BRUSSELS, July 30, 2013 (AFP)
BRUSSELS, July 30, 2013 (AFP)
The European Union has taken on the role of mediator to resolve a potentially disastrous crisis in Egypt but it has only limited leverage to get all sides to agree a return to civilian rule, analysts said Tuesday.
The great fear is that the popular uprising which ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 risks degenerating into a bloody civil war as in Syria, leaving hopes for a reformed, democratic Egypt in tatters.
More than 80 people died at the weekend in fresh clashes between the military and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi who the army ousted on July 3 after mass protests against his Islamist rule.
For the EU, the immediate problem is making its voice heard, and while it may not have the same influence as Washington, it does have some cards to play, analysts say.
“The EU is uniquely positioned to play a mediating (role) in Egypt,” said Yasser El-Shimy of the International Crisis Group.
“The EU may not have the leverage of the annual aid that the United States gives … but it enjoys something far more desirable at the moment — credibility,” Yasser El-Shimy said.
“Egyptian political actors are miles apart and have no trust in one another. An impartial, yet important, third-party like the EU could well facilitate talks aimed not only at reconciliation but also at charting a path forward for Egypt.”
“We have already played a very important role as facilitator in Egypt and we will continue to do that,” Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, said Tuesday.
“It is an important role because everybody is ready to talk to us,” Mann said.
At the same time, Brussels is a significant provider of aid to Cairo, put at 450 million euros ($600 million) for 2011-13, and this was conditional.
“That does not mean that there is direct pressure but… in recent months we have not given much aid because of the lack of political progress,” Mann noted.
Ashton, on her second visit to Egypt this month, met Morsi at an undisclosed location in the early hours of Tuesday, the first person officially allowed to do so since his ouster.
On a July 17 visit, Ashton had asked to meet Morsi but was refused. This time, she made it a condition for her trip.
Ashton said in Cairo she was seeking common ground between the opposing sides, repeating her call for a peaceful transition which would include all parties, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the region’s largest and best organised Islamist movements which Mubarak suppressed for years with the backing of the United States.
Jonathan Paris said he believed the EU will likely “continue to try to bridge the gaps between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government.”
However, given the stakes involved, the EU’s influence is ultimately limited, said Paris, a London-based Middle East analyst and non-resident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council.
The army knows it has no future if it does not come out on top, he said, and so it will be “determined to win the current confrontation … and no outside power, including Lady Ashton, will stop them.”
EU diplomatic sources said meanwhile that Washington was standing to one side, despite Cairo being a key ally, leaving Brussels to play a more important role.
The downside is that the EU “will be judged by the results,” one diplomatic source said, citing the many difficulties ahead.
The EU has played an important peace-making role in several other conflicts, most notably in the former Yugoslavia, and last year won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ashton has also been the lead negotiator in talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear programme, on behalf of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.