Europe cozies up to Egypt's Sisi at EU-Arab League summit

Europe cozies up to Egypt's Sisi at EU-Arab League summit
The landmark EU-Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh aims at stepping up cooperation on migration, security and trade but has been criticised for legitimising Sisi's dire human rights record.
3 min read
24 February, 2019

European and Arab leaders gather on Sunday in Egypt for their first summit aimed at stepping up cooperation on trade, security and migration, days after Cairo hanged nine men and amid continuted widespread human rights violations.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted last-minute preparatory meetings with the European Union before he opens the two-day summit at 5pm (3pm GMT) in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Europeans view the summit, EU sources told AFP, as a way to protect their traditional diplomatic, economic and security interests while China and Russia move to fill a vacuum left by the US, which has started to disengage from the Middle East.

Climate change, migration, trade and investment are on Sunday's agenda, EU sources said. Conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya are to be discussed on Monday.

Arab League hosts said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also be raised.

European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc.

Europeans view the summit as a way to protect their traditional diplomatic, economic and security interests while China and Russia move to fill a vacuum left by the United States

The EU has struck aid-for-cooperation agreements with Turkey and Libya's UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has sharply cut the flow of migrants since a 2015 peak.

But a UN official warned that Europe's failure to bridge divisions on migration "risks blocking all the other discussions" at the summit.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insists that the gathering in Egypt of around 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU member countries, met Sunday with Sisi to help set the agenda, EU sources said.

'Legitimising' Sisi

Billed as a landmark summit to boost cooperation between the two regional bodies, the event has drawn criticism for whitewashing Sisi's appalling human rights record.

On Friday, a group of exiled Egyptian opposition figures urged European leaders to boycott the summit to protest this week's execution of nine young Egyptians.

"Your attendance at this summit will only give [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi more legitimacy and encourage him to continue his policies," a letter to EU leaders said, according to Anadolu.  

The document was signed by former minister of planning and international cooperation Amr Darraj, leader of the Ghad al-Thawra party and former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, and former political prisoner Mohamed Soltan, among others.

Egypt hanged nine men in the early hours of Wednesday morning, despite urgent appeals and protests condemning the way they were convicted of assassinating a public prosecutor in 2015.

Amnesty International condemned the executions, saying: "executing men who were convicted in trials marred by torture allegations is not justice but a testament to the magnitude of injustice in the country".

Sisi has overseen one of the largest crackdowns on dissent in the country's modern history since the overthrow by the military, then led by him, of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Sisi's regime has arrested or charged at least 60,000 people since the 2013 coup, human rights groups say.

Apart from Sisi, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and King Salman of Saudi Arabia will attend from the 22-member Arab League, based in Cairo.

Most of the other Arab leaders are due to attend except Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whose country was suspended from the Arab League over the civil war, and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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