EU and US appeal to Egypt for orderly transition


EUROPE and the US have made a joint appeal to the Egyptian people to agree to an orderly process of democratic transition before holding fresh elections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton emerged from bilateral talks at the Munich Security Conference to present a united front with remarks that appeared to take President Hosni Mubarak’s departure as a given.

Without mentioning him by name, Mrs Clinton said that Middle East leaders who ignore demands for reform “may be able to hold back the tide for a little while, but not long”.

“What has driven demonstrations is that the status quo is simply not sustainable, but we know elections alone are not sufficient,” said Mrs Clinton.

“They’re not even sufficient to secure lasting change. We have to work to support institutions of good governance, the rule of law, a free judiciary and the protection of the rights of minorities. Those are the building blocks of true democracy.”

Mrs Clinton called for a “deliberate, inclusive and transparent” process of transition moving “from the street back to the parliament”, with only those allowed to participate who “renounce violence as a tool of political persuasion”.

Haste would doom the process to failure as “transition can backslide into another authoritarian regime”.

Dr Merkel dismissed expectations of advice from western leaders to Egyptians – “I can’t imagine they are waiting to hear what we think” – before admitting the pictures from Egypt recalled images from East Germany in 1989.

She remembered how many optimistic East Germans, including herself, rushed to join new political parties that vanished in the western German system. Her message was clear: a similar fate awaits idealistic Egyptians in a hurry.

“When you’re in a phase of change things can’t happen quickly enough, you don’t think about sustainable structures, you just want to move on,” said Dr Merkel.

“But in Egypt we have to take care that such structures develop because, although some people say all they want is to vote, without new structures they have no chance.

“We need an orderly transition process, we need to give time for structures; a power vacuum is dangerous.” Regardless of the future government in Egypt, the red line in the sand should be the respect of fundamental human rights.

British prime minister David Cameron said Egypt would have to strike a balance between haste and change, arguing that procrastinating on reform would leave the world with “an Egypt we wouldn’t welcome”.

“Yes, transition has to start now to demonstrate to the people in Cairo that their aspirations are being understood,” he said.

“But if we think it’s [just] about holding elections we’re wrong: it’s a set of actions.”

Representing the EU, European Council president Herman van Rompuy called the protests a “moment of truth” for Egypt and said that people of Europe “stand behind the Egyptian people”.

“Events in Tunisia and Egypt show that stability can result in immobility,” he said. “Therefore stability alone cannot be the ultimate answer. There is a difference between stability and sustainability.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton rejected criticism that Europe had dithered over Egypt.

“I really don’t accept that we have been slow. I think that we have to be very measured, and very clear,” she said after a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers in Munich.

In a statement, the quartet expressed regret at Israel’s ending a 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged orderly transition in Egypt to prevent “any negative sudden impacts on the overall peace and stability in this region”.