Skip to main content

EU Deal with Egypt Rewards Authoritarianism, Betrays “EU Values”

Migration Control Obsession Ignores Abuses, Entrenches Oppression

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, meets with the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, June 15, 2022 © 2022 Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations.

The European Union is about to reward Egypt’s autocratic leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for preventing migrants’ departures towards Europe.

Visiting Cairo on March 17, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, along with the Prime Ministers of Italy, Greece, and Belgium, will officially upgrade the EU-Egypt relations to a “comprehensive and strategic partnership”, paving the way for a package of EU aid, grants, loans and investments in the country estimated at between four and eight billion Euros.

Key in this partnership will be the EU’s support for Egypt’s border control. While details are under negotiation, the blueprint is the same as the flawed EU deals with Tunisia and Mauritania: stop migrants, ignore abuses.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by Egyptian authorities, as well as deportations to Eritrea constituting refoulement. Recent reports of deportations of Sudanese should be investigated.

Human Rights Watch has long criticized the EU’s cash-for-migration-control approach, crystalized under von der Leyen, which exposes the EU to complicity in abuses, contradicts the EU’s founding values, erodes its credibility as a principled global player, and emboldens the far right’s demagogic narrative across Europe. It strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and activists whose work involves great personal risk.

Egypt is the epitome of this.

Since taking power in a 2013 coup, and becoming president of Egypt in 2014, Sisi’s governments have ruled Egypt with an iron fist. They have been responsible for massacring protesters and jailing and torturing thousands of perceived critics and opponents – often holding them in protracted pre-trial detention or sentencing them in grossly unfair trials. Independent media and civil society have been stifled and the judiciary is an obedient arm of government repression. The ruling military has expanded its powers over civilian life.

Now this abysmal repression is being rewarded with fresh support from the EU, including funds that will likely directly support the repression of migrants.

At the same time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Arab Emirates have provided billions for Egypt’s depleted reserves. The IMF funds are linked to economic reforms supported by the EU, although some of the reforms are detrimental to the Egyptians’ economic rights, amid increasing poverty.

Without pushing for genuine human rights reforms or reining in Egyptian government abuses, the EU’s support is unlikely to stop the next economic or political crisis from erupting in Egypt. Ordinary Egyptians, businesspeople, migrants, and refugees will continue paying the price for this approach, while their oppressors thrive on impunity and renewed support.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.