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Debates
Wednesday, 4 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Situation in Egypt (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the debate on the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the situation in Egypt.

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, for the first time ever Egyptians have been able to express their will in choosing peacefully the person and the project carrying their hopes and answering their expectations.

The Foreign Affairs Council of 25 June praised the peaceful conduct of the electoral process which marks an important step in Egypt’s democratic transition. President Van Rompuy, as well as President Barroso, Catherine Ashton and many European leaders congratulated the Egyptians and the new President on this impressive, historic change.

The European Union Electoral Expert Mission and the accredited international civil society organisations have not reported any major and systemic violation which could have changed the outcome of the elections. The European Union delegation played a very useful role in coordinating the witnessing of the elections by its international presence in Cairo.

It is of extreme importance that under President Morsi’s leadership all Egyptians should be able to enjoy their full democratic rights and fundamental freedoms and that an independent and active civil society should flourish. We also welcome all the statements made by the Egyptian authorities and President Morsi regarding their will to uphold Egypt’s international agreements.

The peace and stability of the whole region, our common neighbourhood, is a shared goal by the European Union and Egypt. The peace treaty with Israel plays a fundamental role. The Supreme Court of the Armed Forces has guaranteed that the treaty will remain valid and we trust that the new Egyptian leadership will continue to stick to this principle. We are also confident that the new Egyptian authorities will continue to play a constructive role in addressing the challenges facing the region, including the promotion of Palestinian reconciliation. The transition will continue.

The road towards a deep and sustainable democracy that will meet the aspirations and demands of all Egyptians is still a long one, but Egypt will never be the same. There is no going back.

The addendum to the Constitutional Declaration issued on 17 June by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and its decision to dissolve the entire Lower House of the parliament, is worrying. With this decree the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has assumed legislative powers and has significantly curtailed the powers of the democratically elected President. The Foreign Affairs Council of 25 June expressed its serious concerns regarding this matter. The Vice-President/High Representative Catherine Ashton remains in close contact with the Egyptian authorities.

All parties must find a solution allowing the complete transfer of power to democratically elected civilian rule as swiftly as possible. In this context the announced intention of President Morsi to appoint an inclusive cabinet representative of all forces in Egypt is a very welcome development. It can substantially contribute to the emergence of a national consensus, which is needed during the delicate transitory phase.

The coming months will have a huge impact on Egypt’s future, with the adoption of a new constitution and the likely organisation of new elections. An essential aspect of democratic transition consists in ensuring that everyone can take part in social and political life without fear, regardless of political affiliation, gender, religion or belief. By its very nature a constitution is a founding agreement which must be consensual and inclusive to become a legitimate and durable reference for all citizens.

Therefore we expect that the provisions of the new constitution will: firstly, protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens; secondly, place the army and the police under the control of democratically elected civilian authorities; and thirdly, guarantee the independence of the judiciary.

Egypt can count on the European Union’s strong support in addressing the complex political and socio-economic challenges which lie ahead. We are looking forward to engaging and establishing a close and fruitful working relationship with the new President and with the future government, with the aim to further deepen our bilateral relations.

In order to do so the former dialogues between the European Union and Egypt should be resumed as soon as possible. One of our priorities is the drafting of a new action plan reflecting the objectives of the new neighbourhood policy as defined in the March and May 2011 communications.

In this context the meeting of the task force with Egypt scheduled for this autumn will be a unique opportunity to show the European Union’s commitments to Egypt’s democratic transition. The Vice-President/High Representative will welcome the European Parliament’s involvement and constructive input in the task force.

Ultimately the responsibility for Egypt’s democratic transformation in future will be in the hands of the Egyptians themselves. But the European Union will continue to do its utmost in helping them to achieve this great endeavour.

 
  
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  Hans-Gert Pöttering, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, a new president has been elected in Egypt in a peaceful election campaign. This is something to be welcomed as a very remarkable process for Egypt. The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) would like to extend its good wishes to the new President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, and to express the hope that a positive period of cooperation will ensue.

The first statements by the new president have been very encouraging. His words regarding his relationship with minorities, in particular the Christians, specifically the Copts, could become a template for the Arab and Muslim world. President Morsi has indicated that he could even envisage a Copt being appointed as Vice-President, in other words as his deputy, which is quite a contrast with other statements from the Arab world, e.g. the statement made by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah, on 12 March 2012, which has surprisingly elicited no public reaction in Europe or the rest of the world, when he said that all the churches on the Arabian peninsula should be destroyed and no new ones built.

If Egypt now takes a different tack and shows that religion and politics are not mutual exclusives, then this would be a completely new example of how Muslim faith and politics can be reconciled. As a Christian, I would like to make it clear that there is no such thing as Christian politics, however politics can be guided by Christian responsibility. Likewise, there can be no such thing as Islamist politics, however politics can be guided by the Muslim faith. If the focus is on human beings and human life, then this is something that we can all support.

It is also a positive signal that President Morsi recognises international agreements, including the Camp David Agreement between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin – dating back I believe to 1980. I would be pleased if Mr Mavroyiannis would listen to what I have to say. Mr Mavroyiannis, Minister Mavroyiannis, I would be grateful to you if you could listen to me and I would ask that this time should be deducted from my speaking time. If Israel is now recognised and remains so, then this is a positive sign. We would, however, also call on Israel to do all it can to ensure that a two-state arrangement is implemented and that the settlement policy is halted.

I have one final comment: we can see that civil society in Egypt is unable to develop freely. A court case has been initiated against non-governmental organisations and international foundations, including the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, for alleged illegal activities. The case resumed today and we are calling on the Egyptian authorities to put a stop to these cases, so that the work of people from Europe and the rest of the world who campaign for civil society in Egypt is recognised and so that civil society in Egypt can make its contribution to democracy and free development.

 
  
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  Pier Antonio Panzeri, on behalf of the S&D Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, at long last we can say that the official announcement of the appointment of Mr Morsi, leader of the Justice and Freedom Party, has brought this first phase of the Egyptian political saga to a close; it was never a given, with two highly controversial judgments of the Constitutional Court sending out shockwaves in the days before the results were announced.

The first judgment saw the supreme court declare the political isolation law under which Mr Shafiq was made ineligible to stand in the presidential elections as unconstitutional. The second judgment ruled that the electoral law used for the general elections was unconstitutional, thereby dissolving parliament, which could also have consequences for the constituent assembly. Just to complicate matters, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces also issued amendments to the constitution, severely weakening the president’s powers and abolishing autonomous legislative power until a new constitution has been approved.

In his first speech as president, Mr Morsi sent what was, for us, a cheering message of unity and conciliation, as he sought to mollify the various sections of Egyptian society. In terms of foreign policy, he affirmed that he would make good on existing international obligations.

Now we will have to see whether he is as good as his word. In any case, after a period of extreme uncertainty and instability, the election of a new president could finally open the way to a new phase that might, on the one hand, spur Egypt on to quickly consolidate democracy and rights and, on the other hand, enable efforts to be made to revive the economy and put an end to the ongoing financial crisis.

We need, in this area, to make the role of the European Union clearer and more visible, including via the EU-Egypt task force. The EU must be ready to work with the new president to strengthen bilateral relations, to support and see through the transition to democracy, and to overcome the economic and financial problems that could jeopardise the country’s stability.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, the Egyptian people have been joined by us and many across the world in celebrating the historic moment of the election of the first President to be elected democratically and, most importantly, as a non-military President. Or, so it seems.

As the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dissolved Parliament and extended its own powers – reaching into the sphere of legislative and executive powers – we also stand with the Egyptian people in understanding that there is a long way to go before Egypt is truly democratic. The question is what President Morsi will be able to change, given that the essential elements of a democracy, such as a separation of powers and the rule of law, are not in place. Effectively Egyptians are still living under military rule.

We ask the new President to abolish immediately military trials for civilians and martial law. It is unacceptable that so many people are still in prison for their political convictions, and it is even more unacceptable that today people are still being sentenced without a proper trial. Egypt will only be able to claim to be democratic if these military trials come to an absolute end, and if the human rights of all Egyptians are respected.

The EU, led by Vice-President/High Representative Ashton, should engage with the Egyptians and pressure all those in power to respect the rights of all Egyptians. Elections should be free and should lead to a parliament which truly represents the people and which is equipped with legislative powers.

We will give President Morsi the benefit of the doubt, while confirming that the EU’s ‘more for more’ principle of granting more market access in return for more respect for human rights, democracy and minority rights – specifically those of women – will be respected. We will judge old and new powers in Egypt on their actions, and will remain ready to help ensure that this difficult but important transitional period brings an actual improvement worthy of the word ‘revolution’ – a turning point from repression to freedom.

 
  
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  Malika Benarab-Attou , on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Mr President, ever since President Mubarak’s fall in February 2011, Egypt has been run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which gave itself the powers to legislate and to draft the Constitution. How can we not be worried?

It was against this backdrop that Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, was elected on 24 June. For many Egyptian women, Mohamed Morsi's election jeopardises women’s rights. It should be pointed out that Islamist MPs had previously proposed reforming a provision that allows women to divorce without their husband’s consent. Similarly, they tried to pass a law banning women from seeking a divorce.

Women must be listened to and their demands heard. Without them, democracy in Egypt will not be possible. They call for the provisions of the Charter on Women's Rights to be implemented in Egypt, a charter established last year by more than a thousand women and approved by half a million Egyptian citizens, men and women alike. This document sanctions fundamental rights such as the right to participate in political and economic life, representation in government and equality before the law. The Egyptian legal system must protect women against all forms of violence.

We absolutely must support these demands, demands which are legitimate. Will Baroness Ashton support them? What steps will she consider to support Egypt on the road to democracy? How can we, as Europeans, respond to the concerns of these young people and women who fear that the arrival of the Islamists …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, President Morsi is Egypt’s first democratically elected President of the post-Mubarak era. Whilst free and fair democratic elections are a great step forward for Egypt’s people, I believe it is also essential for Morsi to keep two vital manifesto promises. Firstly, he must uphold the longstanding peace treaty with Israel to prevent regional destabilisation, and he should recommit himself strongly to help find a lasting peace deal for the Arab-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution. Secondly, he must protect the rights of the sizeable Christian Coptic community, another non-Muslim minority in this country, and protect them from the persecution perpetrated against them by Salafi extremists.

I therefore welcome President Morsi’s pledge to include Christians and women in his new government. He should now also publicly distance the Muslim Brotherhood from the extremist elements who wish forcibly to include a Saudi Wahabi-style Sharia clause in the constitution, which would lead to disastrous Iran-style isolation for Egypt and possibly to a mass exodus of Christians and ultimately to the collapse of the Egyptian economy.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Mr President, the election of the new Egyptian President in the post-Mubarak era is good news, but we cannot delude ourselves: this presidential election in no way concludes the transition process under way in Egypt.

It has rightly been mentioned that the dissolution of the parliament, days before the presidential elections, has caused several threats to come to the fore. In this case, the power concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is excessive, to say the least: it has legislative power, it has reduced the president’s power and, furthermore, it still has the power to draft the constitution. We think all this is a cause for concern. It should be a cause for concern because Egyptians run the risk of becoming hostages to military power and of returning to the past; they lack a key element, which is a democratically elected parliament.

It does not fall to us to make the change in Egypt: it falls to the Egyptian people. However, I think we Europeans must be on the side of any changes proposing the restoration of democratic legitimacy and a democratically elected parliament.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (NL) Mr President, my contact with the Christians in Egypt informed me yesterday that they are very worried about the current situation in their country.

The reassuring words and gestures of the new President and Muslim Brother, Mohammed Mursi, at least remove their fear of eventually being denied their living space by Islamic forces. In the final analysis, the Muslim Brotherhood has broken its promises at crucial moments at least three times since the fall of the Mubarak regime. I therefore strongly urge the High Representative to also take an interest in the social rights situation of the Christian minority when the EU is in contact with the Egyptian authorities.

A second point that I ask the High Representative to bring up with Cairo relates to the enforcement of what has become an ice cold peace treaty with neighbouring Israel. The European Union therefore needs to demand of the Egyptian military leadership that it remedies the security situation in the Sinai Desert and thus at the same time effectively protects and guarantees the border it shares with southern Israel.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, many Egyptian Christians fear that the election of their new president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, will finally transform the country into an Islamic state, which would make their everyday lives hell. The Copts make up about 10 to 20 % of Egypt’s population, in other words about 10 million people. Not all of them have the courage to admit their faith. They are accustomed to economic suppression and a disregard for their religious needs. In an Islamic society, however, they would lose all their rights in practice. Islamic supremacy in the region is nothing new, however it was resisted by the state in the past, while now it is simply synonymous with the state. The violent attacks on Christians speak volumes – there is no sign of the Arab Spring here.

Baroness Ashton needs to dispatch a delegation immediately to assess the plight of Christians on the ground. The EU should also link all payments to Egypt with the observation of human rights.

 
  
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  Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE).(ES) Mr President, I welcome the fact that the recent presidential elections in Egypt took place without any major problems and that the results have been accepted, but I think it is clear that those elections and the unexpected decisions taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces a few days before demonstrate that, in reality, there is a dual power structure in Egypt.

These are delicate times. I believe it is essential that these two centres of power have dialogue and cooperate during this phase and launch an ordered transition towards normal democracy. I welcome the fact that it appears that the government soon to be elected by President Morsi will be a broad government representing broad sectors of the plural society that Egypt has.

It will also be important to draw up a new constitution. I trust that it will establish a multi-party democratic system that respects human rights, including the rights of minorities. We cannot forget, as other speakers have said, the importance of the Christian minority, whose rights must be fully respected without discrimination.

Egypt, ladies and gentlemen, is a key country in the Arab world and the whole region. What happens there will have repercussions on the rest of the Muslim world. Egypt can set an example, as Mr Pöttering said. It is also very important for the Egyptian political leaders to be aware of the need for their decisions not to destabilise the region, which has suffered numerous conflicts. I welcome the fact that the current international commitments are going to be honoured.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union cannot be removed from what is happening in Egypt. I repeat, it is a very important country, in our Mediterranean neighbourhood. We must support this transition and try to help where we can, without, of course, failing to defend our values and interests.

Finally, I would like to express my support for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has been suffering a difficult situation in Egypt for months.

 
  
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  Saïd El Khadraoui (S&D).(NL) Mr President, recent months have been interesting times in Egypt, with much drama and a great deal of tension. There were presidential elections running in parallel with a discussion about a new constitution and thus about the powers of that President, and there was a Parliament that was dissolved.

Now, the conclusion is that an opponent of the military regime has won the elections, but that, at the same time, the military are keeping hold of the reins in many areas. I personally believe that, despite the difficulties, we need to see the positive in these developments. It is now up to the European Union to contribute to the success of the transition to democracy.

One particularly important challenge will be to get the country on its feet again from an economic point of view. Tourism has practically collapsed, foreign investors are staying away and the coffers are empty. Consequently, I would like to ask what initiative the High Representative intends to take in order to quickly contribute to a restarting of the economy in Egypt, which is also a prerequisite for a successful transition to democracy.

 
  
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  Sajjad Karim (ECR). - Mr President, I have recently returned from a visit to Egypt along with other colleagues. It was before the presidential elections and quite clearly there was a very difficult situation: a power struggle taking place with SCAF, the constitution still in a state of flux. Parliament was still constituted at that time.

We had an opportunity to have a dialogue with the elected Members whilst we were there, and I have to confess to this House that I was left less than confident that those Members would lead to an agenda of openness and liberalisation. I have real concerns for the rights of religious minorities and women.

But what is the EU agenda to support the Egypt that we have in front of us today? We have to support it, but not in such a way that those in power can nullify those with an alternative view. Our support must be for those elected representatives who wish to develop a society built on fundamental freedoms and human rights, on shared values.

Mr Pöttering speaks as a Christian. I respond as a Muslim. We speak the same language – one of basic humanity, and we have to weave that into the basic society of the Egypt that is developing today.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D). - Mr President, from the very beginning we knew that the Egyptian transition would be a long one with ups and downs. We have many reasons to be worried about Egypt: the institutional uncertainty, the economic and social crisis, the continued control by the military, and the strong support for Islamist parties, moderate and less moderate.

Despite all the difficulties, the Presidential elections were organised and held in an acceptable way. They showed that secular and moderate democratic forces have a majority in Egypt. The only problem was that they were divided among several candidates, and I think they have learned their lessons.

The new President Morsi appears to be a reliable person who understands the enormous responsibility to keep the nation united, to protect minorities and to secure the peaceful continuation of the transition process in Egypt. I ask that we give him a chance, that we recognise that he is an element of stability in the country, and that we do our best to encourage his first promising steps.

Now we have to concentrate on the next parliamentary elections, to try to support the liberal and secular parties in order to avoid a new crushing victory by the Islamists, especially their Salafist branch. The other task we have is to increase the pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces so that they prepare their exit from power.

Power should be in the hands of the people, and that should be the task we have to achieve together: the Council, the Commission, our new revised neighbourhood policy should be directed in support of this transition for the social and economic development of the country, and we should not be distracted by the fact that the President of the country now represents the Muslim Brotherhood. We have to judge him and any political party in power by its deeds and not by our expectations, the political background and their history.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Richard Howitt (S&D). - Mr President, many of us feared that the delay in the presentation of the presidential election results in Egypt was cover for some form of rigging or manipulation of the votes. So, like other colleagues who have contributed to this debate, I think it is now clear that a transition has taken place in that country, and that is something we should welcome without, of course, endorsing one political party or another.

There was a prospect of the whole Arab Spring actually being stopped in its tracks if this election had failed, so I believe that some hope is retained following what has happened in Egypt today.

With some other Members of this House, I met representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. They told us that they are committed to pluralist democracy and to women’s and minority rights. I do not think that we should take the sort of aggressive stance about political Islam that we sometimes hear from the other side of this House. Nor do I think that we should be naive. But I do think we should hold the Muslim Brotherhood to the pledges they have made to us, and that should inform the European Union’s continuing relations with Egypt and our continuing support for the Arab Spring.

 
  
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  Judith Sargentini (Verts/ALE).(NL) Mr President, I actually have a request of you. We have seen the elections in Egypt. We should count ourselves lucky that, in Mohammed Mursi, we have Egypt’s first freely elected president. He does not have it easy, however, as before he has even begun, the army has removed a number of powers from him. I would like to propose that this House should act quickly to invite President Mursi to come and address us, thus sending a signal to Egypt that we talk to fairly and freely elected representatives of the people and presidents and that we see him as our point of contact, rather than the army.

That is my request of you, and I believe that, if this Parliament grants a request of this kind, we will be giving the Egyptian people and their president a shot in the arm.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, let me just say a few words about some of the remarks that were made by distinguished Members of the European Parliament.

Firstly, the crackdown on NGOs receiving foreign funding is a cause of great concern. NGOs are an important element in all modern democratic societies. As you know, support for civil society is a component of our new European Neighbourhood Policy. The European External Action Service has followed this issue very closely. High Representative/Vice-President Ashton has expressed her deep concern about the restrictions on civil society organisation in Egypt in two statements and before this Parliament. The issue has also been addressed in the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council of 27 February 2012.

Finally, when charges were upheld against NGO employees an EU demarche was carried out at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 21 February 2012 to reiterate our concerns and to request the postponement of the investigations until a new NGO law is adopted. As you know, the trial has been postponed to April 2013 and the travel ban imposed on the NGO workers has been lifted. However, charges have not been dropped. This is why the European External Action Service will continue to give the highest attention to this issue and will keep close contact with the Egyptian authorities, the Member States, our American partners and NGOs to follow up on the forthcoming developments.

Some of you also underlined the importance of upholding the bilateral agreement between Egypt and Israel. The High Representative/Vice-President is certainly keeping a close watch on this issue but, as you have seen, the new Egyptian President has indicated in no uncertain terms his intention to stick to this agreement. Of course we need to remain vigilant but we must recognise the importance of that statement.

I would like to conclude by thanking honourable Members for this fruitful exchange of views about the opportunities and challenges that Egypt is facing in the aftermath of the election of President Morsi. In this respect the forthcoming developments after the dissolution of Parliament and the constitutional addendum on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will require special attention.

Honourable Members I believe, as you do, that the European Parliament has a special role in supporting the promotion of human rights and democracy around the world. In this regard, Egypt is a case in point. The utmost should be achieved to support the democratic transition, and the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country should continue to be carefully assessed. In that context, as Mr Pöttering rightly said – and I present my highest respects to you, Mr Pöttering, and also my apologies for what was perceived as a moment of distraction, but as a matter of fact we are trying to see how to take your comments into account – special attention must be paid to the freedom of religion and belief, not forgetting women’s rights.

On behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Ashton, I assure you that the European Union will continue to pay the greatest attention to Egypt. We are looking forward to engaging with the new President and the forthcoming government.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

 
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