THE European Union is to suspend exports of weapons and goods to Egypt that could be used for repression but has not halted aid programmes for fear of hurting ordinary Egyptians.
Yesterday’s announcement followed a meeting of EU foreign ministers and came as a Cairo court said former Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak could leave prison as early as today
Mubarak, 85, is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt which toppled him, but he has already served the maximum pre-trial detention in that case.
The court ruling yesterday removed the last legal ground for his imprisonment in connection with a corruption case, following a similar decision in another corruption case on Monday. Asked when his client would go free, Mubarak’s lawyer, Fareed al-Deeb, said: “Maybe tomorrow.”
In Brussels, the 28 EU foreign ministers called on the military authorities and the supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to resume negotiations to avoid further bloodshed.
“It was decided… to suspend all arms deliveries that can be used internally,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius following the emergency meeting in Brussels. “We have decided to maintain our aid for the Egyptian population because it already suffers enormously,” he added. Clashes between security forces and Mr Morsi’s supporters have seen hundreds killed in the past week.
“We do believe the recent operations of the security forces have been disproportionate and we’re worried about the resulting alarming number of people that have been killed,” said the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
“We call on all sides to stop the cycle of violence, to stop the provocations, to stop the hate speech,” she said, adding that the EU “strongly condemns” the recent violence.
The EU is Egypt’s biggest trading partner and a major source of aid, loans and tourists. Member states last year pledged a combined €5 billion (£4.2bn) in loans and aid for Egypt. The decision to suspend some export licenses falls short of a full weapons embargo, but many EU states including Germany and Britain have already suspended new exports to Egypt.
EU ministers shied away from more radical steps such as cutting aid right away or imposing sanctions, hoping to maintain a role as a broker in the crisis by continuing to talk to both sides in Egypt, who are less suspicious of the EU than of Washington, which has long-standing links to Egypt and its military.
“Doing too much would risk upsetting completely the current power in Egypt, but not doing enough risks corroborating this vision of a Europe that is extremely cynical,” Elena Aoun, professor of international relations at Brussels University, said before the meeting.
EU threats to cut some aid may not frighten Egypt’s leadership since Saudi Arabia – a long-time critic of the Muslim Brotherhood – has pledged to plug any shortfall. Saudi and other wealthy Gulf nations, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, have so far promised $12 billion (£7.6bn) in new aid.
The ultimate goal, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said, must be a political solution which would also avoid further destabilising the region.
“I am convinced there is no alternative to getting both of them around the negotiating table,” Mr Timmermans said.
Even if released from custody, Mubarak probably has no political future, but the court ruling yesterday, which state prosecutor Ahmed el-Bahrawi said cannot be appealed, made some Egyptians indignant.
“The army has brought back Mubarak’s regime, the same regime,” said Guma Abdel Alim, outside a bike shop in Cairo. “Those who were elected by the people are now in prison.”
He was referring to a widescale security sweep on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood that has netted many of its leaders.