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EU ministers discuss post-referendum Egypt

Foreign ministers congratulate Egyptians on referendum but express concerns over political climate

Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir square after a new constitution was approved on January 18, 2014 in the capital Cairo. The new constitution was approved by 98.1 percent, the elections chief said, in what the government declared a popular endorsement of the army's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.   (AFP PHOTO MAHMOUD KHALED)
Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir square after a new constitution was approved on January 18, 2014 in the capital Cairo.

Foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels on Monday to discuss a variety of issues ranging from the situation in the Central African Republic, the Syrian conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme as well as discussing the situation in Egypt following the constitutional referendum held last week.

The referendum resulted in a 98.1% endorsement of the constitution, seeing a 38.6% turnout of registered voters amid a boycott by groups that support deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Misr Al-Qawia, who originally said it would participate, also decided to boycott due the arrests of activists campaigning for a No vote.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton, who heads the Foreign Affairs Council, said of the referendum ahead of the meeting: “It’s a high percentage voting. It’s a turnout I would have liked to have seen even higher.” She highlighted the need to follow the roadmap “in terms of elections and to try and be as inclusive as possible in terms of bringing all Egyptian people who support democracy and who support the future of Egypt into the political framework.”

Ashton gave a statement on Sunday night congratulating “the Egyptian people and the authorities responsible for organising the vote in a largely orderly manner”.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that the result of the referendum showed “the [Egyptian] people want a successful democratic transition”. However, he added: “It is important that so many people went out to vote in the referendum but the restriction of political space for opposition is certainly an issue and a problem.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he is “concerned with the situation [in Egypt] as I see it,” pointing to both political and economic issues. He continued: “I fail to see that we have stabilisation there. We are concerned with the human rights and political situation.”

The Foreign Affairs Council decided in August last year to revoke export licenses to Egypt relating to equipment “used for internal repression”. The decision came following the clearing of two large pro-Morsi protest camps by security forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries.

The EU has been following the events in Egypt closely. Ashton has visited numerous times, notably in the period immediately after Morsi’s ouster when she, along with other foreign diplomats, attempted to facilitate dialogue between the opposing political factions in Egypt. Ashton was the first foreign diplomat to visit Morsi while he was held in a secret location.

Recently the EU has expressed its desire to continue cooperation with Egypt, especially in the area of supporting the economy.

The Foreign Affairs Council is expected to discuss the situation in Egypt in further detail on 10 February, according to an EU press release.

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