22nd Oct 2020

EU and US warn against early Egypt elections

EU and US leaders have warned of the "chaos" that could result if President Hosni Mubarak steps down immediately, with a top US diplomat describing the role of the hardman as "utterly critical" and praising his "legacy."

"Early elections at the beginning of the democratisation process is probably the wrong approach," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told some 400 senior government officials and security experts at a high-level conference in Munich over the weekend.

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  • Obama (r) listening to Mubarak in the Oval Office in September 2010 (Photo: White House)

"We did not want to wait for German reunification," she said, comparing the events in north Africa to the Cold War rupture in 1989 in Europe. "We did not have enough time to prepare, to set out a program, to inform the public ... You don't stand a chance if you do not set up new structures."

"There will be a change in Egypt, but it needs to be change in such a way that it is peaceful and orderly."

Speaking on a panel with EU Council President Herman van Rompuy, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton encouraged support for the new negotiations between the government and the opposition and for the first time explicitly backed September - a date previously named by Mr Mubarak himself - as the best moment for any changeover.

"There are forces which are trying to derail this process. It is important to support the Egyptian transition process and ensure that it is transparent and inclusive. The outcome must be an orderly conduct of elections in September," she said.

Her government's envoy to Egypt, diplomat Frank Wisner, went much further, saying that Mr Mubarak must be free to "write his legacy."

"President Mubarak remains utterly critical in the days ahead as we sort our way toward the future," he told the Munich meeting. "The president must stay in office to steer those changes through. I therefore believe that President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical; it's his opportunity to write his own legacy. He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country."

For his part, the EU's Mr Van Rompuy criticised policies that emphasise stability over democracy.

"We stand behind the Egyptian people," he said. "Events in Tunisia and Egypt show that stability can result in immobility ... Therefore stability alone cannot be the ultimate answer."

Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, who has been critical of the EU's stance over north Africa over the last fortnight, repeated his opinion in an interview with the Reuters news agency. "The story of the West in the Middle East is nearly all the story of failures" he said.

The freshly-apointed Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman on Saturday opened talks with opposition forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, secular parties and a representative of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. According to a statement from Mr Suleiman, the administration has offered to make constitutional amendments, to liberalise media, fight corruption and lift the state of emergency.

Support for Mr Suleiman, the head of Egypt's Mukhabarat, or intelligence service, for the past 18 years, as co-ordinator of any transition appears to be coalescing amongst EU and US policymakers. Protesters however say that the vice-president, who stands accused by human rights groups of overseeing the widespread use of torture - frequently in the service of Western governments during the war on terror, should be overthrown as well.

Meanwhile, German legislators said on Sunday that Mr Mubarak would be welcome in their country for an extended health check, according to domestic media.

'We need a peaceful transition in Egypt. If Germany can make a constructive contribution in the international framework, we should receive Hosny Mubarak - if he wants that,' said Andreas Schockenhoff, a senior Christian Democrat MP, reported Bild am Sontag, a statement echoed by the party's liberal Free Democrat coalition partners.

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