CAIRO: The European Union (EU) put poverty in Egypt at 20 percent while it expressed “concern and disappointment” over Egypt’s decision to extend its decades-old emergency law and disfavored a decision by Nile basin countries to sign a deal that excludes Egypt and Sudan in a recent report.
Last Thursday, Head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt Ambassador Marc Franco discussed the contents of the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) report on Egypt which was released on Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium and maps progress made on the implementation of the EU-Egypt ENP Action Plan between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2009.
The 22-page report tackles political, economic and social issues in Egypt, highlighting areas where progress have been achieved and others where deficiencies still prevail.
Political dialogue and reform
“The further extension of the state of emergency is cause of concern and disappointment. While its lifting as soon as possible is important, it will be equally important that the counter-terrorism legislation adopted is in line with international standards, thus striking an effective balance between security and individual rights,” according to the report.
Meanwhile, last week, adopting a more moderate tone in commenting on parliament’s decision to extend the emergency law, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said in a statement, “I note Egypt’s decision to limit the new state of emergency to fighting terrorism and its financing and drug-related crimes.
“However, I strongly encourage the government to speed up the steps needed for the adoption of an anti-terrorism law compliant with international human rights standards as soon as possible.”
On Thursday, Franco told journalists that “the ‘disappointment’ is caused by the fact that the law wasn’t removed all together and replaced by an anti-terrorism law.”
“The application of the Emergency Law continues to represent a major obstacle to the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” reads the report.
According to its text, the Egyptian government only accepted 119 out of 165 recommendations made during the EU’s review of policies pertaining to human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Pledging the EU’s support for democratic reform in Egypt, Franco urged an implementation “of a rule of law that ties democratic governance with a transparent system.”
“Shared values constitute the fundamental basis of a sustainable relationship,” he said, adding that he hoped trade relations between Egypt and the EU will lead to transfer of ideologies across its borders.
“But this change doesn’t happen overnight,” he added.
On the upcoming elections, Franco said that the EU has repeatedly offered its assistance to improve the electoral processes but that their invitation hasn’t been taken up by the government.
“We believe in effective civil society observation measures by the National Association for Human Rights, which we very much respect, in the case that Egypt does not invite any international observers,” said Franco.
Egypt is slated for parliamentary elections this fall and a presidential race next year.
Meanwhile, the ENP report highlights continuous torture practiced in police stations as well as the existence of sectarian strife.
“Twenty-eight illegal migrants of sub-Saharan origin were killed at the Egyptian-Israeli border in 2009, and in June 2009 up to 1,200 Eritrean asylum-seekers were forcibly returned to their country of origin,” the report added.
However, it hailed a historic court decision last year that allowed two Bahaís to be the first to issue a national identification card without having to specify their religious affiliation.
Economy and EU member states
On the economic front, the report hailed Egypt’s ability to weather the global economic melt-down without substantial losses. However, it highlighted rising rates of unemployment and the prevalence of poor living conditions.
The ENP report put Egypt’s poor at 20 percent, despite widely circulated figures that suggest poverty levels affect 35-40 percent of the population.
“It’s not an easy task but we do believe the government has embarked on a path of tackling social inequality and economic development,” said Franco.
According to the report, unemployment, particularly among the youth, is on the rise, triggered by the return of many Egyptians from the Gulf at the peak of the financial crisis.
“Results have been rich but more can be done … We cannot do what the government is not doing,” said Franco.
Addressing concerns over EU member states’ military cooperation with Israel and a stance on wearing the Islamic face veil or the burka in public, Franco maintained that such debate remains country-specific.
“It’s not up to me to address member states specific policies,” said Franco, adding that the burka is an issue of discussion in many of Arab and Muslim countries, and not only in EU countries.
Meanwhile, he said that a common EU foreign policy is in the pipeline.
“There has been major institution renovation [caused] by the Lisbon Treaty. Let’s wait and see the common foreign policy.”
Further discussion on Egypt’s relations with the EU will be featured at the EU-Egypt Summit in Barcelona on June 6, 2010.