22nd Feb 2020

'Go now' EU countries tell Mubarak, as Egypt faces Tiananmen moment

  • Protesters praying next to a parked tank in Tahrir Square, Cairo on 30 January. Over 800 were hurt as violence erupted three days later (Photo: Iman Mosaad)

Germany, France and the UK have told Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to begin the transition to democracy "now," amid pitched battles between government forces and pro-democracy protesters in Cairo's main plaza.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said that the "orderly transition" that EU foreign ministers had called for two days before - in conclusions which deliberately left the schedule open - "needs to start now". His French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, issued a similar call, saying the process should start "without delay."

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In what appears to a co-ordinated line by the three EU capitals ahead of a summit in Brussels on Friday (4 February), German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle used similar language, saying: "People want democratic change and they want it now."

The US and Turkey have also taken on a new tone of urgency.

US President Barack Obama demanded immediate action: "An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now," he said. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "The [Egyptian] people expect a very different decision from Mubarak [than his pledge to go after elections in September]."

For her part, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton seemed to be behind the curve at a meeting in the EU parliament on Wednesday.

Ms Ashton repeated the non-committal formula from the EU ministerial on Monday, calling for an "orderly transition of power and a far-reaching transformation" amid heavy criticism from MEPs.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt compared the events sweeping north Africa and the Middle East to the events of 1989 in China and in Communist Europe.

"We haven't really taken measure of this historic moment in time and we have failed to analyse the situation properly," he said. "The EU should stand 100 percent behind the Egyptian people and its demands. Mubarak should leave his country to democracy."

The right also expressed its frustration with the EU's performance.

Cypriot Christian Democrat Ioannis Kasoulides said the EU is "playing second fiddle" to the US, whose statements over the last week ratcheting up pressure on Mr Mubarak have tended to come out before those of the EU by a few hours each time. Spanish conservative MEP Jose Salafranca said the EU "was caught wrong-footed" and has "not learned the lessons of cosying up to the enemies of democracy".

Media outlets on the ground in Egypt in the small hours of Thursday reported heavy gunfire against protesters camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Al Jazeera says that at least five people have been killed and 800 wounded.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mubarak loyalists charged into the square on horseback and camel, attacking protesters. Following a series of pitched battles, demonstrators formed barricades to defend themselves.

US secretary of state Hilary Clinton telephoned the country's vice-president, Omar Suleiman, to say the events are "shocking". "The secretary urged that the government of Egypt hold accountable those who were responsible for violent acts," a State Department statement said.

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