahmed Abderraouf Ounais, is to meet with the EU's Ms Ashton in Brussels on Tuesday. The Yemeni foreign minister is also in Brussels on Wednesday.


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