THE BLOG
05/08/2014 11:35 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

EU Sees No Evil in Egypt

Egypt's next president could not have made himself clearer. In two sessions of television interview that marked the start and mostly likely the end, too, of his election campaign, the former general who led the military coup declared the sole purpose of his presidency would be to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood -- once and for all.

On any other issue, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi tied himself up in knots. For the power cuts that last up to 11 hours a day in some parts of the country, he had a ready answer -- energy-saving light bulbs. Until of course he was reminded that Egypt went through 70m such bulbs a year because most of them broke. For the public austerity measures, the generalissimo had another half-baked solution: eat less bread. When the two presenters (handpicked for their sycophancy) dared to question him on the army, the former staff officer snapped: "leave the military alone."

He was cogent about one issue alone, the sole one on which he is running, and that was to eliminate the country's biggest and oldest political movement. There was none of this shilly-shallying with alien concepts like the rule of law, habeus corpus, due process, command responsibility for crimes against humanity, freedom of assembly. It was them or us. Egypt was not big enough for the two of them. He said it would take 25 years before a functioning democracy could be established in Egypt - a major admission that he himself is not going to do it.

We all now know where we stand with the former staff officer, whose only experience of governance is giving orders and being obeyed. Well some of us know where we stand. The EU, that depositary of democratic practice and human rights (at least it keeps on telling us it is ) finds the Field Marshal harder to divine.

The EU prides itself on what the French call its acquis communautaire, the cumulative body of EU case law, legislation and treaties, which collectively builds the threshold to membership. What has happened in Egypt since August last year - massacres with impunity, mass arrest, mass death sentences with scant regard to due process or proper legal representation -- breaks every rule in this book, many times over.

The election breaks even the basic conditions set out by the EU's Foreign Affairs Council which are these: that Egypt's interim authorities should ensure an environment conducive to inclusive, transparent and credible elections; that no political groups should be excluded or banned, as long as they renounce violence and respect democratic principles.

The April 6 movement is banned, and not even Egypt's superheated media is saying they have any connection to the bomb attacks taking place. In a private letter to an EU ambassador , April 6 appealed to the EU to pull its observers out, an option which Brussels rejected.

None of this shakes the EU's determination to have 100 officials in place by May 26 to monitor this election. Their presence will inevitably be used by the regime as a source of legitimacy. Their silence will be used a source of approbation for an election already riven with flaws -- not least the absence of credible opponents. The EU sent a smaller team to assess the constitution referendum earlier this year and its report has never been made public. Transparency International noted that government officials openly promoted a vote in favor, peaceful critics were harassed ,arrested and prosecuted. But Cathy Ashton's only comment was to note that the ample majority constituted a clear endorsement. No doubt Sisi's ample majority will also constitute a clear endorsement.

The EU's willful compliance with this form of populist dictatorship is not only a clear breach of its principles. It is also totally ineffective. Neither the EU nor America is finding that silence is buying it any leverage with the military backed regime.

The African Union, in contrast, is putting up a fight, although it is hardly united. It too is sending observers, but having suspended Egypt as a member on July 5 last year, within days of the military coup, it is starting from a different position. The AU's observer mission is controversial. The AU's Peace and Security Council opposes it, and if Egypt refuses to comply with the African Commission's order to suspend the mass death sentences issued to a total of over 1,200 people, sanctions could be discussed. There is heavy lobbying by the Saudis of West African states like Senegal. The AU's position could be reversed, but for the moment it is more principled than the EU. Acquis communautaire or acting as the silent witness to dictatorship?