- EU countries are concerned that a potential economic collapse in Egypt could prompt a new surge in migration from north Africa to Mediterranean EU states. Diplomats on the Union's Political and Security Committee (PSC) discussed the scenario at a meeting in Brussels earlier this week. "It's a country of almost 90 million people on the EU's southern fringe. If things keep getting worse, where do you think that they will go? It won't be to other places in Africa, or to Scandinavia, it will be places like Italy or Greece," a diplomatic contact told EUobserver.
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The US on Wednesday (9 October) suspended parts of a $1.3 billion military aid programme to Egypt due to its violent crackdown on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The EU is still undecided whether to keep paying aid. Its foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, on 3 October visited Cairo to speak with its de facto military ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and with brotherhood chiefs.
She called for “inclusiveness, to ensure that the political future of Egypt belongs to the Egyptian people.” Earlier this week, she said she is “deeply concerned” by the latest round of violence, in which some 50 street protesters and 10 security officers lost their lives. The EU believes the Egyptian economy will not recover unless there is a political solution to the army-brotherhood confrontation.
But speakers at the PSC meeting noted the EU does not have much influence over events: For their part, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $12 billion in aid with no strings attached. Meanwhile, EU ideas on how to help are thin on the ground. Greece – a frontline country in terms of north African migrants – told the PSC the EU could send a mission to train Egyptian police in riot control.
But it went down badly, amid concern the EU could be seen as helping the crackdown. According to the World Bank, Egypt’s GDP has nosedived since the 2011 revolution which brought down Hosni Mubarak. It says in its current analysis that: “Low growth rates pose a danger to mounting social frustrations, as they will not suffice to deliver the needed jobs and opportunities.” At the same time, el-Sisi is having a potentially explosive impact on Gaza.
The Palestinian enclave, sealed off by Israel, depends on smugglers in the Sinai desert to bring in basic goods via tunnels on the Egyptian border. Under the former Muslim Brotherhood government, EU diplomats and Egyptian intelligence officers talked with Bedouin groups in the Sinai to try reduce arms supplies to Gaza. They even considered paying the smugglers to reduce weapons traffic.
But el-Sisi’s forces have destroyed most of the tunnels and are waging war on Sinai militants instead. “If things don’t change, we will have mass unrest in Gaza before the end of the year,” the EU diplomatic contact said.