EU countries are unsure how to react to the Egyptian army’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi from power.
Ambassadors from the 28 EU states discussed Egypt at a meeting in Vilnius on Thursday (4 July) in the margins of events to launch Lithuania’s EU presidency.
The Dutch envoy, Marjan de Kwaasteniet, tweeted that the ambassadors voiced “concern about arbitrary arrests of MB,” referring to the military’s detention of some 300 members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party earlier the same day.
Another EU diplomat told EUobserver some member states “want to send a signal” to the army that it has gone too far, for example by suspending EU aid projects.
But at the same time, they do no want to look as if they back Morsi.
“It’s awkward,” the contact noted.
“Morsi was democratically elected, and you can’t applaud military intervention in the democratic process. But then again, Morsi has not acted in the way that we would like our partners to act,” the source said.
For his part, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt echoed the Dutch line.
He tweeted that news of the Muslim Brotherhood arrests is “very disturbing,” that the outcome of the army’s actions is “uncertain” and that Egypt is at risk of “economic crisis.”
The awkwardness was on display at a press briefing in Brussels the same day.
A spokesman for the European External Action Service ducked reporters’ questions on whether events in Egypt can be described as a “coup d’etat.”
He said: “We are, of course, not in favour of military interventions.”
But he added: “It is interesting that the army has said it intervened in order to avoid a bloodbath.”
He declined to say what will happen to the €5 billion of EU aid earmarked for Egypt. “I am not aware of any urgent plans to rethink our aid programmes at the moment, but … the dust is still settling on what happened last night,” he noted.
The EEAS in a parallel meeting in Brussels on Thursday told EU diplomats in the Middle East working group that it is in touch with Egyptian politicians from all sides, urging them to keep the peace.
Political directors from member states’ foreign ministries are to discuss the EU’s response at a more high-level meeting in the EU capital on Monday.
The army on Wednesday put tanks on Cairo streets, put Morsi under house arrest and said on TV that the constitutional order is suspended, pending future elections.
The move came after millions of Egyptians in recent days joined street protests calling on Morsi to go.
The Muslim Brotherhood also held rallies, with clashes between the two sides causing several deaths.
Morsi came to power after the Egyptian revolution in 2011, but his authoritarian style and Islamist policies have shocked secular Egyptians in urban centres.
The talk of suspending EU aid comes amid a crash in Egypt’s tourist income.
Numbers have been bad ever since the 2011 revolution.
But Cyprus, Poland, the UK and the US issued fresh travel warnings on Thursday.
The new British advice told UK citizens who are in Egypt to stay at home or in their hotel, to “keep a low profile” and to “avoid crowds.”
“Further protests are likely,” it said.
“In view of the continued unrest and uncertain political situation in Egypt, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] recommends against all but essential travel to Egypt except for resorts on the Red Sea,” it added.