European Union: Prioritize Rights in Egypt Meetings

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EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell (L) meets with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, July 13, 2021.
© 2021 Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(Brussels) – The European Union and its member states should stop supporting the Egyptian government’s brutal rule and set concrete human rights benchmarks as criteria for progress in relations, Human Rights Watch said today. Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, is expected to meet with the EU foreign affairs High Representative Josep Borrell and EU member states foreign ministers on June 19 and 20, 2022.

The meetings, to be held in the framework of the EU-Egypt Association Council, aim at reviewing EU-Egypt relations and adopting what are termed “partnership priorities” for the coming years. The document will most likely mention human rights, as the previous one did, yet it did not suffice to discourage Egypt’s government from intensifying its repression, in the absence of more dissuasive measures. When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an EU-Egypt-Israel energy deal this week in Cairo, she refrained from publicly expressing even the slightest human rights concern over the situation in Egypt.

“The Egyptian government’s brutal repression has thrived on years of muted response by its European partners,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian activists, civil society, and ordinary people are paying a high price while Europe lavishes military, financial, and political support on the country’s oppressive government.”

In a joint letter to Borrell and EU foreign ministers on May 25, eight human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, debunked the Egyptian government’s claims of human rights improvements and urged the EU to link progress in relations with Egypt to concrete improvements in its abysmal human rights record.

European diplomats have pointed to token prisoner releases and the adoption of an almost meaningless national human rights strategy to justify their underwhelming public diplomacy efforts on Egypt, and to refrain from heeding any of the longstanding calls for more robust action formulated by nongovernmental organizations, the European Parliament, and parliament members from across Europe.

Scores of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, activists, and other perceived government critics languish behind bars in Egypt, held in abusive and often life-threatening conditions. Torture and extrajudicial killings are endemic, and continue with impunity. An economist, Ayman Hadhoud, was the latest recorded case of a “suspicious” death in custody, while a peaceful activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, remains on a hunger strike protesting his awful detention conditions.

Instead of raising the cost for the Egyptian government’s abuses, EU governments and institutions have enhanced cooperation with Cairo, including in the field of counterterrorism, and supported Egypt’s hosting of the climate change summit, COP 27, despite its relentless repression of civil society.

European leaders continue to grant President Abdelfattah al-Sisi red carpet treatment. French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him with France’s highest honor, and Italy continues to supply arms to Egypt despite Egyptian authorities refusal to cooperate with efforts to pursue justice for the 2016 torture and murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.

“The European Union should stop rewarding a government responsible for horrendous abuses and start taking action to address them,” Francavilla said. “If Borrell and EU foreign ministers are serious about their human rights commitments, they should tell their Egyptian counterpart that his government’s persistent failure to address its human rights crisis will come at the cost of European support.”

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