THE BLOG

EU Must React Stronger As Egypt Becomes a Police State

Egypt is on the fast track to become a police state as it has begun turning the clock back to pre-2011 revolution since the July 3rd military coup d'état. All decisions and actions of the new junta point to this eventuality. To name only a few, 19 of the 25 newly appointed provincial governors are generals. A month long state of emergency was declared and a curfew was imposed in 14 provinces across the country. The army has been authorized to "assist" the police in maintaining "law" and "order". A crackdown on both foreign and independent Egyptian journalists was accompanied by the practices of intimidation and killings. Last, but not least, while the former dictator Hosni Mubarak was released from prison, the first democratically elected president of the country has been detained in an undisclosed location since the coup. Large numbers of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members have been detained, arrested, and tortured on bogus charges.

This militarization of the Egyptian state has been accompanied by the terrorization of the large segment of its society through targeted and random massacres. August 14's massacre in Cairo represents the apex of the state's policy of brutal suppression of peaceful protestors who demand the reinstatement of democratically elected president Morsi. Snipers shooting at the protestors from rooftops, police setting fire to protestor camps while they are occupied, and security forces slaughtering people on the streets glaringly demonstrated the ugly and real face of the emerging junta in Cairo.

Incidences such as these and their different manifestations continue unabated. So far, the official statistics put the death toll over 600, but common sense suggests that the real number is probably several times higher. To put it differently, all the practices during more than the one and a half months of junta suggests that Egypt is sliding towards to become another "republic of fear', to borrow the title of Kanan Makiya's seminal book, which gives a detailed account of Saddam Hussain's iron fist rule in Iraq.

In this atmosphere, the EU has a unique responsibility to dramatically reassess its relations with Egypt. The EU is Egypt's largest trade partner. It reserves five billion Euros for several forms of assistance and loans for Egypt. In 2004, the EU - Egypt signed Association Agreement within the framework of European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The preamble of which emphasizes the centrality of compliance with human rights, democratic principles and economic freedom. Moreover, the motto of the ENP policy towards partner countries is "more for more", which means the more a partner country undertakes political and economic reforms, the more it can benefit from the EU's trade, aid and other form of assistance. Thus, the EU has a large reserve of cards to play vis-a-vis Egypt.

Thus far, the EU's reactions to the military coup and the ensuing massacres have been weakly- worded. Conclusion of EU Foreign Affairs Council Meeting on August 21 has largely refrained from taking concrete steps against military junta. Besides condemnation of violent crackdown of protestors by the security forces, the only practical step taken was the modest agreement by member states to suspend export licenses for military equipment that could be used for internal repression. It shied away from playing its cards to put pressure on the coup administration in Cairo to restore the democratic process back. The EU officials seem to think that taking such a course would diminish EU's influence over Egypt. Yet, the fact that the Egyptian authorities have undertaken a violent crackdown on protestors despite pleas from the EU against it and its rejection of an EU-US brokered peace deal, that was accepted by the Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrates that the EU's soft diplomacy and pleas are unheeded by the new military junta in Egypt.

In this context, sustaining normal relations with Egypt would not be only morally unacceptable, it also has the potential to generate significant costs to the EU, in terms of its intermediate and long term interests in the region.

First, unlike the U.S., the EU has been portraying itself as the representative of a new kind of power in international relations: the normative power. What set this new kind of power apart from other forms of power is its strong emphasis on upholding human rights, democratic values and economic freedom in its conducts and inter-state relations. One might plausibly argue that the EU has turned its back on these values on many occasions. Yet, to turn its back on these values just as the Arab World is undergoing a significant transformation would be a grave mistake on the part of the EU. Such a stance would be in breach of all values that the EU professes to uphold and all the agreements it signed within the framework of ENP and Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with its southern neighbors ranging from Tunisia, to Morocco, to Egypt. Moreover, this would certainly give hope to the remnants of old regimes from Tunisia to Libya to attempt once again to usurp power from elected governments. It would also embolden Al Sisi and other dictators in the region to think that as long as they can violently suppress their people, they have nothing to worry about vis-à-vis international community.

Second, the military coup coupled with massacres in Egypt will no doubt radicalize the young Islamists, not just in Egypt, but across the region. The more people feel the path to democratic participations is blocked, as ignominiously demonstrated by this disgraceful coup and ensuing bloodbath, the more they are likely to regard the force and violence as the only available medium to affect change in politics and to rise to power in the region. Given the geographic proximity of the region to Europe and the existence of a sizeable Muslim community in Europe, it is not far-fetched to think that once violence hits the streets of Cairo, its reverberations will be soon felt on the streets of London, Paris, and Berlin.

Third, some seem to condone this illegal seizure of power in the name of stability. Yet, one can be sure that a junta that labels half of its citizens "terrorists" and is willing to declare war on them can neither bring stability nor security, nor prosperity. General Al Sisi and his coup camp can't swim against the tide of history. The Egyptian people experienced the brutality of scores of autocrats for too long now. They have been subjected to the repressive policies of a police state under Mubarak and others preceding him. Yet, with the overthrow of Mubarak, they have also tasted the messiness and cacophony of a fledgling democracy. And once people had the addictive taste of the democratic sphere, no matter how imperfect it is, you simply can't get them to accept to be ruled by a police state again. To institute such a state, the regime has to perpetrate scores of massacres. This will only fester resentment and pave the ground for further instability and even a civil war. And this will drive waves of migrants to the shores of Europe. To escape such a scenario and to ensure stability in Egypt, the EU should utilize whatever leverage it has to put pressure on the military junta to return back to the democratic process. Stability can only be attained by an administration whose legitimacy is not questioned by its people. Thus, to ensure stability in Egypt, the EU should align itself with people's aspirations, not with junta.

What we have been witnessing to in Cairo is that politics of a police state declaring war on its people. It is no wonder that this emerging police state in Cairo received the immediate and full support of other regional police states such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. These police states fear no power more than they fear their own people. Their security forces are not trained to protect their citizens, rather they are trained to protect their kingdoms, dictatorships and emirates against their own citizens. This is why it is common place for these regimes to commit massacres and to stifle their people's demands and aspirations so recklessly.

The EU should reject to be on the same moral level with these regional police states in its approach to the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. Such a move would not be only the right thing to do morally, it would also better serve the EU's intermediate and long term strategic interests.