The following is an open letter from the European Working Group on Egypt to European leaders and policymakers:
15 April 2016
To European leaders and policymakers:
We believe it is time for the EU to adopt a position on current developments in Egypt that is more clearly defined and better serves the interests of both Europe and the Egyptian people. For some time, the EU has remained largely silent on political, judicial and human rights issues in Egypt, while several member states have acted to normalise relations with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his government. Yet the Egyptian government’s crackdown has reached a point where the existence of an independent human rights community is in question, and there is no accountability for torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances despite overwhelming evidence of the direct involvement of Egyptian security officials and institutions in these practices. The death of Giulio Regeni and the unresolved questions surrounding it, which are naturally a major focus of Italian and EU attention, are also emblematic of a much wider problem affecting large numbers of Egyptian citizens.
The recent reopening of the “foreign funding” case to target the country’s leading human rights organisations threatens to close the principal groups attempting to document rights abuses, and could lead to life prison sentences for human rights workers. Instead of pursuing these groups, the government itself should be taking steps to tackle the problem of abuses committed by the security services, which are provoking increasing discontent within Egypt and widespread concern among the European public. It should also abandon the practice of imprisoning people for their political views or for peaceful protest. The current crackdown has shown itself to be counterproductive even in the narrow terms of Egypt’s stability and has now become an undeniable stumbling block for the EU’s ability to cooperate fully with the country. More generally, the Egyptian regime’s excessive focus on security, defined through repression, and failure to develop an inclusive approach has prevented it from making progress on Egypt’s economic and social challenges.
We therefore suggest that European leaders, starting with President François Hollande of France who visits Egypt next week, should send the following messages to Egyptian authorities:
- The EU and its member states remain convinced of the importance of the EU’s relationship with Egypt and committed to support the inclusive political, economic and social development of the country. Egypt and the EU are bound together in numerous ways, including significant shared interests in security, regional stability and commercial ties.
- However the future relationship between the EU and Egypt will necessarily be held back while Egyptian authorities persist with policies that the EU regards as violating fundamental principles, including persecution of human rights groups, impunity for violations by the security services, and imprisonment of political opponents. These policies will not bring the stability that both Egypt and the EU want to achieve.
- The EU believes that Egypt should therefore: 1) Undertake a reform of the security sector that would in particular get rid of the use of torture and enforced disappearances by state agents, in line with recognised international standards; 2) Repeal laws that allow for the harassment and prosecution of civil society organisations, as well as laws that penalise peaceful protest, and drop the current prosecutions under these laws; and 3) Release those imprisoned for non-violent protest or political expression, ideally through a large-scale amnesty.
- The EU stands ready to offer any assistance with these reforms that would be helpful, and hopes to be able to deepen its relations with Egypt as they move forward. In their absence, however, the EU’s relations with Egypt cannot help but be affected, and the EU will continue to pay attention to these issues and raise them publicly where appropriate.
- The EU will extend its solidarity and support to Italy as it seeks to find out the truth about and obtain justice for the torture and killing of Giulio Regeni.
The European Working Group on Egypt*
- Anthony Dworkin, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) co-chair
- Issandr El Amrani, International Crisis Group (ICG) co-chair
- Rasmus Alenius Boserup, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS);
- Haizam Amirah Fernández, Real Instituto Elcano (RIE);
- Koert Debeuf, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA);
- Dina Fakoussa, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP);
- Stéphane Lacroix, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, Sciences Po (CERI);
- Daniel Levy, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR);
- Arnold Luethold, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF);
- Charles Powell, Real Instituto Elcano (RIE);
- Stephan Roll, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP);
- Patrycja Sasnal, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM);
- Nathalie Tocci, Italian Institute for International Affairs (IAI);
- Richard Youngs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).
The EWGE has been endorsed by the following prominent Europeans
- Emma Bonino, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy
- Gunilla Carlsson, former Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden
- Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO, International Crisis Group; former Under Secretary General for UN Peacekeeping Operations
- Marietje Schaake, Member of the European Parliament
*This letter reflects the views of the individual signatories; institutional affiliations are listed for the purpose of identification only.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.