On Monday November, 22, Mohammed Anwar Sadat, President of the Reform and Development party and former candidate to the March 2018 presidential election after pulling out, was invited by the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) to talk aboutthe current Egyptian situation. Amongst the different challenges faced by Egypt, Sadat regretted the closure of several foreign think tanks and expressed his wish to see the government collaborate with syndicates and student unions in the near future.
When discussing EU means to influence the Egyptian government’s stance on civil society organisations (CSOs), Sadat argued against frontal official statements or strong actions such as budget freezes. He argues that such actions would be counterproductive because the Egyptian government is too proud on the one hand, and too suspicious about EU support to CSOs on the other hand, as it is convinced the 2011 revolution was plotted from abroad. Instead, Sadat is in favour of innovative and soft means. Informal talks between European heads of states and al-Sissi for instance, has already led to the liberation of a few human rights defenders, he said.
However, is this enough? While SOLIDAR welcomes his analysis - especially at a time when Egyptian civil society space is being shut down, with human rights defenders, syndicates and workers being systematically arrested and intimidated -, the appalling human rights situation in Egypt is not circumscribed to the imprisonment of a few charismatic human rights defenders. It includes strikes’ repression, grassroots CSOs intimidation, torture, trials before military courts, CSOs funding and registration restrictions, etc. SOLIDAR’s partners are today the first victims of this massive crackdown.
SOLIDAR is convinced that the EU needs to stay true to its values. Soft measures may be inefficient if there is not good faith and readiness to engage positively on the other side.
In terms of thi, on Wednesday November 24, SOLIDAR and EuroMed Rights met with DG NEAR, to express their opposition on the potential disbursement of direct budget support funds for Egypt, frozen in 2013 following the Rabaa Massacre. If the EU is going to decide to unblock these funds, it would signal a normalization of relations with Egypt which disregards the human rights and labour rights situation in the country; it will open the door to funding without conditions; and make the EU complicit of corruption and labour rights violations. On top of that, the direct budget support fund in question is related to the transportation sector, which is being encroached by the Egyptian military and is the theater of numerous coercive measures against workers and trade unions. Please find more in the briefing here.
SOLIDAR calls the EU and EU Member States not to stay blind to Egyptians’ human rights violations and to adopt a strong position that advocates for the respect of fundamental political, economic and social rights.