EGYPT – The European legitimation of al-Sisi’s military dictatorship


The foreign policy of the European Union is set by the European Council, which lays out the overall direction of the Union. The power projected and diffused in external relations has been characterised by some academics as “normative”.

This means that the European Union tries to diffuse its own norms to other actors in the international scene. Fundamental norms in this context are laid out in Article 2 of the TEU which states that “the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights…”

The EU has had a longstanding and well-functioning relationship with Egypt’s Mubarak regime. It supported the quasi-capitalist market economy of Cairo, and the member state, United Kingdom, is still the country’s biggest investor. Egyptian and diverse European security services collaborate in the fight against terrorism. This longstanding relationship was however jeopardized with the protests of 2012, which led to the ousting of Mubarak, and to free elections, which were endorsed by the Council. The result of the election led to the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power with the Islamist Mohamed Morsi becoming president.

This could have been seen as a step forward for Egypt in key domains such as the rule of law, parliamentarianism, free and fair elections, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In its initial reaction, the EU institutions supplemented funding for the government through various mechanisms. The intergovernmental European Investment Bank offered to double its lending, which was to reach 1 billion euros a year. There were a lot of carrots for the new Egyptian government. The EU, through declarations by the former High Representative, Lady Catherine Ashton, praised the government, but was still somewhat unsatisfied, calling for the protection of civil society movements, and “deep democracy”before talking about the importance of border control and security.

It can be questioned how much support there was on the ground in Cairo for “deep democracy”, a term which until then hasn’t been used to describe any European member state’s polity. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the demonstrators at the Tahrir Square organised themselves in the support of this European notion. Unlike what was reported on various western media channels, many demonstrators were Islamists. The election of Morsi serves as a proof.

Nevertheless, the democratic transformation in Egypt, which was supported by the Union reached some of the goals of the EU: the process was a clear step forward encompassing the values of the Union. On the other side, the country’s economic performance was deteriorating, which sparked new protests and led to a coup against Morsi, and the re-installation of an army dictatorship led by Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi a former general under Hosni Mubarak.

Rationally, the turn back to dictatorship in the summer of 2013 would see a clear backlash from the Union, as the rule of law, democracy, and free and fair elections were all abolished with the new regime. President Morsi was jailed and the Muslim Brotherhood outlawed. However, “the coup by the army safeguarded the economic channels between Egypt and the member states and the Union helped stabilise the country economically”, as shown in the table below. The deposition of an Islamist government and replacing it with a secular, more trustworthy in the preservation of religious freedoms, were politically welcomed in Europe, which at this time started to see an explosion of Muslim refugees coming to the old continent.

Since the fall of Morsi, EU Council conclusions on Egypt have come in short time one after the other. This has hurt the formerand the current, Federica Mogherini, High Representative’s ability to conduct an autonomous foreign policy as the former did during the Morsi presidency. Instead she was obliged to follow one more in line with member-states interests. As the Council, in unanimity, determines the political agenda of the Union, the hands of the HR are tied and she is obliged work with regard to Council conclusions. This has led to a legitimisation ofthe Sisi dictatorship as neither conclusions, nor resolutions, sanction the repressive measures taken by the new Egyptian government.

From the fall of Morsi in July 2013 the Council conclusions were less and less about the reinstallation of democracy and respect to human rights, and moved towards the question of security and stability, highlighted by the FAC conclusion of the 10th of February 2014:

The EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attacks in the Sinai and other parts of Egypt, in which a number of civilians and security personnel have been killed or injured. No cause can justify terrorist violence. The EU reaffirms its commitment to support the stability and security in Egypt.

Sisi’s coup destabilised the Northern Sinai’s tribal region, which under Morsi’s rule was left relatively autonomous from the central government. It was the re-capture of the power by the army to which the Sinai population has reacted to. Ignorantly, the Council back-tracked on the questions about democracy, and basic freedoms, and instead concentrated on preserving the stability of the country, which in turn legitimises the renewed army dictatorship. Al-Sisi has visited France, Germany, and the United-Kingdom to discuss security and economy issues. The UK, has vastly invested in Egypt and recently congratulated the country on its economic reform programs which has led to a €12 billion loan from the IMF in November 2016.

As seen in the table below, repressive measures by the Egyptian government aren’t sanctioned by the European Union or its member states. Financing of the Egyptian government are sometimes overlapping between European countries and institutions, or conducted alone, mostlyby France and the UK, bothpowerful member states. The case of the €12 billion IMF loan is also of particular importance. The EU is not a member of the IMF, butdue to the informal coordination of the EU member states in the IMF, the EU has indirect significant impact on IMF decisions.


Important Egyptian repression and European actions (from November 2016 to April 2017)

Repressive actions by Sisi’s government

EU actions in Egypt

EU member states action in Egypt

Egypt jails Head of Journalist’ Syndicate for 2 years. New one elected later. EU delegation in Egypt promotes ENI instrument worth €209 million. France reaches agreement to supply third batch of the Rafale fighter jets. The deal is worth more than €5 billion.
Government proposes new NGO law, which bans all NGOs who don’t follow government regulation. Egypt and EU discusses the expansion of €60 million school improvement programme. France approves €12 billion IMF loan to Egypt.
Egypt’s press union sends list of 29 detained journalists for pardoning.


European Parliament’s Mashreq delegation meet President Al-Sisi in Egypt discussing migration and terrorism. Egypt signs €345 million energy development agreement with France, Germany, the EU and EIB.
Government seizes Muslim Brotherhood-run medicine companies. EU and EIB announces founding of a windmill projectworth €345million. The gas company, BP of UK announces €13 billion investment in Egypt gas sector until 2020.
Three prisoners die in three days in Egyptian prisons. Dimitris Avramoulos, Commissioner for migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship visits Cairo and meets with President Sisi and stresses more EU support. Egypt announces €25.3 million “technical cooperation agreement” with Germany.
11 defendants sentenced for 5 year for protesting without permit. The EU Commissioner for migration visits Egypt and reaffirms support for combatting “irregular migration”. France announces €889 million in investment in Egypt’s energy infrastructure.
Egyptian Parliament approves the media regulation law called: “Institutional Regulation of the Press and the Media in Egypt”.


EU Political and Security Committee meets their Egyptian counterparts in Cairo. The military exercise drill called Medusa 2016 kicks off. Military aviation cooperation between Greece and Egypt
The government executes a prominent IS fighter, which sparks calls for revenge. The EU commits €30 million  to the government for the support of children and motherhood. World Bank €1 billion loan is delivered.
Egypt imprisons its 25th journalist, and becomes the 3rd in the world ranking. The EU HR, Federica Mogherini signs a contract of €420 million to foster the environment and Small and Medium enterprises in Egypt. The French energy company AFD signs €50 million loan to the government.
The assets of the English language newspaper „Daily News” and the economic paper „Al-Borsa” are frozen for ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. The ERDB reaches 2 billion investments in loans and grants to Egyptian companies from 2012. Germany supplies a military submarine to Egypt and confirms that the second one will be delivered in June.
Six policemen who were prosecuted for torturing prisoners to deathreleased on a bail of 160 dollars. EU signs a 10 € million agreement with Egypt with the goal of promoting human rights. Egyptpetroleum Minister signs deals with Italy’s ENI and BP and French Total accumulating of €250 millioninvestment.
Video surfaces showing Egyptian soldiers executing two suspected IS collaborators. Dead corpses lay around them.


Egyptian Police arrests 2 Facebook administrators documenting the acts of the Egyptian Police.
258 Coptic Christians move from the Sinai because of deteriorating security situation.
Former President Mubarak is released from prison.
Forced arrests disappearances by the authorities in the Sinai are reported by family members.

In Egypt, the problem wasn’t about the democratic process itself, which was endorsed by the Union by financial grants and high level political meetings. The issue is the fear of the economic collapse of the country, which would lead to destabilisation in the Union’s southern shores and bring more refugees.

Thus, the European Union’s actions in Egypt have been out of line with the needs of the Egyptian public. The decade-long endorsement of Mubarak is now coupled with the projection of the same foreign policy to an even more brutal dictator. Al-Sisi’s war on terrorism has led to forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, which ignite the affected families and friends. In the Sinai Peninsula, the brutal war is continuing between militants and the army. The IS branch has shown to be a formidable opponent and has recently gone south and attacked a checkpoint at the Saint-Catherine monastery. While the Islamic State is growing (along with new armed fractions) the army has responded with cordoning the peninsula off and there are few ways of getting reliable information.

The European Union is contradicting its own values by endorsing, arming and financing Al-Sisi’s army and government. The current policy of the Egyptian government points to a drawn-out and brutal war that it will wage on its own soil against a home-grown population.

The success of the tactic remains questionable. In March the Islamic State managed to set up a checkpoint in the city of al-Arish. Mobile checkpoints have also been set-up along the roads linking the cities in Northern Sinai. Flogging of cigarette suppliers and executions of army collaborators have been shown in IS media releases.

While the western media is focusing on suicide attacks on the mainland, the outer part is increasingly getting out of the control. The army’s tactics are failing, and Europe’s Middle-Eastern policy is going down with it.



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Noel Daniel Vig

Political Scientist-Editorial Secretary / Secrétaire de Rédaction

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