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The European Union has thrown delivery of billions of aid dollars into question as it meets "urgently" to coordinate a response to Egypt in the aftermath of a crackdown there that has killed almost 900 people in five days. Violence has skyrocketed since the military-backed interim government cleared two camps of supporters of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Aug. 14.
Ahead of the meeting today, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, released a statement saying the EU is “firmly engaged in efforts to promote an end to violence, resumption of political dialogue, and return to a democratic process.”
“The EU has been at Egypt's side in the last two years while it has moved towards democracy. We have met frequently and engaged actively Egypt's leaders and the new political forces that have emerged. The calls for democracy and fundamental freedoms from the Egyptian population cannot be disregarded, much less washed away in blood,” it read.
The meeting of ambassadors of 28 members of the EU will be followed by one of foreign ministers later this week.
Mr. Morsi was elected leader of Egypt a little more than a year ago, after the 2011 revolution that ended the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak. Morsi's rule became increasingly contested, giving rise to mass protests and his ouster by the military in early July. His Muslim Brotherhood supporters have demanded his reinstatement.
On Sunday, the head of Egypt’s armed forces attempted to downplay global claims of heavyhandedness, saying "there is room for everyone.” But violence continues to rock the country as the two sides face off. At least three dozen Morsi supporters were killed Sunday as they attempted to escape a prison. The Muslim Brotherhood described the incident as "cold-blooded killing," reports the BBC. A day later, at least 24 policemen were killed in a militant ambush on the Sinai Peninsula.
The EU pledged $6.7 billion in grants and loans last November to help Egypt transition to democracy.
According to The Wall Street Journal, half of that money was to come from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. But the funds were contingent upon the implementation of reforms, and very little has yet been disbursed.
Diplomats told the Journal that Europeans need to “balance their desire to send a signal to Egyptian authorities with the potential harm of cutting off support for vital social or infrastructure projects.”
EU officials told the Financial Times that blocking funds was “very much on the table.” “The current situation is not making it possible for Egyptian authorities to fulfill many of those conditions so they cannot get the money that was put at their potential disposal [in November],” an EU official told the British paper.
Decisions made today in Brussels will need to be approved by EU foreign ministers, who could meet Wednesday or Thursday.
An editorial in the United Arab Emirates' Khaleej Times said suspending aid would send an important message to the world.
“While the EU has little economic leverage in Egypt, its actions would act as precedent for other countries,” the paper writes. “The EU’s emergency talks with aid at risk, and diplomatic rupture on the cards, is likely to embolden the United States, which is also thinking on the same lines.”
Individual European countries have already reacted to the violence in Egypt, with Denmark taking the lead in suspending two bilateral aid projects last week, reports the EU Observer. That move echoes condemnation across the globe, which Egypt has rejected. "The crisis in Egypt is an internal Egyptian
matter, and all foreign interference will be rejected,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi said, according to Haaretz.
The EU has attempted to broker peace between the two sides. Foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton was the first political official to meet with Morsi since his ouster, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
But ultimately, the EU was unable to deter last week’s violence. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt noted the limits of the EU’s influence, even though EU Middle East envoy Bernardino Leon also pleaded with army chiefs before last week’s deadly violence: "We went flat out … I think we did everything we could have done,” he is quoted by the EU Observer as having said.
The number of victims in last week's standoff could rise. “These are not small numbers; we need to see a truce and a political process,” a Cairo-based European diplomat told Ahram Online.
But diplomats who spoke to the Egyptian paper said that were not hopeful that EU moves would make a big difference. "Still, in Brussels Monday, informed sources say, the EU would 'reflect' concern on the developments in Egypt but would not go too far," the paper reports.