Saturday

16th Dec 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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

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.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives