The European Parliament (EP) must employ its financial leverage to press Egypt to improve its human rights record ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, prominent Egyptian advocacy groups said Monday.
Speaking before the EP’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights in Brussels, Moataz el-Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), called for taking Egypt’s human rights situation into consideration in any future cooperation between Egypt and the EU.
“The revival of the ENP (European Neighborhood Policy) will require a combination of attractive incentives and conditionality based on a system of benchmarking and accountability,” said el-Fegiery, who is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network’s executive committee.
El-Fegiery added that the EP should use its “budgetary powers” to ensure that the Egypt-EU Partnership brings concrete and effective results on human rights and human development.
El-Fegiery’s testimony was part of a public hearing by the EP to review the ENP in both Egypt and Ukraine.
Today’s session was the first to address human rights conditions in Egypt since 2008, when the EP issued a strong–albeit non-binding–resolution condemning human rights abuses in Egypt. The resolution also called for lifting the 29-year old Emergency Law, which is widely expected to be extended for another two years this week.
The Egyptian delegation to Brussels–comprised of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the New Woman Foundation and CIHRS–was careful not to expect too much from today’s hearings.
“Our impression is that different European bodies are more concerned about their partnerships with countries in Eastern Europe than with those in the south Mediterranean,” el-Fegiery told Al-Masry Al-Youm via telephone from Brussels.
He went on to say that meetings with officials of the European Commission and European Council had revealed that Europe was focused more on stability and less on democratization. “It seems they are adopting a position of stability rather than change,” el-Fegiery noted.
In his nearly 4000-word address, el-Fegiery stressed that the promotion of democracy and human rights in Egypt and in other Mediterranean countries “is highly connected to strategic interests, security and stability in Europe.”
“The deteriorating situation in the region will bring more terrorists and radicals who threaten the basic values of modernity. The illegal immigration flow will increase simply because people live in a repellent environment that does not guarantee the basic needs of humanity. The solution is not to unite with despotism, but to respond to people’s aspirations,” he concluded.
One Cairo-based European diplomat expressed doubt that the 736-member EP would produce any resolutions pertaining to human rights abuses in Egypt.
“There is no consensus among EU members about the need to push democratic reforms forward in Egypt,” the diplomat told Al-Masry Al-Youm on condition of anonymity. “The general assessment is that Egypt’s domestic sphere is stable, with no clear alternatives in sight.”
According to the European Commission’s website, the ENP was established in 2004 with the objective of “avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines” between the EU and its neighbors.
In 2007, Egypt became part of the ENP Action Plan, which provides a framework for cooperation between Europe and Egypt in the economic, political, security and social fields.
Although the EP enjoys some budgetary powers–especially over development grants–its resolutions are widely perceived as carrying “moral and ethical weight.”
In January 2008, Egypt was particularly upset by the EP’s decision to criticize its human rights record, calling the move “interference in its domestic affairs.”
Any EP resolution against Egypt, however, could impact Cairo’s stated aim of further developing its relations with Europe.
“Egypt is currently negotiating the upgrade of its relations with Europe to the ENP+ status, and a negative resolution could affect that,” the diplomat said. He added, however, that all Egypt-EU financial budgets had already been finalized up to 2013.
The ENP+ status provides for more labor and financial mobility between the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea.