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5th Mar 2024

Ashton endorses army as 'guardians' of Egypt's transition

  • The EU has high expectations of the army, the 'guardians' of the transition process (Photo: Iman Mosaad)

The European Union appears to have endorsed the role of the army as "guardians" of the "transition process", while paying "tribute" to protesters for their "calmness". The priority now, Brussels believes, is on regional stability.

"We respect the decision Mubarak has taken to stand down. We have witnessed scenes of people entering [Tahrir] Square by their hundreds and thousands," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a hastily arranged press conference on Friday evening (11 February).

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"I pay enormous tribute to the calm way people have conducted themselves," she said.

"To those charged with guardianship of the transition process, we have high expectations that they will deliver to the people," she added, addressing the army.

She appeared to back the role of the Supreme Council of the armed forces in shepherding developments. "The army has always had a very particular relationship with the people. They have been given the opportunity to take the country forward."

"People really feel a process is underway."

She said the EU could help with organising elections: "The EU has a lot of knowledge and experience in building democracy. I hope to personally go."

An al Arabiya reporter asked her to compare "this moment of freedom" to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but she demurred.

"I never like to make too much of a comparison. The situation is different. It is fantastic to see all the young people to come out and to say way they want in a calm and orderly way. We want them to have a future."

She refused to be drawn on when Europe hopes to see fresh elections, Ashton said: "It is for the people to decide. Democracy is a process not a moment."

Throughout the upheaval in the country, the EU has tailed Washington's endorsement of a "orderly transition" and looked not to immediate elections, but those already scheduled for September.

"We will help and support you but we will not dictate," Ms Ashton said. "We hope to see a plan, taking Egypt from here through elections and beyond."

'Regional stability'

In a co-ordinated statement, Ms Ashton together with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called for an "acceleration" in the government's national dialogue process.

"It is important now that the dialogue is accelerated leading to a broad-based civilian government which will respect the aspirations of, and deliver stability for, the Egyptian people," the communique said.

Brussels however stresses "regional stability" as the priority.

"An orderly and irreversible transition towards democracy and free and fair elections is the shared objective of both the EU and the Egyptian people ... The preservation of regional peace and stability should remain our shared priority."

"The future of Egypt rightly remains in the hands of the Egyptian people. We call on army to continue to act responsibly and to ensure that the democratic change takes place in a peaceful manner."

No decisions have been taken on an EU freeze of Mr Mubarak's assets, Ms Ashton added.

MEP mistrusts army

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the European Parliament's Human Rights Sub-committee, Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala warned that the Egyptian army has been a cornerstone of the Mubarak regime and that the EU should proceed with caution in its dealings with the generals.

"The Egyptian military must immediately release political prisoners and accept an independent enquiry on the serious allegations of torture by the military police," she said.

She urged the EU "to closely follow the actions of the Armed Forces Supreme Council that is now ruling Egypt. We cannot befriend rulers or temporary military governments whose commitment for human rights are not clearly evidenced."

"Let us see how genuine the promises of the Egyptian army are regarding the lifting of the state of emergency."

She also said the EU should not be endorsing a leadership role for Omar Suleiman, the head of the dreaded General Intelligence Directorate since 1993 until appointed vice-president two weeks ago. He was the man who announced on television on Friday evening the resignation of Mr Mubarak, but his current position is unclear.

"It should be made clear that Egypt's vice-pesident cannot lead the transition with cases of torture on his record while he headed Egypt's Intelligence Directorate."

"He does not fulfill the minimal conditions," she warned.

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