EU Australia Online - News & information from the capital of Europe direct to Australian businesses

Europe’s Tense Watch On Egypt

  • January 31st, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

egypt-giza-sphinx.jpgEuropean Foreign Ministers were set to debate the chaotic state of affairs in Egypt at a scheduled meeting today in Brussels.


Already with an anxious watch being kept on the public protests, flashes of violence and tense stand-off involving the army and police, heads of the European Union on the weekend were calling for a peaceful settlement.

Fifty people or more, mainly civilians but also including police, are believed to have been killed.

The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, expressed concern at the “Spiral of violence leading to a situation which makes dialogue even more difficult.”

He said “fundamental human rights … constituted elements of democracy which the Egyptian people, and in particular the young” are striving for.”


The European High Representative, Catherine Ashton, outlined the EU position:

“I have followed very closely and with profound concern the reports of increased violence, clashes and arrests during today’s demonstrations in Egypt.

“The continued use of force against demonstrators by police and state security forces is deeply troubling. In order to avoid further deterioration of the situation in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, and to avoid more casualties, I reiterate my call on all parties to exercise restraint and calm and I urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful demonstrators from detention.

“I also reiterate my call upon the Egyptian authorities to urgently establish a constructive and peaceful way to respond to the legitimate aspirations of Egyptian citizens for democratic and socioeconomic reforms.

“I will discuss these developments with my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday in Brussels.”

The European Union has been exerting pressure on Egypt at a diplomatic level to liberalise its practice on human rights, in the context of a cooperation agreement that involves financial assistance – not so far called into question.


suez-canal-warship.jpgThe terms of the agreement reflect the long-term efforts of Western interests to get the government in Cairo to permit change,  outlined in an EU document:

“The EU and Egypt began diplomatic relations in 1966. The EU seeks to develop a particular close relationship to Egypt, its geographical neighbour, and to support Egypt’s domestic and political reforms.

“The relationship emphasises close cooperation on democratic reform, economic modernization, social reform, and migration issues. The current agenda of EU-Egypt relations is spelled out in an Action Plan.”

European interests have intensified the pressure on occasion, for example with demands for change from the European Parliament a year ago, and especially with rising levels of anger over parliamentary elections (2005), widely held to have been tampered with, President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party claiming a distorted majority of seats.


suez-canal-2.jpgAwareness of the history and implications of major disorder in Egypt, occurring notably in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez: the unpopularity of the aged President, and his  possible plans for succession (with presidential elections due this year); a possible power vacuum after 30 years without change of government; the secular and religious divide, with a strong Islamist political movement in the wings; the traditional strategic position of Egypt as custodian of the Suez canal; the crowding and high incidence of poverty and unemployment in a country of over 79-million people.

Among most recent developments: withdrawal of police from usual posts, (a “coppers’ holiday” sometimes seen in such historical events?); tanks and troops appearing on the streets with military aircraft passing low overhead — though as yet no more direct intervention; some foreign governments have begun urging their citizens to leave Egypt; interest outside the country has extended to financial markets, with share prices faltering, and a fresh rise in the price of oil.


The street demonstrations by citizens, demanding the resignation of the government, began in the immediate aftermath of a popular revolt in Tunisia which saw the installation of a provisional government there.

(The European Union has signaled it will continue assistance previously negotiated with Tunisia and has offered to help with the conduct of elections, sending a delegation of officials to Tunis last week).


EU External Action, Brussels, Arab Republic of Egypt., (31.1.11).

European Parliament, “Human Rights in the World: Parliament condemns human rights abuses in China, Egypt, Malasia and the Philippines”, 21.1.10., (31.1.11).

Leigh Phillips, “EU ‘troubled’ by Egypt, but will keep paying aid”, EU Observer, Brussels, 28.1.11., (31.1.11).

PR Newswire, Washington, “Statements by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on Tunisia and Egypt”, 30.1.11., (31.1.11).

Slobodan Lekic, AP, Brussels, “EU officials say Egypt to top meeting agenda Monday; European countries warn against travel”, Canadian Press, 31.1.11., (31.1.11).


Giza –; Cairo demonstration 2008, stoprapingpalestine.blogspot; Suez canal,,