Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Italy calls for EU crisis mission, as Egypt boils over

  • Egyptian protesters call for authoritarian leader Mubarak to step down. 'They will have to exercise force, power in the streets' an Israeli cabinet official said (Photo: Mohammed)

Italy has said the EU should send a crisis mission to north Africa, as Egypt orders a security crackdown ahead of mass anti-Mubarak rallies on Friday (28 January).

Speaking in the Italian senate on Thursday, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said the EU should send a high-level "political support team" to calm tensions in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region hit by deadly civil unrest in recent days.

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"The European mission ... [should] take contact with the highest levels, beginning with the authorities in Tunisia, with civil society, mayors, opposition parties, to collect information, not to give orders," he said, Italian newswires report.

"I do not think this can be dealt with by sporadic initiatives of this or that country in Europe, but only by a European initiative."

Mr Frattini is to put the proposal to a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

The situation could change drastically over the weekend, with Egypt - a country of 80 million people and a traditional leader of the wider Arab world - bracing itself for mass-scale protests against its octogenarian president, Hosni Mubarak, after prayer meetings on Friday.

Reports indicate that Egyptian authorities have arrested eight senior members of the opposition Mulsim Brotherhood movement, deployed elite counter-terrorism units in strategic points in Cairo and shut down internet, twitter and SMS services ahead of the protests.

Police shot dead a Bedouin protester in the Sinai region late on Thursday in events captured on camera and circulated on YouTube. In a crackdown recalling December events in Belarus, police have since Tuesday arrested some 1,000 people and charged 40 with treason. Reports indicate that between five and eight people have been killed.

Mr Burak has not been seen on TV. But Safwat el-Sherif, the secretary general of his NDP party, said on Thursday: "I hope that all preachers at Friday prayers tomorrow are calling on people to be peaceful in a clear, ritual way."

The protesters on Thursday gained a high-level figurehead: former UN diplomat and Nobel laureate Mohammed el-Baradei. "I will be there with the people, particularly with the young people who have led, organised, managed the peaceful demonstrations on the street," he said upon landing in Cairo airport. "I would like to see a new Egypt."

Meanwhile, financial markets have registered fears of grave political instability. The Egyptian stock exchange on Thursday plunged almost 11 percent and French bank BNP Paribas said the country's sovereign debt rating could be downgraded.

For his part, US President Barack Obama said in a YouTube-broadcast press conference that Mr Mubarak is a US ally on "difficult issues," but added: "I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform - political reform, economic reform - is absolutely critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt."

An unnamed Israeli cabinet official told the Washington Post: "We do believe that the regime is strong enough to overcome it by means of its security apparatus ... They will have to exercise force, power in the streets."

Arab League secretary general and former Mubarak foreign minister Amr Moussa said earlier on Wednesday: "The Arab citizen is angry, is frustrated. That is the point ... So, the name of the game is reform."

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