27th Feb 2024

EU to Cairo: respect 'legitimate yearnings' of citizens

  • Protesters voice their opinion on Tuesday - three are said to have died in violent clashes (Photo: Mahmoud Saber)

Brussels has called on Egypt to respect the "yearnings" of its citizens and their "legitimate wish" for change after street-fighting erupted in Egypt and Lebanon, in a widening ring of unrest on the EU's southern fringe after the revolution in Tunisia.

"Today thousands of Egyptian citizens have gathered in the streets of Cairo to declare their wish for political change," European foreign policy spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told EUobserver late on Tuesday night (24 January) following a day of unrest in Egypt, the Union's long-term ally in the region. West, noting how events in Tunisia had inspired the protests.

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"The European Union is closely following the demonstrations currently taking place in Cairo as a signal of the yearnings of many Egyptians in the wake of events in Tunisia," she added.

In a tightly-worded comment, she said the government must "take note" of citizens' demands.

"The EU calls on the Egyptian authorities to respect and protect the right of Egyptian citizens to manifest their political aspirations by means of peaceful demonstrations and to take note of their legitimate wish for political action to deal with the problems affecting their daily lives."

On Tuesday the biggest demonstrations in the country since hardman Hosni Mubarak assumed power in 1981 took place under the umbrella of what organisers called a "day of rage." They continued into early Wednesday morning despite authorities use of water cannon, rubber bullets, dogs and volleys of tear gas to suppress the crowds in events said to have claimed three lives.

The language coming from Brussels chimed with similar words from across the Atlantic, with the US saying: "All parties should exercise restraint".

"The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper," the White House statement added.

"We have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things."

A wave of violent skirmishes between police and protesters hit the capital city during the day of protests, as well as in Alexandria and other sites. Two demonstrators were killed in Suez, while a police officer died in Cairo, according to reports.

The unrest in the strategically-important Arab autocracy came as demonstrations by Sunni protestors shook the city of Tripoli in nearby Lebanon. The Lebanon unrest came after the appointment of Najib Mikati, a rich businessman backed by the Shia militant group Hezbollah, as the country's new prime minister.

Smaller-scale protests also took place in Beirut and beyond, with demonstrators accusing Hezbollah of mounting a coup against the pro-Western government of former PM Saad Hariri, who was ousted last week.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said in response to the protests in Lebanon: "I trust that the formation of the government will take place in full compliance with the constitution. The prime minister designate should seek the broadest possible consensus in forming his government, which is in the interest of the Lebanese people.

She added: "I am concerned about the violent protests which have erupted and call on all parties to show restraint. All parties should co-operate in a spirit of dialogue ... I want to assure the Lebanese population that the EU will continue to support a sovereign, independent, democratic and stable Lebanon."

Some commentators have described the protests in Egypt as being inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia earlier this month. Small and peaceful anti-government rallies have also taken place in Algeria and Libya in recent days.

"The EU should consider Tunisia its highest strategic priority. If this democratic transformation succeeds, we will no longer be able to talk about the 'Arab exception' - we will see that democracy is possible in this part of the world too," Alvaro de Vasconcelos, an expert at the Prais-based European Union Institute for Security Studies told German magazine Der Spiegel on Tuesday.

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