Monday

20th Jan 2020

Ashton calls for dialogue between Mubarak and opposition

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to enter into a dialogue with the opposition.

Ahead of a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels where the uprising in Egypt has suddenly topped their agenda, Ms Ashton issued an appeal that recognised the legitimacy of protesters' complaints but at the same time was carefully worded so as not to suggest the bloc is about to abandon the its longtime ally.

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  • The EU and US want dialogue and elections in September; the protesters want Mubarak gone now (Photo: Leil-Zahra Mortada)

"The legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people should be responded to. Their aspirations for a just, better future should be met with urgent, concrete and decisive answers, and with real steps," she told reporters.

"There needs to be a peaceful way forward based on an open and serious dialogue with the opposition parties and all parts of civil society, and we believe it needs to happen now."

She added that the authorities in the country should "release all peaceful protesters."

"We have worked closely with Egypt," she continued. "We will be there to help build democracy and the rule of law."

The EU high representative's words, prepared in advance, echoed those of US secretary of state Hilary Clinton's latest statement on the situation on Sunday, where she too called for the "immediate" initiation of a "national dialogue".

Speaking to American Sunday political talk shows, she also maintained her support for the country's army, describing the military as "a respected institution in Egyptian society, and we know they have a delicate line to walk."

Ms Clinton offered a timeline to Mr Mubarak, reminding that national elections are already scheduled for September.

"We have a calendar that already has elections for the next president scheduled," she said. "There is an action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar."

Events are moving faster than politicians can react to them however. On Monday, President Mubarak announced he had appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq as a mediator with the opposition, according to the Quatar News Agency.

Activists however, impatient for Mr Mubarak to follow in the footsteps of Tunisia's ex-dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and flee the country, continue to describe the US and EU positions as fence-sitting.

Nobel laureate and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei on the same day told US television network ABC that Mr Mubarak should resign now and that the calls for dialogue and reforms had gone down "like a lead" balloon.

More pointedly, Syrian democracy campaigner Ammar Abdulhamid, the head of the US-based Tharma Foundation, on Monday afternoon tweeted his anger at the Western stance: "World leaders stop calling for reform. Neither Mubarak nor protesters [are] listening: he wants to stay, they want him out. Now choose sides."

In Brussels, Portuguese foreign minister explained the difficulties the EU and the US find themselves saddled with, saying they were starting to come up with a new strategy for the region.

"It's a complex, serious, problem. The kind of developments we're seeing in just a couple of weeks should be reflected by the EU with a more comprehensive, strategic approach."

"We are at the beginning of a very important reflection on the new situation in the Middle East and the future of relations between Europe and the Arab world."

"The geo-political, geo-strategic implications are so serious, so deep."

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