Egypt's transition to democracy 'at risk'
by Elmar Brok
The European Union will not abandon the Egyptian people – but a year on from the revolution the authorities must show a commitment to fundamental values and rights, argues the chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee
One year after the revolution in Egypt, there is a two sided picture. On the one hand we can observe some very positive developments. The military council has decided to partially put an end to the state of emergency. And the parliamentary elections were peaceful, with a good participation from voters.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle just came back from a two day visit from Cairo with a good impression. The head of the military council Mohammed Tantawi affirmed in a personal meeting that they will stick to the time framework for the transition, and elect a president and adopt a constitution before June 30. He also met the president of the Muslim Brotherhood who expressed his commitment to pluralism and a peace agreement with Israel.
However, on the other hand, behind the scenes we have seen some contrary developments that put into question the pro-democratic and cooperative rhetoric. The decision of the Egyptian military-led authorities to ban American citizens that work for the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute from travelling outside Egypt alarmed not only the United States but also the European Union. These harsh measures cast a shadow on the credibility of the democratic transition of Egypt.
The ban was preceded by a search through the offices of several non-governmental organisations working with civil society in Egypt in the area of democracy promotion – including the German Konrad Adenauer Association – and the harassment and intimidation of the respective staff. Are the investigations about the massive financial support Islamist groups got for the election campaign from Saudi Arabia and such sources over? This could be another reason for concern.
Having asked the Egyptian embassy in Brussels for an explanation, I received the reply that the concerned NGOs "committed a set of violations to the Egyptian law, like conducting their activity without being granted the necessary licenses, providing illegal funds to certain political parties and opening branches in governorates without licenses". This response is not satisfying at all. The unacceptable and exaggerated measures taken are in no relation to the reproaches made to the American NGOs which make every effort to fulfil the legal criteria of working in Egypt and to comply with Egyptian laws. In addition, there are other alarming signals that the peaceful transition in Egypt is at risk.
The situation in Egypt is at a critical stage. It seems that the Egyptian authorities have not yet decided whether they want to transform the Egyptian revolution into a '1979' or a '1989'. The travel ban on NGO staffers is not a case sui generis, but is accompanied by several other worrying incidents and clashes of violence. The bloodshed during the football game last week, which left 74 people dead, shocked not only Egypt but also Europe. Dozens of people were crushed to death, suffocated or fatally stabbed after a pitch invasion in Port Said by fans of the home-side, al-Masry, who had just beaten Cairo's al-Ahly.
In the following protest dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured. And the violence continues. Also, the persecution of Christians continues – the latest attack against a Christian community dates from only a few days ago. There are various other worrying occurrences, such as the kidnapping of children on their way to the German School in Cairo and the explosion of the gas pipeline conducting gas from Egypt to Israel.
In the whole country a feeling of insecurity and mistrust can be perceived. People suspect that the Egyptian security services have provoked the excesses intentionally and that in this context the military might cooperate with the salafists. The young people who took part in the uprising for a free country under the rule of law and for better standards of living in the nation might be the great losers.
So the Egyptian authorities are at a crossroads now and they should be aware that they would be better to choose the way to 1989 with the solidarity and support of their partners in the EU and the US. If they choose to turn back on the way to 1979 they risk a lot: the lives and the peace of their people and the good will and the support of its friends and partners. Therefore, the developments ahead of and after the elections should be observed attentively. We have to see what the new power of the salafists and Muslim brothers mean for the constitution and for the overall situation in Egypt.
It is a critical period of democratic transition in the country. The relations between Egypt and the US as well as between Egypt and the EU are at stake. We must avoid an outcome where the citizens suffer. The EU will not abandon the Egyptian people – neither will the US. It is in our own interests that our partners and neighbours succeed in constructing a stable and peaceful democracy. But at the same time the EU cannot accept the violation of fundamental rights and principles.
So, the military authorities must show their respect and their commitment to fundamental values and rights. The intimidation should end immediately; the harassment and investigations against NGOs must stop. The responsible persons should swiftly reconsider their decision and grant those concerned full freedom of movement. Further, the authorities have to ensure the security and freedom of Christians in their countries. We need to see now that the Egyptian military authorities are committed to protecting freedom of expression, association and religion.
As was said by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: "Die Weltgeschichte ist der Fortschritt im Bewusstsein der Freiheit." Meaning: global history is the permanent process in the awareness of freedom. Hopefully everybody in Egypt wants this progress. For real.
Elmar Brok MEP is chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament, and a member of the European People's Party
Europe's reaction to the Arab Spring - could do better
The European Union's focus on the European Neighbourhood Policy as the main vehicle for its response looks increasingly like displacement activity before normal politics are resumed – claim Nick Witney and Anthony Dworkin