Brussels, Belgium – The European Union had a longstanding and well-functioning relationship with Egypt’s Mubarak army regime, in power for twenty years before being deposed in 2011.
The EU supported the government-controlled capitalist market economy of Egypt and the European Union is still the biggest investor in the country. Nowadays, Egyptian and diverse European security services still collaborate in the fight against terrorism.
This longstanding relationship was however jeopardized with the protests of 2011 which led to the ouster of Mubarak, and to free elections which were endorsed by the Council. The election resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power with Mohamed Morsi becoming president.
This could have been seen as a step forward for Egypt in key domains such as the rule of law, parliamentarism, free and fair elections, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In its initial reaction, the EU institutions supplemented funding for the government through various mechanisms.
The intergovernmental European Investment Bank offered to double its loans which were to reach 1 billion euros a year . There were a lot of carrots for the new Egyptian government.
The EU, through declarations, praised the new government. But it was still somewhat unsatisfied, calling for the protection of civil society movements, and “deep democracy” before talking about the importance of border control and security. One can question the extent of the support on the ground in Egypt for “deep democracy”, a term which until then hasn’t even been used to describe any European member state polity.
Nevertheless, the democratic transformation in Egypt which was supported by the Union reached at least some of its goals: it was a clear step forward to encompassing the values of the Union. On the other hand, the country’s economic performance was deteriorating, which sparked new protests leading ultimately to a coup against Morsi, and the re-installation of army dictatorship led by Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi a former general under Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt went off the road of democracy triggered the support from the Foreign Affairs Council. The EU was relatively free in pursuing the EU foreign policy in Egypt during Morsi’s government, as there were no Council conclusions on Egypt for the year 2013 until the army coup in summer. With no politically binding declarations from the Foreign Affairs Council, the Egyptian democratic transition could easily be supported.
Rationally, the turn back to dictatorship in the summer of 2013 would prompt clear backlash from the Union, as the rule of law, democracy, and free and fair elections were all abolished with the new regime. President Morsi was jailed, later died in jail and the Muslim Brotherhood outlawed. However, the coup by the army safeguarded the economic channels between the Egypt and the EU member states, and the Union helped stabilize the country economically.
The deposition of an Islamist government and its replacing with a secular, more trustworthy in the preservation of religious freedoms, regime was politically welcomed in Europe which at the time started experiencing an explosion of Muslim refugees.
Since the fall of Morsi, Council conclusions on Egypt have been adopted swiftly, one after the other. Conversly, this has narrowed the relative autonomy of the High Representative to conduct an autonomous foreign policy as she did during the Morsi presidency, to one more in line with member-states interests.
As the European Council, along with the Council, by unanimity determines the political agenda of the Union, the hands of the HR are tied and is obliged to follow its conclusions. This has led to a legitimization of the al- Sisi dictatorship as neither conclusions, nor resolutions, sanction the repressive measures taken by the new Egyptian government.
Since the fall of Morsi in July 2013 the Council conclusions were less and less about the reinstallation of democracy and respect to human rights, and moved towards the question of security and stability, highlighted by the FAC conclusion of the 10th of February 2014:
“The EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attacks in the Sinai and other parts of Egypt, in which a number of civilians and security personnel have been killed or injured. No cause can justify terrorist violence. The EU reaffirms its commitment to support the stability and security in Egypt”.
The Council back-tracked on the questions about democracy, and basic freedoms, and instead concentrated on preserving the stability of the country, which legitimizes the army dictatorship. Al-Sisi has visited France, Germany, and the United-Kingdom to discuss security and economy issues. The EU, has vastly invested in the Egypt and congratulated the country on its economic reform programs which has led to a €12 billion loan from the IMF in November 2016.
The European Union, through its intergovernmental decision-making processes has supported the EU member states’ goal to stabilise the country politically by granting them economic grants. This might however backfire. The Egyptian pharmaceutical syndicate is threatening with strikes, and the Egyptian pound has lost much of its value to the dollar since the IMF loan.
Advancements by the IS-linked insurgents in the Sinai has threatened the Coptic Christian families living there, and in February many of them left. The stability of the country is becoming questioned because of the inability and ruthlessness of the armed forces – who the EU states are supporting. Arms sales and financial grants to the regime by the European member states create strong links to a ruling elite whom against the Egyptian people revolted against in 2011. However, now with the Islamic State in the equation worse may await.
Human Rights Watch (HRW): Egypt executed 49 people in 10 days.
Human Rights Watch has called on Egyptian authorities to immediately halt executions and retry detainees on death row after they executed 49 people in 10 days.
“Egypt’s mass executions of scores of people in a matter of days is outrageous,” says deputy MENA director Joe Stork.
“The systematic absence of fair trials in Egypt, especially political cases, makes every death sentence a violation of the right to life.”
Between 3 and 13 October Egyptian authorities executed two women and 32 men convicted in criminal cases and 15 political prisoners.
Thirteen of these political prisoners were being held on the execution block of Scorpion Prison, where at the end of September four prison officers and four detainees were killed in what authorities said was an attempted prison break.
At the time rights groups cast doubt on whether a prison break would be possible given that Scorpion is one of the most secure jails in the country. They have called on authorities to reveal the true cause of death and whether or not the inmates were physically liquidated.
The executions have been described as a warning to other inmates who could have witnessed what happened, and retaliation for the killing of the officers.
According to a lawyer who spoke to the family of two of the inmates, the four prisoners killed the officers using improvised tools after which security forces entered the block and other inmates heard gunshots.
Egypt is one of the top ten countries globally for executions and death sentences along with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Since the 2013 coup, through which Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi assumed power, death sentences have soared in Egypt. Executions are often implemented after unfair, mass trials and confessions coerced through torture.
In a particularly shocking ruling, in 2014 the Minya Criminal Court sentenced over 500 people to death at the same time.
222 MEPs call on Egypt’s al- Sisi to release political prisoners
Two hundred twenty-two members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent an open letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on 21 October to voice their: “Deep concern about the ongoing detention of prisoners of conscience in Egypt.” The MEPs also called on him to end reprisals against human rights activists, according to German website DW.
The letter came two days after 56 congressmen in the US made a similar call to al-Sisi, stating that human rights abuses in Egypt will not be tolerated if Joe Biden wins the election, while demanding the release of a number of detainees.
They also asserted that the US will resort to sanctions if this message is ignored by the Egyptian authorities.
The release of political prisoners
The MEPs stated in their letter: “At a time when health risks are exacerbated due to the COVID-19 epidemic, we urge you to prioritise the prisoners’ human rights and immediately release those who are detained unjustly.”
The letter also referred to the continued detention of political activist Ramy Shaath, who has been detained for more than a year without having charges pressed against him, along with activist Alaa Abdelfattah and his sister Sanaa Seif.
The letter also referred to the ongoing detention of human rights lawyers Muhammad Al-Baqir, Ziad Al-Alimi, Mahienour Al-Masry, Haitham Muhammadin and Ibrahim Metwally, as well as the researchers Patrick Zaki and Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, and journalists Israa Abdel Fattah, Solafa Magdy, Hussam El-Sayed and Mahmoud Hussein.
The letter also mentioned the joint statement released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), demanding the release of prisoners of conscience to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
The letter’s signatories stressed that: “Guaranteeing the fundamental rights and freedoms stipulated in the Egyptian constitution and international human rights treaties, which we have all signed, is a necessary basis for this partnership (between the EU and Egypt),” noting that the continued detention of prisoners of conscience not only undermines common interests, but also shakes the basis of bilateral relations.
According to several human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the situation of prisoners in Egypt has worsened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected and led to the deaths of many inmates due to overcrowding, poor health conditions and the lack of medical care.
In mid-August, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Essam El-Erian died in prison.
Human rights organisations estimate the number of political prisoners in Egypt to be close to 60,000.
The MEPs concluded the letter by urging the Egyptian president to end reprisals against human rights defenders, while calling for the release of political prisoners. They also made specific reference to human rights activist and campaigner Bahey Eldin Hassan, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for criticising the Egyptian government.
A previous US warning
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that 56 lawmakers in the US Congress will send a letter on Monday to the Egyptian president to warn him that human rights abuses in Egypt will not be tolerated after Joe Biden won the presidency in US.
The letter also urges Al-Sisi to release the oppositionists and activists who must be granted their basic human rights, while warning of the spread of the coronavirus in Egyptian prisons.
The letter states that the detainees: “Should not have been imprisoned in the first place.”
Californian Democrat MP Rohit Khanna indicated that there are clear indications that when the US administration changes, there will hopefully be a very different approach to foreign policy, especially concerning the Middle East.
Khanna added: “This means that our relations with Egypt will be reviewed from a human rights perspective, and human rights will be given priority again.”
He explained that the immediate motivation for sending this letter was the security crackdown that the Egyptian authorities have launched in recent weeks against pro-democracy activists and oppositionists. More than 900 people have been arrested since 20 September, following anti-al-Sisi demonstrations in some Egyptian regions, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).
Thousands of political oppositionists, human rights activists and pro-democracy lawyers are detained in Egyptian prisons, sparking widespread condemnation by various international human rights institutions. However, the calls to release the detainees were ignored by Egypt.
Ali al-Qaradaghi, the Secretary-general of the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), said the world remained silent on the crimes committed by the coup d’etat Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Recalling that Essam El-Erian, one of the leaders of Ikhwan, died in prison, al-Qaradaghi said: “there is a persecution that the Egyptians did not see even during the reign of the Pharaoh.”
There is a persecution that the Egyptians did not see even during the reign of Pharaoh.
Ali al-Qaradaghi, Secretary General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), said that there had been a great tragedy in Egypt and that the world remained silent on the crimes committed.
After the announcement that Essam El-Erian, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood organization (Ikhwan), who was detained in Egypt, died, al-Qaradaghi said that Essam El-Erian had joined the martyrs ‘ caravan.
“Until when will the world be silent on the crimes committed by al-Sisi (Egypt’s President)?“ in Egypt, there has been a great tragedy since the military coup and a persecution that the Egyptians did not see even during the reign of Pharaoh,” he said.
The army seized the country’s first president elected in 2013, and management’s late, prior to the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood operating in the different modes of Essam El-Erian, “the eastern border raid” and “Kalyub/Qalyūb” charged in the case several times in the case against life imprisonment (25 years) was condemned to.