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Egyptian uprising raises the demand for Europe’s support

Europeans sympathize with Egypt’s pro-democracy revolution January 25 that overthrew President Mubarak’s 30 year reign. The European Union and the Council of Europe are ready to assist state institutions and national forces, to facilitate economic reform and youth movements. But Egypt, not Europe, must dictate outcomes and define solutions.

By: Effat Mostafa

France, Brussels – The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and security policy presented a forum on “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” on March 11th, 2011. One of its crucial goals is to identify how Europe can support the momentous economic and political reforms in Egypt and the Middle Eastern region.

“The European Union has the experience and tools to help countries in the Arab region as they make the journey to deep democracy,” said Catherine Ashton, Vice President and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

During her speech in Brussels, Catherine Ashton emphasized that the European Investment Bank EIB could provide approximately six billion Euros to the Mediterranean region in the coming three years if the Council approves the additional lending envelope of one billion Euros, as recently proposed by the European Parliament. The EU proposed to double their investment in Egypt through infrastructure projects to create job opportunities for Egyptian youth.

Egypt must make the first move. “It would be premature to announce a support package for Egypt until Egyptian authorities make a specific request for assistance that prioritizes needs,” said Mario David, the European Parliament’s Chair of Delegation for Mashreq countries.

EU should understand the complexity of Egypt’s problems.

Dr Amr Hamzawey, Cairo University political science professor and a research Director at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington, noted that in formulating an aid package of technical and financial assistance directed to Egyptian institutions, the EU must consider how this aid will function in the context of constitutional and legal reform, political engagement in the organization of the referendum on constitutional amendments, and presidential and parliamentary elections.

Hamzawey also emphasized that cooperation between both the EU and the Council of Europe are crucial to map a plan that transfers European expertise assist the transition to democracy, while addressing state founders, national forces and civil society.

In the wake of Egyptian protests, economic and political challenges have emerged and the EU, in supporting the quest for the democratic principles and value, must have a clear understanding of what these challenges entail.  Said El-Khadraoui, Vice Chair of Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries, explained that the EU can offer Egypt significant expertise –culled from individual governments, the European Institutions (European Commission and European Parliament), local and regional authorities, political parties, foundations, trade unions and civil society organizations.

El-Khadraoui also pointed out that the EU will review its neighborhood policy with the countries in the Arab region in accordance with changes impacted by recent political reform in Egypt. He added that the EU will focus on Egypt’s economy.

Dr. Charles Tannock, a member in the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the European parliament, announced that the EU is ready to mobilize full support for the Egyptian people and has started a dialogue with the recently appointed Egyptian government. He added that the EU welcomes the suitable delivery of first proposals for amending the constitution and encourages Egyptian authorities to continue in their commitment to political reform and to create an environment for thorough democratic transition, including lifting the state of emergency law.

The Council of Europe, another aid partner, is communicating with the EU in an effort to support Egypt during this transitional period. Jean Claus, Adviser in the External Relations committee in the Council of Europe, said that Egypt already participates in some of the activities supported by the Council, and notes that “This participation will facilitate our support to the country after the revolution.”

Claus added that the Council is offering a partial agreement called “The Venice Commission” dealing with constitutional and electoral issues, and Egypt is entitled to ask for membership. Claus adds that “the Venice Commission” can offer Egypt useful advice in building democratic institutions, in the principles of accountability between the authorities and society, and the reduction of corruption at all levels of society.

Influence of Egyptian revolution on Tourism.

Egypt’s protests have triggered a significant economic crisis, and the aftermath is manifested in the country’s GDP growth rate. Before the revolution, which officially began on January 25th, a Reuter’s survey of financial analysts predicted 5.4% GDP growth in 2011, the fastest for an Arab country after Qatar.

According to the Egyptian stock market, each of the 18 days that the uprising lasted cost Egypt’s economy $1 billion in capital outflow, as foreign investors took money out. The uprising also affected the country’s infrastructures, key institutions, and its tourism industry, which accounts for 11% of GDP and 10% of jobs. Banks estimate the total loss to the Egyptian economy at over $30 billion.

Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry will not recover soon. Dr. Laila Nabhan, Owner of Five Continents Travel Company, said she counted her family-owned company’s loss at about 80% since the revolution, when many airlines, including Delta, cancelled flights. Five Continents is the Delta representative in Egypt. “We’ve had group and individual cancellations,” says Naban, “up through winter of 2011. Tourists will not return until there is stability in the country.”

The amount of revenue that Egypt lost as a result of the revolution came under discussion of the proposal of Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean at the recent EU conference in Brussels. Catherine Ashton observed that if the European Council does not revitalize tourism in the Arab world, notably Egypt, the loss of national income could undermine recent democratic reforms by jeopardizing the compromised stability in the region.

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Fact box:

  • Before the uprising, Egypt’s GDP was $217 billion, half the GDP of Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s GDP relied on foreign investment, tourism, and transit fees through the Suez Canal.
  • “A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity  with the southern Mediterranean” is a joint communication  to the European council, the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions
  • The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Established in 1990, the commission has played a leading role in the adoption of constitutions that conform to the standards of Europe’s constitutional heritage.
  • The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the European Union’s financing institution. Its shareholders are the 27 Member States of the Union, which have jointly subscribed its capital.