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The western world has labelled Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) as a murderous thug due to the Khashoggi’s Saga and his unending involvement in the war of Yemen. But they ignored another elephant in the room- Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el Sisi who has been on a necktie spree as he ordered the execution of 9 men over their alleged involvement in the assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor. Additionally, he smoothly facilitated the executions of 6 other men in the same month by also subjecting them to forced judicial confessions and torture.  Egypt has become an ideal hub of human rights abuse since Sisi came to the throne in a military coup in 2013 overthrowing the first democratically elected president Mohammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood. As political dissent doesn’t see the dawn, Egypt holds outlawed Muslim Brotherhood members and as many as 60,000 political prisoners, according to the Human rights Watch. Under Sisi, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture have become a norm and this crackdown has been ‘unparalleled’ in Egypt’s recent history, according to Amnesty International.  

But this astounding human rights record intimidated him at the end of a major summit meeting with the European Union and Arab League when the leaders intended to scold Sisi over his record. ‘You are not going to teach us about humanity’. He stressed on the ‘fact’ that Europe and the Arab World have a different sense of humanity, values and ethics and they should respect their differing values. A sense of awkwardness and distraction from the topic was followed by his response. At the first-ever summit held in Egypt’s Sharm Al-Sheikh, the issue of illegal migration into Europe and terrorism topped the agenda. But the summit didn’t yield any fruitful agreements, but tainted Europe’s image for airing the international legitimacy of Sisi’s tyrannical regime.

This time Europe forgot to put into practice what it has been preaching since its inception- Gospel of democracy and shielding of human rights. Adorning Egypt with an opportunity of hosting such historic talks is a way to appreciate and lure Egypt to double its efforts to curb the spill of migrants from Africa and the Middle East into Europe. Hence the European Union paid lip service on Egypt’s frequent use of death penalty for crushing critics, draconian media law which allows the Egyptian state to monitor and block social media accounts above 5,000 followers and new legislation restricting the foreign NGO’S activities. To further consolidate his power, Sisi has passed a constitutional amendment that will allow him to rule until 2034. This move also received murmuring backlash from EU and without any surprise from the USA who endorses despotic Arab leaders. The recent example is the shielding of MBS by Trump to suit his business interest

The EU has been desperate to shut its gate for the refugees after the refugees swamped Europe in 2015. In 2015, 1.2 million asylum seekers were registered in Europe with the majority recorded from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The world caught the attention of the plight of refugees with the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi while he was trying to entre Europe through the risky route of the Mediterranean Sea. In many ways, Europe was grappling with the refugee crisis that had caused tremors in the region since 2015. But now the European migration policy is in utter disarray.

With the rise of the far-right ideology in Italy, the anti-migrant sentiment is at the fever pitch and has pushed the issue on Europe’s agenda. The gateway countries of Italy, Spain and Greece also tightened its border to curb the refugee inflow as the Dublin regulation system pushes all the burden of processing asylum requests on these countries making them overwhelmed. The regulation states that the country where the migrant first enters the EU bears responsibility for their asylum claim. This disproportionate unfair burden pushed Germany and Sweden to reintroduce the refugee quota resettlement system to ease the burden on frontline countries, but such quotas will only be reframed in case of a booming number of refugees. This proposal was utterly rejected by Italy which insists on a more automatic system.

The other clash of perspective comes from Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia who vehemently slashed the idea of relocation of refugees and embedded the seeds of anti-immigration and xenophobia into the minds of people. The Dublin system stipulates that country in which a migrant arrives must register there and cannot seek refugee elsewhere for six months. Under the Bulgarian proposal backed by Germany, this period extends to 10 years further pressuring the gateway countries of Spain, Italy, and Greece to take in more refugees. Naturally, the varying stances of the member’s countries on the Dublin system and political tide in their respective countries have put the migration policy of EU in limbo. Before the elections of the European Union in May, it is highly unlike that a radical reform of Europe’s asylum system can be contemplated.

While the internal discord among the member countries prevailed, many EU countries strenuously tried to ‘outsource’ the migration problem. The motive behind the efforts was that if we can’t absorb refugees, double the efforts to stem their flow. After the massive influx of Syrian refugees, the EU struck an accord with Turkey. Turkey has agreed to take all the illegal migrants reaching Greece in Europe in exchange for 6 billion Euros ‘aid, and other extra economic concessions.

Apart from entertaining Turkey, Europe has been also cuddling with Egypt. Though the political models of both the blocs are polar opposites, Europe chooses to trap itself in a marriage of convenience. This was reflected by the Dutch Minister’s statement ‘Sometimes you have to dance with whoever is on the dance floor”. Europe is entertaining Sisi and engaging in constructive dialogue with Arab league as the political stalemate over the migration crisis continues to crack the once strong walls of EU coalition. Further EU’s security concerns force it to wear blinkers amid the noise of Egypt’s abysmal human rights abuses. 

Europe’s woes of migration crisis have been exported to African countries and Egypt was at the forefront of healing these woes.  Egypt’s new anti-human trafficking law which imposes a term of life imprisonment and a fine of 56, 300 US dollars has played a major role in combating illegal migration. Egypt’s efforts came in the limelight as there has been no illegal crossing from Egypt’s maritime border since 2016.  The highlight of the new cooperation with Egypt was at Salzburg Summit where the far right Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz proved Egypt as an ‘efficient’ partner in curbing migration as Sisi has been efficient in keeping tight control over Egypt’s coastline. The summit held in Egypt didn’t produce any fruitful results but stated the EU’s demand for ‘stranding’ the civilians in war-torn Libya with the help of the Egyptian coastguard. This will ensure that the illegal migrants don’t enter Europe through Italy.  As the EU has already started spending billions of dollars on the Libyan coastguards to stem this flow, concerns have been raised by the human rights group about their recklessness while rescuing migrant’s lives in the Mediterranean waters and the inhumane conditions suffered by migrants in detention centres. The European leaders have also hailed Egypt as an island of ‘stability’ in the region embroiled in war and also appreciated its counter-terrorism operation against Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula.  In return for the cooperation on this issue, Egypt will be spoiled by overtures of high profile summit of European leaders boasting the rule of human right’s abuser and by filling the coffers of Egypt’s various sectors. 

The talks at the first EU- Arab League summit in Egypt were preceded with the large arms sale to the Egyptian navy to strengthen its ability to patrol the borders. France has cracked a deal of supplying four Gowind 2500 Corvette and patrol vessels ideal for intercepting the boats of helpless migrants. This bilateral cooperation also extends to holding military exercises in the Mediterranean Sea for sharing its naval expertise. From 2014 to 2017, France was Cairo’s main weapons supplier (2.4 billion) while Germany was fourth with 389 million. Further, the EU has also begun talks with Egypt and eight other states about proposed data sharing to bolster efforts for counter-terrorism policing. But this exchange of information between the EU and Egypt’s security agencies can be used as a weapon against the critics of the state and the human rights defenders. The data sharing can also facilitate the process of extracting false confessions from the critics and speeding up the trail of death sentences making EU complicit in the crimes against humanity.

The EU had also proposed the idea of establishing disembarkation platforms in the North African countries to distinguish between economic migrants and the migrants eligible for seeking refuge in Europe and to avert their perilous journey through the Mediterranean Sea. This plan was killed by Egypt and other African countries as they would be sacked with more burden in dealing with refugees. But such a plan can be on the horizon if Egypt is bribed with a heavy price tag more than that of the 6 billion of aid provided to Turkey to take back migrants travelling to Europe. The only playing card Egypt has is the threat of leaving the spigot of refugee flow open. But the question arises does Europe need to be fully dependent on autocratic regimes to fight the migration crisis?

Europe has been blinded with the notion that it is still facing the migration ‘crisis’ even after the European Commission declared the migration crisis as “over”. An estimated 150000 illegal crossings were registered by Frontex last year, the lowest since 2013. The number of departure from Libya to Italy has been dropped by 87 % since last year.  In 2018, 11647 people had crossed the Mediterranean Sea, an 89% reduction since 2015. The far right Italian interior minister and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban have been fuming up the anti-immigrant steam and coaxing other members of EU to shut the gates and throw the keys away for desperate refugees. Naturally, depicting immigration as an existential threat acts as a staple food for their political bread and butter.

European Union should come out of the folds of farce and see that the dwindling number of refugees won’t threaten their ‘stability’. The thorn pricking their stability is the filthy madness of the extreme white supremacists that pump hate against immigrants and propagate Islam phobia. One such radicalised neo-fascist was Brandon Tarrant who went on a killing spree. He attacked two mosques of Christen Church of New Zealand killing 50 people by using guns inscribed with white supremacist references. This hate propaganda coupled with the increased terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in the capital cities of Europe rang alarm bells for EU which now prioritises securing its borders at any cost; even at the cost of the human rights. 

Sisi’s brutal regime has capitalized on this instability phobia of Europe and immunized its stained legitimacy. He also made use of his refugee play in a speech wherein the Munich security conference where he affirmed that Europe should ‘appreciate’ Egypt’s help of hosting 5 million refugees. Egypt is battling the debt trap and now it has knocked the doors of International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a monetary bailout of 12 Billion that has led to the launch of harsh austerity measures causing a public outcry. While Egypt so unabashedly uses its refugee card game, Europe should not forget that it has an economic upper hand over Egypt and should implement the strategy of carrot and stick. It should dangle its economic offerings as a carrot for Egypt in return for more democratic reform of Egypt.

The migration crisis has forced Europe to undress its veneer of moral righteousness as it tries to overshadow its complicity in human rights crimes by giving its foreign migration policy a face of ‘realpolitik’. It is also feeding the juvenile leaders on a carnivorous authoritarian diet with the nourishing political and economic ingredients.  EU played an important role in international politics due to its soft power and credibility. By rubbing shoulders with authoritarian regimes, the European Union’s credibility goes for the toss as it comes under fire from human rights group for turning a blind eye to the evil deeds of the despotic regime. With the spreading flew of far-right anti-immigration stance, Europe’s support for power-hungry maniacs like Sisi, it will have a hard time proving its raison d’etre.

References:

Egypt Executes 9 Convicted of Assassinating Top Prosecutor. (Feb 20, 2019) The New York Times

Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/world/middleeast/egypt-executions-hisham-barakat.html

Egypt’s el-Sisi Welcomes European Union Leaders, but Not Their Scolding on Rights. (Feb 25, 2019). The New York Times

Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/25/world/middleeast/sisi-egypt-european-union.html

Egypt: Unprecedented crackdown on NGO’s. (March 23, 2016). Amnesty International.

Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2016/03/egypt-unprecedented-crackdown-on-ngos/

No agreement on asylum possible before EU elections, EU member states admit. (March 8, 2019) Euractiv

Retrieved from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/no-agreement-on-asylum-possible-before-eu-elections-eu-member-states-admit/

Divisions exposed as EU seeks Egypt’s help in stemming flow of migrants. (Sep 20, 2018) The Irish Examiner

Retrieved from: https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/divisions-exposed-as-eu-seeks-egypts-help-in-stemming-flow-of-migrants-870281.html

Salzburg Summit: EU intends to push cooperation with Egypt. (Sep 20, 2018) European Union

Retrieved from: https://www.eu2018.at/latest-news/news/09-20-Salzburg-Summit-EU-intends-to-push-forward-cooperation-with-Egypt.html

Southern rim rebels against EU migration proposal. (May 5, 2018) Politico

Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-migration-crisis-italy-spain-rebels-bulgaria-dublin-quotas-proposal/

Europe’s shameful failure to end the torture and abuse of refugees and migrants in Libya. ( March 7, 2019) The Amnesty International

Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/03/europes-shameful-failure-to-end-the-torture-and-abuse-of-refugees-and-migrants-in-libya/

Migrant crisis: Illegal entries to EU at lowest level in five years. (Jan 4, 2019). BBC

Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46764500

EU hails Egypt’s role in migration. (June 6, 2018) Xinhua

Retrieved from: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-06/28/c_137285444.htm

African Union seeks to kill EU plan to process migrants in Africa. (Feb 24, 2019) The Guardian

Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/24/african-union-seeks-to-kill-eu-plan-to-process-migrants-in-africa

Egypt’s anti-smuggling bill: New criminals, old victims. (October 19, 2016) Madamasar

Retrieved from: https://madamasr.com/en/2016/10/19/feature/politics/egypts-anti-smuggling-bill-new-criminals-old-victims/

Image credit: ApNews

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Written By Mona Thakkar

Bachelors in Mass Media( Journalism). Middle East Politics enthusiast. The knowledge you seek, will later take you at peak.

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