EU member states yesterday agreed to suspend export licences for any equipment that could be used for political repression in Egypt, but stressed that humanitarian aid to the country will continue.
European foreign ministers reached the decision as they gathered for emergency talks on Egypt after a week in which more than 900 people died during a bloody crackdown on supporters of the country's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military last month.
EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton said the ministers strongly condemned the "disproportionate use of force" by the Egyptian security forces but also violence by some opposed to the month- old army-backed regime.
On the issue of aid, Lady Ashton said member states “feel very strongly that they want to continue to support vulnerable people in Egypt” – a reference to EU-funded programmes for basic social services, such as health and education, for the poorest.
She noted, however, that the EU would review its assistance to Egypt and urged all sides to “stop the violence and provocations” and “engage in inclusive national dialogue, open to all”.
Last November the EU pledged a €5 billion aid package for Egypt but most of the funding remains frozen because of concerns about corruption in the country. A number of EU countries, including Denmark and Germany, have already cut their development aid to Cairo following last week's violence.
Many member states, including Ireland, felt that suspending all financial assistance to Egypt would be counterproductive as it runs the risk of weakening EU leverage in nudging the interim authorities towards restoring democratic rule.
EU diplomatic efforts to prevent an escalation of the unrest that has roiled Egypt since Morsi’s ousting foundered ahead of last week’s deadly security operation to break up two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.
Lady Ashton, who visited Egypt last month, when she was allowed to meet Morsi, who has been in custody since his ousting, said she was willing to return “if they wish me to”.
The EU is a major economic partner for Egypt, with EU-Egypt trade worth €23.8 billion in 2012. Despite this, the EU’s ability to influence the country’s new authorities appears increasingly limited as alternative sources of aid, particularly from the Gulf states, line up.
Soon after the deposing of Morsi in early July, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates promised the country a total of $12 billion in loans, grants and fuel supplies. Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it would be prepared to cover any other aid that might be withdrawn to Egypt with a one-off €9 billion instalment.
“The Arab and Muslim states are rich and won’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to Egypt,” said Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal.
Egypt's ambassador to France Mohamed Moustafa Kamal warned European countries yesterday that using trade relations to exert pressure on Egypt was unacceptable and claimed it could encourage further unrest.
“Sometimes these sort of messages can give a false impression to parties who practice violence because they can believe that the international community supports them,” he claimed.
The EU ministers also called for an end to all violence, the launch of an independent investigation into all recent killings, the release of political prisoners rounded up in recent weeks, and for the military-imposed state of emergency to be lifted.