Connect with us

World

Analysis: The EU's €7.4-billion bet on Egypt comes with high risks

Published

on

Analysis: The EU's €7.4-billion bet on Egypt comes with high risks

After Tunisia and Mauritania, the European Union has found a new “strategic” partner to curb irregular migration: Egypt.

ADVERTISEMENT

The European Union over the weekend signed a €7.4 billion “comprehensive partnership” with Egypt, a number well over the €700 million and €210 million deals respectively struck with Tunisia and Mauritania.

The logic behind the three deals is however the same: to inject fresh money to help stabilise a wobbly economy and curb flows of irregular migration. 

As European Commission President Ursuval von der Leyen said from Cairo, Egypt could not be avoided “given your political and economic weight, as well as your strategic location in a very troubled neighbourhood, the importance of our relations will only increase over time”. 

For Egypt, the need is particularly pressing: the country is in the midst of a devastating crisis caused by a perfect storm of high inflation, heavy debt, persistent trade deficit, rising interest rates and a shortage of foreign currency. The woes have been made considerably worse by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which disrupted global wheat markets and pushed food prices to record highs, and the Houthi attacks on the Suez Canal, which have partially deprived Cairo of $10 billion in annual revenues.

The spiralling turmoil led Egypt to request its fourth loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2016 worth $8 billion (€7.3 billion). In exchange, the country has agreed to devalue its national currency, introduce a floating exchange rate, slow down its spending on infrastructure and preserve debt sustainability.

Advertisement

The €7.4-billion deal with the EU also has a strong economic dimension: €5 billion in concessional loans to support Egypt’s macro-economic reforms and €1.8 billion in additional investments under the bloc’s neighbouring policy, to boost renewable energy and digital connectivity. On migration management, the agreement earmarks €200 million to crack down on human smuggling and trafficking as part of a wider package of €600 million in non-repayable grants.

At first glance, the €200-million envelope appears small in comparison, especially given that curbing irregular migration is a priority shared by all 27 member states, regardless of their political inclination, and that Egypt currently hosts over 500,000 refugees from nearby countries, mostly Sudan and Syria.

But Brussels sees things holistically: putting cash in one place can spill over into others. Under this thinking, boosting Egypt’s domestic economy can do as much – or perhaps even more – to control irregular migration than boosting actual border controls.

In the past few years, the EU has seen a dramatic rise in asylum applications by Egyptian nationals: from 6,616 in 2021 to 26,512 in 2023, according to the bloc’s asylum agency (EUAA). Most of these claims were registered in Italy (69%), followed by Greece at a distant second (9%). This helps explain why Prime Ministers Giorgia Meloni and Kyriakos Mitsotakis joined von der Leyen’s trip.

Notably, the marked increase in requests for international protection has not corresponded with a proportional increase in recognition rates. The EUAA estimates between 6 and 7% of these requests were successful, a very low number.

Advertisement

“Egyptians who migrate abroad are understood to be influenced primarily by economic factors and the search for employment,” the agency said in a study published in 2022, to explain why most of these applications for international protection were rejected.

The findings note that Egyptians seeking to reach Europe do not depart from Egyptian shores, as maritime borders are carefully guarded. Instead, most travel to Lybia, and then attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. A minority opts to fly to Turkey and try to enter the bloc via Bulgaria or Greece. 

Additionally, the agency highlights Egypt’s position as a transit country for migrants coming from the Horn of Africa, who often rely on the same smugglers as Egyptians do.

‘Untied and undesignated’

The agency, however, points out two additional “push factors” that are driving the exodus of Egyptian nationals: the repression of human rights and the “security situation,” a reference to the anti-terrorism campaign in the Sinai peninsula.

Since the 2013 coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general, has strengthened his grip on power, expanded his presidential prerogatives and deepened the military’s role in civilian life, prompting accusations of clientelism, cronyism and corruption.

Advertisement

As a result, organizations like Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International describe Egypt as an authoritarian country where freedom of expression and assembly are legally recognised but severely restricted in practice. Courts, media and the private sector are subservient to the state and discrimination against minorities, such as LGBTQ+ people, Coptic Christians, Shiites and people of colour, is widespread. The reported use of torture and forced disappearance against political critics and dissenters have equally caused international alarm.

During her press conference with al-Sisi, von der Leyen vowed to “promote democracy and human rights” but did not elaborate further.

A Commission spokesperson later said human rights have been part of EU-Egypt relations since the entry into force of the Association Agreement in 2004 and would continue to be so under the reinforced partnership.

ADVERTISEMENT

“There are many issues that need to be dealt with that require that we work with Egypt. We cannot pretend this country does not exist nor can we simply ignore it,” the spokesperson said, highlighting the work done to bring relief into the Gaza Strip.

The €5 billion in concessional loans will be disbursed under the agreement of “policy reforms,” the executive explained, but the ultimate use of this money, which will be wired straight into the Egyptian treasury, will be “untied and undesignated,” meaning the government will enjoy a comfortable margin of discretion for spending.

This big bet is flawed, says Claudio Francavilla, an associate director at Human Rights Watch, because it is overly focused on the fight against human trafficking and fails to address the rule-of-law decline that has contributed to the economic turmoil and pushed investors away from the country. Both the IMF and the EU statements spoke of the need to restore “confidence” to bring back foreign investment. 

Advertisement

“The economic crisis in Egypt is very, very deeply intertwined with the human rights crisis,” Francavilla told Euronews.

“Egypt has pretty much a military authoritarian leadership that strangles every part of life in the country, including the economy, and through its repression has gotten rid that anything that resembles checks and balances on the power.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“If you don’t address those issues, you’re simply kicking the can down the road,” he added. “The next crisis is just around the corner.”

Sara Prestianni, director of advocacy at EuroMed Rights, a human rights network, called on the bloc to make a “clear” link between pay-outs and the rule of law. Otherwise, the partnership “risks being only a legitimisation of the authoritarian drift that characterises al-Sissi’s regimes today. So, all these types of reforms, all this cooperation, must be strictly linked to conditionalities of respect for fundamental rights of the rule of law.”

Even if the Egyptian economy were to find a stable footing and Egyptian citizens had fewer reasons to leave their home country, as Brussels hopes under the multi-billion plan, there would still be an unresolved question over the fate of the Sudanese people and other nationalities who have sought refuge in the country or transit through its territory.

The European pressure to decrease irregular departures could encourage the Egyptian authorities to double down on their “repressive tools,” warns Andrew Geddes, the director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute (EUI), leading to greater suffering for those feeling war-torn nations.

Advertisement

“Asylum seekers in Egypt are very heavily reliant on humanitarian assistance, live in very bad conditions and have high unemployment levels. It’s unlikely that the resources provided by the EU will be directed by the Egyptian authorities to improve this situation,” Geddes told Euronews, calling the partnership a “transactional agreement.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“The situation for asylum-seekers and refugees in Egypt may deteriorate and, for those that do try to move, the journeys may become even more dangerous and deadly.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

World

Multiple injuries, arrest made after semitrailer crashes into public safety office in Texas

Published

on

Multiple injuries, arrest made after semitrailer crashes into public safety office in Texas

A suspect is in custody after a commercial vehicle crashed into a Texas Department of Public Safety office in a rural town west of Houston on Friday, seriously injuring several people, according the agency.

Texas DPS officials said in a social media post on X that the crash happened at the agency’s office in Brenham, Texas, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Houston. Officials said there are reports of multiple serious injuries but did not specify how many people were affected or the extent of the injuries. They also requested people avoid the area to clear the way for responding medical personnel.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the incident and there is no further threat, DPS officials said Friday.

Multiple news outlets showed images of a large, red tractor-trailer hauling material on a flatbed in the parking lot of the building. The front end of the 18-wheeler was damaged and covered with debris from the front doors of the office. Debris was also scattered out front near a gaping hole in the entrance.

DPS officials did not immediately respond to requests for additional information.

Advertisement

City of Brenham officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking further information.

Continue Reading

World

Imminent attack from Iran keeps Israel on alert as US admits 'credible' threat from terror state

Published

on

Imminent attack from Iran keeps Israel on alert as US admits 'credible' threat from terror state

The U.S. continues to closely monitor what it deems to be “credible” threats of an Iranian attack on Israel in response to a strike on Iran’s Damascus consulate, even as reports indicate that Iran is looking to deploy a non-escalatory response. 

“I would just say that we’re watching this very, very closely,” U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “We still deemed the potential threat by Iran here to be real, to be viable, certainly credible, and we’re watching it as closely as we can.” 

“Right now, our focus is on having a conversation with our Israeli counterparts and making sure not just conversations, but making sure that they have what they need and that they’re able to defend themselves,” Kirby added. “We’re also clear it would be imprudent if we didn’t take a look at our own posture in the region to make sure that we’re properly prepared as well.”

Kirby assured that the U.S. remains in “constant communication” with Israeli counterparts to make sure they are ready for attack but refused to “armchair quarterback … in a public way in terms of the conversations we’re having or what we’re seeing in the intelligence picture.” 

ISRAELI PM, MILITARY LEADERS HOLD EMERGENCY MEETING AMID POSSIBLE DIRECT IRANIAN ATTACK

Advertisement

Tehran has continued to threaten a response against Israel for the attack on an Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members, including two generals. Hezbollah leadership over the weekend at the annual Quds Day commemoration in Iran also touted their readiness and willingness to launch retaliation against Israel for the attack. 

U.S. CENTCOM Gen. Michael Kurilla has been in Israel, where he met with the IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen Hezi Halevi and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant to assess military preparedness, moving up his plans due to the threats from Iran, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed during a press conference Thursday. Ryder did not speculate as to any specific threats from Iran to Israel, even as Tehran continues to promise action.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images)

The State Department also issued new travel advisories for Israel on Thursday, restricting U.S. government employees and their families from traveling outside major cities. The department warns, “Terrorist groups, lone-actor terrorists and other violent extremists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Terrorists and violent extremists may attack with little or no warning.” 

Iran has signaled to Washington that it will respond to Israel’s attack on the Damascus consulate, but may do so in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and will not act hastily, Reuters reported Thursday. 

Advertisement

US RESTRICTS STAFF IN ISRAEL FROM TRAVELING OUTSIDE CITIES AS IRAN ATTACK THREAT PERSISTS

Israel, as of Thursday night, had not issued any special instructions from its Home Front Command but stressed that Israelis would be immediately notified of any steps taken as the state remains “on a high state of alert and preparedness,” The Jerusalem Post reported. 

Iran U.S. Military

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla met with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant amid rising tensions with Tehran. (Ariel Hermoni/IMoD)

Gen. Jack Keane of the Institute for the Study of War (IFSW) during an appearance on Friday’s “Fox & Friends” said an attack will happen at some point because Iran “cannot avoid the international publicity surrounding the taking down of the IRGC headquarters in Syria,” saying it was “just a reality” but adding that Iran will likely pursue a “measured response” and does not really want escalation. 

“I think they’re very much enjoying the psychological impact that this is having, not only on Israel but also on the world writ-large,” Gen. Jack Keane said. “I think we’re taking the precautions we should be taking, to protect our own people, and certainly Israel is doing that.”

Tehran Jerusalem Drones

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant review Israeli military capabilities as part of an ongoing effort to ensure operational cooperability.  (Ariel Hermoni/IMoD)

“Iran has their finger on the trigger here,” “This much we know: Iran doesn’t want any escalation of this that would lead to a war with Israel or the United States, and that has been the fact from the beginning of the war in Gaza when they operationalized all of their proxies to join in that effort that Hamas started.” 

Advertisement

HOUSE REPUBLICANS TURN UP HEAT ON BIDEN TO BROKER ‘EXPEDIENT RELEASE’ OF HAMAS HOSTAGES, SUPPORT ISRAEL

Keane suggested that the best way to handle Iran was to destroy its IRGC assets in Iran, because “Iran does not want to escalate,” claiming Iran has “a weak air force … a weak navy” and “not particularly well-trained or … well-equipped” troops – instead, he argued that Iran relies heavily on its drone and missile arsenal.

“Iran knows that war with them would destroy their regime economically, and they are likely to lose it,” Keane insisted. “The leverage has always been on the side of Israel, the United States and the West, but we absolutely refuse to use it.” 

Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi

Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi holding a situational assessment and discussion with reserve commanders on the Lebanese border. (IDF Spokesman’s Unit)

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital that Iran is better positioned to benefit from sitting back and letting tensions remain high while not actually launching any attack. 

“Despite the regime thoroughly benefiting from the wall-to-wall coverage of its impending “retaliation” against Israel, the more the delay, the greater the expectation for a larger attack, and the greater the likelihood of an even stronger Israeli kinetic reprisal,” Taleblu said. 

Advertisement

“To date, Iran has never fired at Israel directly from its own territory, nor has it ever fired ballistic missiles from its own territory at defended targets,” Taleblu said, noting that Iran could look to launch an attack from its navy or cruise missiles from outside Iranian territory. 

“There are challenges aplenty for Iran: A strike that fails or is successfully intercepted will show the Islamic Republic as weak and invite more pressure; a strike that is successful will likely be responded to and beget a cycle of escalation Tehran can ill afford,” Taleblu explained. 

“That’s why Khamenei’s most important legacy as supreme leader for over three decades has been avoiding an outright war while keeping his ideological disposition,” Taleblu added. “He now faces the greatest challenge to that today.” 

Advertisement
Continue Reading

World

In Brazil, an abortion debate pits feminists against the church

Published

on

In Brazil, an abortion debate pits feminists against the church

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – In 2019, Mariana Leal de Souza, a 39-year-old Black woman living outside Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, was having a hard time coping with the suicide of her teenage son when she was confronted with more difficult news: She was pregnant.

“I couldn’t believe it,” the social worker told Al Jazeera during a recent video call. “Mentally and financially, I wasn’t ready for another pregnancy after the loss of my son.”

She decided to terminate, but there was a problem: Brazil’s Penal Code permits abortion only if the pregnancy is the result of rape, puts the mother’s health at risk or doctors diagnose severe malformations to the fetus. None of these applied to Leal de Souza.

So she enlisted the help of three close friends, one of whom had connections to an underground supplier of Cytotec, a medication originally intended for ulcers but repurposed by low-income women in Latin America as a means to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Pooling their resources, they came up with $150 to buy the medication.

But the experience was agonizing. As Leal de Souza recalled: “It felt as though my body was expelling everything. I experienced chills, intense abdominal pain and bleeding.” She assumed these were standard complications and tried to tough it out, but the ensuing weeks brought her no respite.

Advertisement

“The bleeding wouldn’t stop, yet I couldn’t seek hospital care for fear of legal repercussions,” she said.

Two months later, with her abdomen swelling, Leal de Souza began to fear for her life. She decided to seek assistance at a nearby public hospital where she endured prolonged wait times and a barrage of inquiries before medical staff finally examined her.

Doctors made a startling discovery: A fetus remained inside Leal de Souza’s womb. She had been carrying twins, and only one fetus had been expelled.

The hospital concluded that this was the result of a miscarriage, sparing de Souza from criminal charges.

“I felt a sense of relief, yet simmering resentment lingered, knowing that if I were … white or [a] woman of means, I could have accessed safe clinical care without endangering my life,” she said.

Advertisement

‘All women get abortions but … only the poor go to jail’

As many as 4 million abortions are performed annually in Brazil, Latin America’s most populous country. Of those, only 2,000, or 5 percent, are performed legally.

Women who undergo illegal abortions face prison sentences of up to three years if convicted, and the doctors who perform them can spend up to four years in prison. Part of Leal de Souza’s ordeal, she said, was that she was well aware of cases involving poor women who had faced incarceration for terminating their pregnancies.

Her story sheds light on a glaring reality in Brazil, a country that is home to more people of African descent than any other country in the world save Nigeria: Black and marginalized women bear the brunt of legislation that criminalizes abortion.

Neighbouring Argentina’s repeal of its abortion ban has influenced Brazil’s feminists [Gabriela Barzallo/Al Jazeera]

A study conducted by anthropologist Debora Diniz found Black women are 46 percent more likely than white women to resort to unsafe abortion practices.

A federal legislator representing Rio de Janeiro, Luciana Boiteux, spearheaded a legal initiative in the Supreme Court in 2017 proposing the enshrinement of abortion as a constitutional right.

Advertisement

“The decriminalization of abortion is inherently a racial justice issue,” she told Al Jazeera.

Brazil’s abortion laws have remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. What has changed is the emergence in recent years of an animated feminist movement, inspired, at least in part, by the legalization of abortion in neighbouring Argentina in 2020 and the inauguration a year earlier of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose conservative administration was widely viewed as antagonistic towards Black people and women.

Bolsonaro’s policies sparked a response in the form of campaigns such as Nem Presa Nem Morta (Neither Imprisoned Nor Dead), which fights for the decriminalisation of abortion, and the women-led, anti-Bolsonaro Ele Nao (Not Him). Rallies have also been held, such as a March 8 demonstration in which thousands of protesters took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to demand racial justice and safe, legal access to abortions.

At the march, one woman carried a placard that read: “All women get abortions, but while the rich ones travel to get one, we the poor go to jail.”

The women’s movement in Brazil is growing, but it has encountered pushback from the evangelical movement in its efforts to improve reproductive health for women.

Advertisement

Evangelicals’ influence on Brazil’s abortion discourse

With the Christ the Redeemer statue standing high over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is typically associated with the Catholicism of its former colonizer, Portugal. But evangelical Christianity’s influence here began to expand 30 years ago, and today, one in three Brazilians identifies as evangelical. By some estimates, evangelicals will account for a majority of the country’s religious followers by 2032.

The proliferation of evangelicals in Brazil has helped discourage low-income women like Leal de Souza from seeking abortions.

“We’ve witnessed instances where evangelical nurses have exposed women and subsequently reported to authorities,” Boiteux, the federal legislator, told Al Jazeera in an interview in her office in downtown Rio.

Jacqueline Moraes Teixeira, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Brasilia, attributed evangelical growth to social and economic deficits in Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world.

“These churches bridge gaps left by the state, offering education, healthcare and sustenance, acting as indispensable [lifelines] for these communities,” she told Al Jazeera.

Advertisement

For Leal de Souza, however, evangelicals have shut down the communication that is the bulwark of democracy.

“We used to have open dialogues within my family and neighbours who are now evangelicals. Nowadays, dissent is met with condemnation. This silence prevented me from sharing my decision to terminate my pregnancy,” she said.

 

Thousands rallied for abortion rights in Brazil in March
‘Together we are giants,’ reads a banner at a Brazilian rally last month for abortion rights [Gabriella Barzallo/Al Jazeera]

Evangelicals have also flexed their muscles on the political level. Of the 594 members of the National Congress, for example, 228 lawmakers from 15 parties belong to the Evangelical Parliamentary Front – 202 deputies and 26 senators.

“Evangelicals in Congress hold significant leverage and are regarded as an essential ethical bastion for religious activism in politics,” Moraes Teixeira said. “Consequently, their alliances and conservative stance carry significant societal weight.”

However, the final arbiter on lifting abortion restrictions is the Supreme Court.

Advertisement

In a session in September, Chief Justice Rosa Weber voted in favour of a measure to decriminalise abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. But the process was halted by another Supreme Court judge, Luis Roberto Barroso, who has since replaced the retired Weber as chief justice.

An investigation by the Brazilian news outlet Agencia Publica found that in the weeks leading up to the court’s deliberations, conservative politicians circulated anti-abortion campaigns on popular social media platforms.

For his part, Barroso said he is in favour of decriminalisation but wants more deliberation. In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, he said: “It’s challenging for the court to act against the sentiment of 80 percent of the population. We must shift public perception.”

“It’s crucial to engage society in dialogue and clarify the real issue: the unjust criminalization disproportionately affecting marginalized women,” he continued. “With greater awareness, I believe attitudes can evolve.”

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Trending