Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Opinion

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

  • The smoke has cleared from the Egypt's uprising in 2011, but will the EU continue to condone human rights abuses in the country? (Photo: Alisdare Hickson)

Hours after tanks rolled onto Cairo’s streets on 3 July 2013 and president Mohamed Morsi’s ousting from power was declared, the EU firmly stated it would hold the new administration to account over respect for “fundamental rights, freedoms, and the rule of law”.

Four years later, Egypt is facing one of the worst human rights crises the country has seen in decades. Yet despite this, on Tuesday (25 July), the EU is set to hold high-level talks with Egypt in Brussels for the first time in years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The annual Association Council meetings, to discuss cooperation between the EU and Egypt, had been suspended after the 2011 uprising in the country.

Their resumption next week is an alarming signal that the EU and its member states are increasingly willing to turn a blind eye to the human rights disaster that has engulfed the country, in a bid to enhance cooperation on security and migration control, and boost trade.

The EU’s move to strengthen its partnership with Egypt marks a clear shift in its stance on the country, which many member states view as a key strategic ally in a region beset by conflict and crisis.

Turning a blind eye

While the EU-Egypt country report published ahead of the meeting acknowledged “substantial challenges” surrounding the rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the space for civil society, it failed to include any mention of human rights violations such as enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and widespread impunity for the security forces.

Indeed, the EU-Egypt meeting is set to take place against a backdrop of mass violations. It will go ahead despite the fact that not a single Egyptian official has been held accountable for the killings of up to 900 people during the dispersal of a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya in Cairo in August 2013.

It will go ahead despite the Egyptian authorities’ arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of journalists, activists, workers, trade unionists and others, on overly broad “national security” charges.

It will also go ahead despite the fact that Egyptian security forces continue to carry out unlawful killings and subject children as young as 14 to enforced disappearances and torture.

Ironically, the EU report maintains that “support to civil society” remains a priority, yet it fails to explain how it plans to protect peaceful activists from an unprecedented crackdown - which has seen dozens of human rights defenders arrested, interrogated or facing travel bans and assets freezes - or from a draconian NGO law that threatens to annihilate independent human rights groups.

Europe’s complicity is not limited to its silence. In August 2013, following the Rabaa massacre, the EU foreign affairs Council condemned the “disproportionate” use of force by Egyptian security personnel and announced that member states had agreed to suspend export licences to Egypt of any arms which might be used for internal repression.

Flouting rights

However, today, almost half the EU member states continue to flout this agreement by supplying such arms to Egypt’s security forces.

Make no mistake, these are dangerous times for Egypt, and the EU’s softened stance is a major victory for perpetrators of human rights abuses that will pave the way for further violations. The EU cannot afford for human rights to take a back seat.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for leaders to stand up for human rights and the rule of law.

This is an appeal to EU leaders who repeatedly profess allegiance to the principles of human rights and expound on the importance of the rule of law.

It is an appeal to Italy, whose citizen, Giulio Regeni, was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt with no justice in sight. It is an appeal to Ireland, whose own national, Ibrahim Halawa, has languished in an Egyptian prison for four years while being subjected to a grossly unfair mass trial. It is an appeal to all other EU countries that promote human rights in Europe and beyond.

The leaders of EU member states must start by publicly condemning the government’s gross violation of human rights.

They must make it abundantly clear to the Egyptian government that protecting rights and fundamental freedoms remain core values of this partnership. And they must take concrete action to suspend transfers to Egypt of the types of arms that can facilitate human rights violations.

This will send a clear signal that security forces must be reined in, perpetrators must be brought to justice, and that counter-terrorism should not be used as an excuse to justify crushing civil society and jailing human rights defenders.

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt - to bolster security, migration control and trade ties - could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

Most importantly, it would be devastating for what remains of independent civil society in Egypt.

This week's meeting, on Tuesday, represents a defining moment for the EU. It must decide whether to stand up for human rights, or forego its principles for the sake of political expediency.

Philip Luther is Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Why is Egypt jailing my friends?

A new wave of arrests against youth activists who, five years ago, helped bring down Mubarak is a sign of Sisi's paranoia, and could prompt fresh unrest.

EU states 'complicit' in Egypt repression

Amnesty International has named and shamed 12 EU states for supplying arms to Egypt despite a pledge not to contribute to “internal repression”.

EU deafeningly silent on Egypt abuses

European states and institutions must condemn what's happening in Egypt if the ideals of and sacrifices of Tahrir Square have any meaning.

EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers

EU council president Donald Tusk wants to discuss deepening relations with authoritarian Egypt, as a model of migrant reduction, with EU heads of state and government at a meeting in Salzburg, Austria on Wednesday.

Interview

Son of couple jailed in Egypt pleads to EU for help

A man is seeking EU support to release his parents from Egyptian prisons, where both have been detained without charge for over 450 days, the mother in solitary confinement. The pressure comes amid EU plans to increase cooperation with Cairo.

News in Brief

  1. Danish conservatives want Orban party kicked out of EPP
  2. Dutch finance minister repents on virus help
  3. France to house domestic violence victims in hotels
  4. Europe sends medical goods to Iran, despite US embargo
  5. Commission sets consultation on raising 2030 climate target
  6. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  7. EU commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  8. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter

Column

Only democracy can fight epidemics

As Li Wenliang, the deceased Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for reporting on the virus, said: "There should be more openness and transparency".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  2. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  3. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  4. Trying to think straight about coronavirus
  5. Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees
  6. Von der Leyen criticises Hungary, but fails to mention it
  7. Air pollution drops in Europe, but how long will it last?
  8. Human rights abusers don't stop for virus, MEPs tell EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us