On October 24, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) took aim at Egypt’s brutal crackdown on human rights, calling out the European Union and its member states for their feeble response to the escalating crisis, and urging “a profound and comprehensive review” of the EU’s relationship with Egypt.
Over the past few weeks, President Sisi’s government has arrested thousands of demonstrators. Many remain at risk of torture, ill-treatment, and grossly unfair trials. The EU and its member states have so far remained quiet on the situation and have not taken any robust measures to address it.
Since the 2013 coup that brought Sisi to power, the EU has desperately tried to resume cooperation and normalize relations with Egypt. The June 2017 Partnership Priorities, agreed between the EU and Egypt, and full of vague commitments to respect human rights and democratic principles, generated naïve optimism that engagement could lead to positive changes in Egypt.
But two years later, it is clear that Sisi’s only interest is to remain in power at any cost. Despite stating his commitment to human rights, he has not constructively engaged with civil society, and his government continues to meet criticism and dissent with brutal repression.
While aware of the situation, the EU and its member states have so far turned a blind eye to Sisi’s abuses. Arms supply continues unabated, despite a 2013 commitment to halt these sales. Several member states are deepening bilateral relations with the government, preventing EU collective action. As a result, European diplomats are forced to pathetically highlight any remotely positive development in Egypt, in an attempt to whitewash the government’s record, such as awkwardly welcoming the country’s new NGO law as MEPs were calling for it to be repealed, or praising Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts without mentioning the country’s disastrous campaign in North Sinai.
The new European Commission, which is supposed to take office by the end of the year, should urgently reassess EU policies regarding Egypt. The new European Council president should no longer tolerate individual member states preventing meaningful EU action. The EU and its member states should heed the Parliament’s call to use all tools at their disposal, including bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, trade negotiations, funding, and targeted restrictive measures, to halt Egypt’s crackdown and secure meaningful human rights progress in the country.