After the military takeover in July, Europeans were united around a weak position and had little influence on developments in Egypt.
2013 was a tumultuous year in Egypt, centred on the pivotal moment on 3 July when the army deposed President Mohammed Morsi following large public demonstrations against his leadership. After the installation of an interim regime, security forces began a crackdown against Muslim Brotherhood officials and supporters. More than a thousand people were killed, large numbers of Brotherhood officials were arrested, and affiliated media were closed down. The interim authorities launched a roadmap that involved the drafting of a revised constitution to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
Early in the year, the EU had pursued a determined campaign of mediation between the country’s political forces, building on its standing as an interlocutor that is seen as neutral by all sides, with Special Representative Bernardino León in a leading role. These efforts made headway, but were ultimately defeated by the inability of Egyptian parties to find common ground. After Morsi was removed, European officials continued their attempts at mediation and High Representative Catherine Ashton was the first foreign leader to meet Morsi after his arrest. European leaders collectively decided to avoid labelling the military’s action as a coup, in part to preserve their neutrality and in part because some believed Morsi had lost credibility as a leader.
The EU’s response to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood was critical but muted: it suspended some military aid but decided to continue assistance that benefitted the Egyptian people. While some member states pushed for a stronger line, there was a broad consensus in favour of a response that would not alienate the regime. But, with reconciliation in Egypt off the agenda and the security forces in control, the EU found itself simply hoping that more moderate political forces would eventually prevail. Throughout the year, the all-consuming nature of Egypt’s political crisis meant there was little take-up for European co-operation.