Expert suggests reasons for EU’s silence on Egypt’s protests

While individual European countries released statements encouraging peaceful demonstrations and the end of violence during Egypt ongoing protests which began on 25 January, the European Union (EU) kept silent for four days after recent protests in Egypt began.

On 29 January, Britain, France and Germany released a joint statement. The day before, internet, mobile phone and text messaging services had been shut down, and violence had left at least 125 people dead.

They said they “recognize the moderating role played by President Mubarak over many years” while demanding that violence on unarmed civilians and demonstrators end. They urged “Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections.”

While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for “an orderly transition” on Sunday, 30 January, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton restricted her position to calling on Mubarak to enter into a dialogue with the opposition.

The same day the Italian Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing deep regret over civilian casualties, urging an immediate end to all violence, and respect for civil rights, freedom of speech and communication, and the right to hold peaceful rallies. He also pointed out that Egypt’s stability remained a priority for Italy.

After the "March of the Millions" on Tuesday 1 February, the EU asserted that Mubarak’s decision not to stand for re-election was a step in the right direction, but that the new cabinet did not constitute a representative government.

Finally, on 2 February, the EU collectively called on Egyptian authorities to begin an "orderly transition… and the necessary reforms, including the holding of free and fair elections to be undertaken in a timely, decisive and concrete manner,” without openly asking for President Mubarak to step down.

On 3 February, the three European countries that first commented on the Egyptian protests were joined by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero in issuing another statement saying: "Only a quick and orderly transition to a broad-based government will make it possible to overcome the challenges Egypt is now facing. That transition process must start now."

However, on Friday 4 February, the “day of the departure”, the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi declined to call for Mubarak's resignation, stating that Europe and the US has always considered him “a reference point” and “the wisest man” in the Middle East, and wished “continuity in the government.”

Berlusconi declared that the demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were “really few,” considering Egypt’s population surpasses 80 million.

According to Amr Abdel Rahman, a former political analyst at the EU's diplomatic commission to Cairo who is currently a researcher at the UK Ethics University, the EU's mild reaction could be explained by the multiplicity and division of its member states since some, such as Italy, have strong relations with Mubarak.

“I don’t expect anything from the EU,” Rahman said, “even though the recent statements released by Catherine Ashton are a positive sign.” According to the Egyptian researcher, the EU remains confused regarding Egypt’s current transitional period. He stressed that it has difficulty representing all the different members’ positions, and therefore took time to release any official statements.

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