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Sisi Government's Repression Taints Egypt-EU Investment Conference

As Abuses Fuel Egypt’s Economic Crisis, EU Should Press for Rights Reforms

Austria Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen, Egypt president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides, Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni pictured at a diplomatic meeting on March 17, 2024 in Cairo, Egypt. © 2024 Olivier Hoslet/AP Photo

European Union leaders and investors are gathering in Cairo on June 29 and 30 for the “Egypt-EU Investment Conference,” which will bring billions to Egypt’s abusive leadership.

The conference comes a few months after the controversial upgrading of EU-Egypt bilateral relations to a “strategic and comprehensive partnership” and the related EU pledge of €7.4 billion in concessional loans, investments, and grants to the country.

In a June 13 joint letter, Human Rights Watch and Egyptian, regional, and international human rights groups urged the EU to ensure that its 5 billion macro-financial assistance to Egypt secures concrete, measurable, structural, and timebound human rights progress and reforms in the country. The groups stressed how, by wiping out civic, judicial, or parliamentary scrutiny, Egypt’s oppressive government has virtually unaccountable rule and controls the economy in ways that benefit itself but are disastrous for the broader public. The absence of checks and balances contributes to the government’s failure to respect, protect, and fulfil people’s social and economic rights and to recurring economic crises in the country.

The letter notes that both the EU commission and council stressed that “concrete and credible steps” towards democratization and respect for the rule of law and human rights constitute a “pre-condition for granting the Union's macro-financial assistance to Egypt.” Despite that, Egyptian authorities do not seem inclined to backtrack on their repressive rule, exemplified by the recent abusive sentencing of opposition politician Ahmed Tantawy. The first of the 5 billion is expected to reach Egypt by year end, whereas conditions for the remaining 4 billion are still to be negotiated and will need European parliamentary approval.

Egyptians are in dire need for support. Repeated economic crises have led to prolonged, nationwide power cutsrising poverty, and skyrocketing food prices. But Europe’s financial support should be used to secure key human rights reforms, not risk fueling corruption and abuses in Egypt, nor miss a chance to address some of the root causes of the violations of the economic rights of so many Egyptians. 

Europe’s inaction would come at the expense of the civil, political, economic, and social rights of ordinary Egyptians, who are ruled with an iron fist and have no safe chance to question their governments’ policies. It’s these Egyptians who will ultimately carry the burden of economic mismanagement and unsustainable debt accumulation.

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