Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Dodging question of Mubarak resignation, EU calls for transitional government

  • The EU is stressing the importance of peaceful dialogue (Photo: Sarah Carr)

The European Union has called for the Egyptian authorities to begin an "orderly transition" in the wake of the upheaval seen on the streets of the north African nation over the past week, but has stressed that it is not up to the EU to call on leader Hosni Mubarak to step down

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for their monthly meeting on Monday agreed to urge "the Egyptian authorities to embark on an orderly transition through a broad-based government leading to a genuine process of substantial democratic reform ... paving the way for free and fair elections."

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Just how broad-based however remains up in the air.

Using wording that some could interpret as suggesting the exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's large Islamist opposition group - from such an administration, the bloc said it wants the regime to begin a "serious and open dialogue with all political forces," but only those "ready to abide by democratic norms."

However, according to one EU source, there was considerable debate amongst ministers on the question of "whether the EU should be emphasising backing individual people or backing institutions." Notably, some states are more receptive to Mohamed ElBaradei than others, while some have very acute concerns about the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, having just flown back from Tel Aviv, pressed his concerns about the potential hijacking of the uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the position that won the day was to support a process of reform with a majority of EU states opposed to picking favourites at this point. The EU says it is not making moves behind the scenes to give encouragement to any one group or individual.

"It is not for us to get involved in internal discussions," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters when asked whether Mr Mubarak should step down. Notably, in the same press conference discussing other foreign affairs issues, she called on Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president who refused to concede defeat in last November's election, to step down.

Questioned whether opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei was a credible interlocutor, she said: "ElBaradei has joined demos. He appear to be leading with the opposition parties. The important thing is to engage in dialogue."

"Let Egyptians decide who they will vote for and afterward the EU has a choice whether to engage with them."

"We cannot export revolution," said Luxemburgish foreign minister Jean Asselborn. "I'm certain the EU today will signal to people of good will in Egypt and Tunisia that we're ready to help organise elections, but not to interfere."

The Danish foreign minister reportedly compared the situation to that of the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories, saying that the EU had waited to see how elections would go and when voters picked Hamas, the EU subsequently decided isolate them.

The final consensus was that the EU should wait to see what Egyptians do with their democracy before deciding how to respond.

Also dividing the states was the question of what direction the uprising will take.

Italian foreign minister and former EU commissioner Franco Frattini for his part raised concerns that Iran had cheered on the revolt. The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has described the events as part of a regional "Islamic awakening".

"Vigilant regional nations inspired by religious teachings and Islamic awakening are seeking to free themselves of the domination of hegemonic powers and gain real independence," he said on Sunday, according to an Iranian foreign ministry statement.

Other EU states were more sanguine, with some officials noting the lack of involvement of the Brotherhood up to now.

Said one member-state official concerning intelligence on the balance of forces: "What we're picking up on the ground is that it is not going to be as swift as Tunisia."

The ministers also called on both the government and demonstrators to "show restraint and avoid further violence" and demanded "an immediate end to looting."

The emphasis throughout has been on the maintenance of stability.

"The [Foreign Affairs] Council reiterates its support for a democratic, pluralist and stable Egypt as a key partner of the EU, mindful of its important regional role and sharing the goal of building stability, peace and prosperity in the ... region."

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