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European Union to bolster Egypt ties with billions of euros in funding

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The European Union announced a €7.4 billion (US$8.06 billion) funding package and an upgraded relationship with Egypt, part of a push to stem migrant flows to Europe that has been criticised by rights groups.

The agreement, which lifts the EU’s relationship with Egypt to a “strategic partnership”, was announced as a delegation of leaders visited Cairo. It is designed to boost cooperation in areas including renewable energy, trade, and security while delivering grants, loans and other funding over the next three years to support Egypt’s faltering economy.

The proposed funding includes €5 billion in concessional loans and €1.8 billion of investments, according to a summary of the plan published by the EU. An additional €600 million would be provided in grants, including €200 million for managing migration issues.

A woman buys food oil at a market in downtown Cairo, Egypt, on March 7. Photo: Reuters

European governments have long been worried about the risk of instability in Egypt, a country of 106 million people that has been struggling to raise foreign currency and where economic adversity has pushed increasing numbers to migrate in recent years.

Inflation has been running close to record highs and many Egyptians say they struggle to get by. Over the past month, however, the financial pressure on the government has eased as Egypt has struck a record deal for Emirati investment, expanded its loan programme with the International Monetary Fund, and sharply devalued its currency.

Diplomats say Egypt’s strategic importance has been underscored by the war in Gaza, where Cairo is trying to mediate between Israel and Hamas and increase deliveries of humanitarian aid; and by the conflict in neighbouring Sudan, which has created the world’s biggest displacement crisis.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen headed a delegation meeting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Sunday that also included the Italian, Greek, Austrian and Belgian prime ministers, and the Cypriot president.

Egypt’s finance minister has said the government has lined up a total of $20 billion in multilateral support after increasing its loan and economic reform programme with the IMF.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (right) receives European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Cairo on Sunday. Photo: European Commission/dpa

Most of the EU funding is newly allocated and it was drawn up in close cooperation with the IMF, with €1 billion of the “macro-financial” loan funding to be delivered this year, a senior EU Commission official said.

The remaining €4 billion will be subject to approval by the European parliament, the official added.

Crossings via Libya

Egyptian officials say Egypt deserves recognition for largely shutting off irregular migration from its north coast since 2016, although there has been a surge in Egyptians trying to cross to Europe via Libya, and the EU is already providing support aimed at reducing those flows.

In recent months, the Greek islands of Crete and Gavdos have seen a steep rise in migrant arrivals – mostly from Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan – raising concern about a new Mediterranean smuggling route.

Activists have criticised Western backing for Sisi, who came to power a decade ago after leading the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.

A woman street vendor and her children wait for customers in Cairo in October 2023. Inflation has been running close to record highs and many Egyptians say they struggle to get by. Photo: Reuters

A crackdown has swept up dissidents from across the political spectrum, while the state and the army have extended their grip on the economy, which businessmen and analysts say has impeded structural reforms demanded by the IMF.

Sisi’s backers say security measures were needed to stabilise Egypt and pave the way for providing social rights such as housing and jobs.

The EU says its expanded partnership with Egypt is meant to promote democracy and freedoms, but its moves to offer financing in return for migration curbs in other countries, including in Tunisia, have run up against obstacles and criticism.

“The blueprint is the same as the flawed EU deals with Tunisia and Mauritania: stop migrants, ignore abuses,” Human Rights Watch said of the plan to enhance ties with Egypt and provide new financing.

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Amnesty International urged European leaders not to be complicit with human rights violations taking place in Egypt.

“EU leaders must ensure that the Egyptian authorities adopt clear benchmarks for human rights,” said Amnesty International’s head of the European institution’s office, Eve Geddie.

Geddie pointed to Egypt’s restrictions on media and freedom of expression and a crackdown on civil society.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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