The European Union agreed Wednesday to restrict exports of security equipment and arms to Egypt in response to the mounting violence but opted to maintain economic assistance.
EU foreign ministers roundly condemned the bloodshed after four hours of emergency talks called in the middle of Europe’s summer break after the deaths of almost 1,000 people in a week of unrelenting violence.
Voicing “great concern” over events unrolling in Europe’s backyard in the most populous Arab state, the ministers said in a statement that “the EU condemns in the clearest possible terms all acts of violence.”
The statement dubbed recent operations by Egyptian security forces as “disproportionate” while also condemning “acts of terrorism” in the Sinai and attacks on Coptic churches blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood.
In response, member states would suspend export licences to Egypt for all equipment that might be used for internal repression, would review security assistance, and would reassess arms export licences.
“It is a very clear and determined signal towards Egypt for an end of the violence and a return to a political process that includes all the different political forces,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have all adopted arms restrictions measures and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said that “delivering arms this week, next week, in the short-term, would not be right.”
But there was little taste from EU nations for a reduction in the EU’s potentially huge economic aid packages or for trade sanctions, with Italy’s Emma Bonino notably calling any such idea “counter-productive.”
“We must keep faith with the majority of the people of Egypt who want a stable, democratic and prosperous country for themselves and that means we mustn’t do anything that hurts them or that cuts off support to them,” added British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Hours before the EU talks, Saudi Arabia urged global powers not to take measures that could “hamper the efforts of Egypt’s government to stabilise” the country.
Expressing concern over the economic situation, the ministers said “assistance in the socio-economic sector and to civil society will continue.”
But they warned that “the EU will monitor the situation in Egypt closely and readjust its cooperation accordingly.”
Total aid at stake amounts to nearly five billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and grants promised by the world’s top aid donor to Egypt for 2012-13.
But because EU aid was made contingent on political and judicial reforms after the January 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, only a paltry 16 million euros have been paid out this year.
Military assistance amounts only to 140 million euros a year, well below US defence aid.
“We need to do what we can to ensure the situation improves. But there’s a lot of work ahead,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Calling on “all Egyptians” to halt the cycle of violence, the EU urged the authorities to end the state of emergency and release all political prisoners — which would include ousted president Mohamed Morsi, in detention since July 3.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is the only foreign official to have met Morsi and who has offered to return for a third time to help facilitate an end to the crisis, said the EU urged all sides to come together in an inclusive process to agree a political solution.
“All member states feel very strongly they want to continue to support the people of Egypt,” Ashton said.
“Europe’s influence is no doubt limited, but even this limited influence must be used,” said Germany’s Westerwelle.