CEPR delegation meets with the care-taker government after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak to talk about access and movement between Gaza and Egypt.
Between March 17-20, 2011, the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) organised a delegation of 14 parliamentarians from the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Poland and the European Parliament to Cairo. The purpose of the visit was to engage with the caretaker government, political parties, civil society organisations and NGOs to gain a better understanding of the current situation in Egypt; how the country will develop politically over the coming months; and how we as European politicians can help the Egyptian people achieve a functioning, effective democracy. In addition, a priority of this particular delegation was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Egypt's potential role in facilitating its resolution – including easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The post-revolution, transitional phase through which Egypt is currently navigating is an ideal time to re-calibrate the country's relations with Israel and Palestine, as well as with Europe, and CEPR wished to facilitate these deliberations.
The meetings were very productive. Regarding Egypt's role in the closure of Gaza, it was clear that there was a desire and intention to re-think its relationship with Israel and open the crossing into and out of Gaza. However, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was perceived as a necessary precursor. The Egyptian government renewed its commitment to enabling those negotiations, and has been much more effective now that Hosni Mubarak's resistance to treating Hamas as a full and equal partner has been removed. Just a month after the delegation's visit, a reconciliation pact was announced at a press conference in Cairo. A few days later, a process that will lead to the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing in and out of Gaza to regular traffic was announced.
The Egyptian participants also clearly outlined what their fledgling democracy needs to survive and flourish, including what it requires from the European Union. The requested actions include:
- Respect of Egypt's independence.
- Consultation on best practices related to political transition to democracy.
- Debt forgiveness.
- Reliable economic assistance at a level that reflects the importance of the Middle East (and Egypt in particular), focused on investment in and encouragement of education (including assistance for Egyptians who want to study in Europe), tourism, job creation and support of civil society.
- Help with finding and retrieving assets hidden abroad by the Mubarak regime.
- Officials from the European Union and the United Kingdom stationed in Cairo also offered their perspective on the appropriate role of EU and/or individual countries in assisting Egypt while protecting their own interests:
- Debt forgiveness is not a solution, since the contributors to Egypt's current economic crisis are more complex.
- The best way for the EU and other entities to help is through mechanisms that help create jobs. Given the scarcity of resources, quality should be emphasized vs. quantity, and aid should be leveraged with funds from the European Investment Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
- Egypt should be urged not to increase subsidies to local industries such as energy, since that will discourage other governments from committing to financial aid.
- It is probably best for individual countries to decide on an aid package rather than for the EU to act as a region, and to synchronize what they offer with what Egypt wants to focus on.
The Council for European Palestinian Relations is an independent non-profit organisation registered in Brussels committed to a just peace and a restoration of Palestinian rights.