Egypt conflict - Arab Spring has become a nightmare

It is hard to see what impact, if any, the EU can have on the bloody conflict that continues to ravage Egypt.

If anything, as the foreign ministers of Europe, including Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, grapple with the complexities of a situation that gets worse by the day, the crisis engulfing Africa’s most populous country has deepened following the court order for the release of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by the 2011 uprising and sentenced to life in jail. How Egypt’s fragile Arab Spring has become a nightmare.

While the ailing 85-year-old Mubarak might seem to have no political role to play in shaping the future of a fast-changing Egypt, the symbolic reverberations of his release are bound to trigger fears a new form of military government is looming ominously in the shadow of the tanks that now patrol streets of Cairo and other cities.

Between Europe’s pledge of support and the flow of dollars from the US, money is a significant factor to Egypt. Yet, in terms of realpolitik, there is little scope for the EU to flex its economic muscle in order to bring an end the present orgy of violence which has claimed over 1,000 lives. Negotiation is preferable to provocation and the sooner that kicks in, the better.

Whatever pressure the US and Europe might bring to bear, their position has effectively been undermined by the offer from Saudi Arabia to make up for any cutbacks in support. The Saudis have deep pockets and also fear the relentless rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If the EU has an achilles heel, it is the unwieldy spectacle of a mass meeting of foreign ministers around the table in Brussels. In the past, that rendered Europe incapable of swift action.

Given the absence of cohesive leadership in an emergency, the scenario now unfolding is a frightening reminder of Europe’s chronic lack of decisive action at the height of the slaughter in Kosovo. While the EU was ultimately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the Kosovo-Serbia impasse over membership of the elite club, that followed prolonged diplomatic wrangling involving a small tightly-knit team. The Egyptian crisis is on a far different scale.

Because Europe’s promise of €5bn in support of the now-deposed president Mohammed Morsi was predicated on democratic reforms, hardly any of the cash has so far been released. Suspending EU arms sales to Egypt is a gesture. But whatever else Europe comes up with, the solution must be much broader than financial measures or economic sanctions and should not hit the Egyptian people.

Although Washington has been among Egypt’s biggest financial backers, the US is hated intensely by large sections of the Egyptian population, largely because of what they perceive as America’s undue interference in their affairs — mainly for its own ends.

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