A seminar was held at the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs on 17th March 2016 with the delegation of the EU Commission, headed by Christian Berger, the European Commission Director for North Africa and the Middle East. Ambassador Dr. Mohammed Shaker welcomed the EU delegation, and expressed appreciation of the European Commission’s communication with ECFA for more than ten years. He further stressed that the Council’s relations with the European Union and its institutions are dynamic and evolving and that over the past year more than 16 bilateral and multilateral events took place between the two sides.
Ambassador Ihab Wahba and Ambassador El-Sayed Amin Shalaby reaffirmed what Ambassador Dr. Shaker had said and reviewed concerning the mutual visits between the Council and the European side. They also highlighted the good relations between ECFA and the European Commission delegation and European ambassadors in Cairo.
As part of the discussions and exchange of views, Ambassador Dr. Ezzat Saad welcomed the European delegation; expressing his appreciation for their interest to visit the Council on a regular basis, and to consult with its members. He noted the following in particular:
The European side needs to understand the major challenges facing Egypt, particularly with regard to the threat of terrorism and the economic challenge. The government is making intensive efforts to accelerate the process of economic recovery amid unfavorable domestic and regional condition due to the security situation and conflicts in the region, which are directly affecting Egyptian national security.
If violations of human rights happen in Egypt, as in many other countries, including European states, there should be no underestimation of the positive results achieved in Egypt, at this level, including freedom of opinion and expression. The government is no longer immune to criticism by the media, including state owned organs. Such criticism has become a regular practice in the Egyptian media and members of the government and the state’s head accepts and responds to it.
In the context of its relations with Egypt, the European Union may consider a kind of cooperation and exchanges between parliamentarians from both sides in a bid to create an area of mutual understanding between them, and to provide an opportunity for European parliamentarians to understand the difficulties and complexities facing Egypt in this period of transition.
The European official agreed with what Ambassador Dr. Saad said about the challenges currently facing Egypt; pointing to the fact that the economic challenge is the most serious one on the longer-term from their point of view, especially in light of the increasing birth rates in Egypt and the modest resources available. Mr. Berger pointed out that they have raised all these issues with their Egyptian partners, stressing at the same time they are noticing some positive trends that should be strengthened, such as the reform of the Interior Ministry and police, and the criticism that is sometimes directed to the government performance in some of the Egyptian media, which was not the case before.
The European official then moved to regional issues; namely, the Palestinian issue, the Syrian file and the situation in Yemen. He inquired whether, from our point of view, there were prospects of forming a transitional national coalition government in Libya and whether–if formed- would it be able to keep conditions under control on the ground.
Ambassador IhabWahba refuted a number of positions on the part of the European Union, stressing that the list of accusations made in the European Parliament’s recent resolution of Egypt of violating human rights is a long list and undocumented, especially with regard to the numbers of detainees and cases of forced disappearances. He also noted a contradiction between the confirmation of the parliament of the vital importance of relations with Egypt, and at the same time leveling undocumented accusations at it. However, he added that there were some positive developments, including the conclusion of the Iranian nuclear deal and the improvement of Tehran’s relations with the West which might lead tochecking the Iranian expansion in the region. He also pointed out that there was talk of the withdrawal of Iranian forces and Hezbollah units from the conflict in Syria, and perhaps extending it to include Yemen. Ambassador Wahba further explained the situation in Syria and the Palestinian cause.
The European official commented on Ambassador Wahba’s statement on the European Parliament resolution by saying that what matters to them is the stability of Egypt, which can only happen through the application of the new constitution, respecting human rights, and ensuring the Egyptian parliament’s performance and role. He added that the data contained in the European Parliament resolution are from open Egyptian sources of information, and that it should not be ignored that the European Parliament resolution was passed unanimously by all parties represented therein. He pointed out that the reaction by the Egyptian media to the resolution was interesting to them as they were positive. Mr. Berger said that they understood that resolution and expressed hope that there would be more space for the defenders of the Egyptian constitution.