Parliamentarian’s vis­it to Egypt high­lights secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic prob­lems of the Mediter­ranean Region

Mem­bers of the NATO Par­lia­men­tary Assembly’s Mediter­ranean Spe­cial Group vis­it­ed Egypt from 14 16 May, hold­ing meet­ings with mem­bers of the People’s Assem­bly, gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary offi­cials, inde­pen­dent ana­lysts and EU offi­cials. The group, led by Vahit Erdem of Turkey, and Ramon Aleu of Spain, includ­ed nine mem­bers of par­lia­ment from sev­en NATO mem­ber countries. 

Egypt­ian par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and offi­cials alike stressed the dif­fi­cult posi­tion of their coun­try, locat­ed in a high­ly volatile region and strug­gling with a dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal junc­ture. For­eign Min­is­ter Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit high­light­ed the “pres­sure” put on Egypt as a “bea­con of sta­bil­i­ty in the region” by con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, notably the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict, the cri­sis in Lebanon and insta­bil­i­ty in Sudan and the Horn of Africa — an assess­ment shared by the Deputy Direc­tor of the Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Ser­vices, Gen­er­al Fouad Arfa. This sit­u­a­tion, accord­ing to Mr Aboul Gheit, is also fuelling the “anger” of many of his country’s 80 mil­lion peo­ple and dri­ving some of them to sup­port Islamist move­ments, such as the banned Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, which is nonethe­less rep­re­sent­ed in the People’s Assem­bly by 88 “inde­pen­dent” legislators. 

Assem­bly Speak­er Ahmed Fathy Sorour remind­ed NATO PA mem­bers that Egypt’s con­sti­tu­tion pro­hib­it­ed reli­gion-based polit­i­cal par­ties. While Mah­moud Hamdy Zak­zouk, Min­is­ter of Reli­gious Endow­ments (Awkaf), insist­ed that reli­gious extrem­ists exist­ed in many soci­eties, but that in Egypt, as in most of these soci­eties, they were “a minor­i­ty”. He added that his min­istry, which over­sees all Mus­lim reli­gious affairs, con­tributes to lim­it­ing the spread of rad­i­cal ideas by avoid­ing any of Egypt’s some 100,000 mosques to be con­trolled pri­vate­ly and utilised for the spread of extrem­ist propaganda. 

Speak­ing about Egypt’s eco­nom­ic prob­lems, Mr Sorour blamed them on the “eco­nom­ic poli­cies of the West” and the “fail­ure of glob­al­i­sa­tion”. While can­did­ly admit­ting that Euro­pean coun­tries were “right” to crit­i­cise Egypt and oth­er coun­tries in tran­si­tion “about democ­ra­cy and human rights”, Mr Sorour stig­ma­tised the “lies of the West” about inter­na­tion­al free trade and lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. “The West” he said, “is sell­ing democ­ra­cy and human rights, while devel­op­ing coun­tries are eco­nom­i­cal­ly stran­gled”. Sim­i­lar crit­i­cisms were voiced by a group of for­mer senior diplo­mats and aca­d­e­mics met by NATO leg­is­la­tors at the Egypt­ian Coun­cil for For­eign Affairs. Fol­low­ing a frank and open dis­cus­sion on the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East and the Gulf, the experts put for­ward the gen­er­al rec­om­men­da­tion that the West should stop fuelling the prob­lems of the region by wag­ing war in the name of democ­ra­cy, as the region needs polit­i­cal and diplo­mat­ic solu­tions rather than mil­i­tary ones. 

The press­ing need for more dia­logue and co-oper­a­tion between West­ern and North African and Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­per­cep­tions was stressed repeat­ed­ly in all meet­ings. Reit­er­at­ed, too, was the need to work towards a Mid­dle East free of WMDs and, in this vein, “dou­ble stan­dards” were denounced by most Egypt­ian inter­locu­tors. With regard to Egypt’s co oper­a­tion with NATO, Mr Aboul Gheit said that the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment under­stood the new role of the Alliance, but acknowl­edged that peo­ple in his coun­try regard­ed it with “great care”, because they were still influ­enced by the Cold War image of the Alliance. The For­eign Min­is­ter also com­ment­ed on Oper­a­tion Active Endeav­our, indi­cat­ing that Egypt was ready to engage, “but on our own terms”. “We can­not accept”, he said, “a stand­ing agree­ment by which NATO can stop ships in our ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters: our navy can do it fol­low­ing warn­ings by Alliance forces”. 

On the last day, the group vis­it­ed Alexan­dria and held meet­ings with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediter­ranean Foun­da­tion and the Swedish Insti­tute, dis­cussing cul­tur­al dia­logue and co oper­a­tion in the Mediter­ranean region. 

The NATO Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly is an inter­par­lia­men­tary orga­ni­za­tion, inde­pen­dent from NATO, which pro­vides a link between NATO and the par­lia­ments of its mem­ber coun­tries. The Assem­bly also brings togeth­er leg­is­la­tors from NATO mem­ber and non-mem­ber coun­tries to con­sid­er secu­ri­ty-relat­ed issues of com­mon inter­est and concern. 

Text- / Bildquelle (source): NATO Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly
Ansprech­part­ner / con­tact:
Rober­ta Calo­rio
Rose-Roth Pro­grammes and Media Rela­tions Offi­cer
NATO Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly
Inter­na­tion­al Sec­re­tari­at
Place du Petit Sablon 3
B — 1000 Brussels 

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