On migration in the Mediterranean

There has been an odd meme spreading around since the tragic deaths of hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean over the last week. The idea, widely spread by the press and politicians, is that Libya is the source of all these problems. For example, in Politico:

One EU migration official spelled out just what would be needed to stop the flood of people seeking refuge in Europe.

“You have to stabilize the situation in the countries of origin,” she said. That means figuring out a way to return order to Libya, which has descended into civil war and chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011. That was the result of a NATO bombing campaign led by EU countries.

Libya is not the country of origin or the source of the migration, for the most part. It is a largely a transit country, and if you look at the country of origin of migrants you will see that many of them are not just economic migrants. Many, perhaps most, appear to be fleeing conflict zones or repressive regimes – Syria, Gaza, Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea (where many migrants say they are escaping military service). So surely EU officials should be thinking about addressing the conflicts themselves, or at least the humanitarian crisis they engender? This seems to be particularly the case in Syria, since the humanitarian response (with chronic recurrent shortfalls in funding for refugee camps) has been largely inadequate.

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April 6 tells EU to cancel election observer mission

From a letter written on behalf of April 6 to the European Union:

On 10 February 2014, the Foreign Affairs Council Meeting concluded in point 8: "The EU also reiterates its readiness to observe the upcoming elections, if conditions are met, and calls on the Egyptian interim authorities to ensure an environment conducive to inclusive, transparent and credible elections, including a level playing field for the election campaigns. In view of the recent developments, the Council recalls that no political groups should be excluded or banned as long as they renounce violence and respect democratic principles".


In times in which more than twenty thousand prisoners are detained since the military intervention/coup on 3rd July, political movements, Islamist and Secular, are being banned, extreme nationalistic propaganda are widely diffused through the State apparatus, it is quite evident that the "conditions are hardly met". It is certain that Mr. Sisi will win the show, whether in presence or absence of the EU elections observation mission. Suspending the mission, however, would send a clear message to Mr. Sisi as well as to the European and Egyptian public opinions that the EU can hardly accept and even participate in legitimizing the current practices in Egypt.

More on this at Middle East Eye.

The EU and its aid to Egypt

#SOSEgypt - Save our Spring

This is a petition urging the EU to show greater scrutiny in dishing out pledged aid to Egypt:

On the 15th of November, only a week before President Mursi issued a dictatorial decree granting him immunity from law, the EU pledged €5 billion financial support to Egypt. This is European taxpayer’s money.

President Morsi is following the same policies of Mubarak in repressing his opponents, in just the first 100 days of his presidency; Egyptian police were behind at least 88 cases of torture, seven cases of sexual assault and the deaths of 34 people. Outspoken media personalities are being intimidated protesters violently attacked and killed, and religious freedoms constrained . In the absence of constitutional safeguards, violations of basic human rights and civil liberties may well get worse. Europe can't turn a blind eye to the abuses that the Egyptian government is responsible for.

Despite requests from European members of Parliament and GOs the EU - to date- has not made clear how it will condition its support to the Egyptian government on the respect of internationally agreed human rights and liberties. The EU must monitor laws in the making, and condition development aid to the Egyptian government on the respect of rights and liberties, such as social justice, rule of law, gender equality, labour rights, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Of the EU aid package most if handled by the EIB and EBRD in terms of project finance and specifically earmarked loans. But at least €700m of the remainder is EU-administered aid that is directly contigent on two broad sets of conditionalities:

1. Economic reform measures, broadly defined as those agreed to under the forthcoming IMF agreement;

2. "Good governance" — an ill-defined term.

The EU missed the ball completely in December when it chose, largely because of lack of interest of member states and the personal preference of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, not to say much about Morsi's legal coup and the rush over the constitution. Yet EU officials had previously pledged to abandon the old Mubarak-era approach and to be vigilant towards the new Morsi administration. It's what they said, yet they've repeatedly failed to even speak out beyond meaningless bromides such as urging "an inclusive constitution" — meaningless because there was no attempt to actually do that, or even buy time for negotiations by delaying the referendum. And then there are concerns over future human rights issues where the recently adopted constitution constrains them and ongoing ones regarding police violence, Islamist groups (including the MB) use of violence against protestors, concerns over media freedoms, etc. We've had more silence since then.

Once the IMF deal is approved (and perhaps before it) the EU will be under great internal pressure to deliver this aid because of Egypt's dire economic predicament. While it continue to flout its own promises of conditionality?


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Europe, still rudderless in the Arab world

The FT has an interesting piece today about the (still distant) possibility that the Schengen system, which allows for free passage throughout 25 of the EU's 27 member-states, might be dismantled. There's been rising concern about immigration in many European states for several years, but it partly has to do with the Arab spring. Specifically, with the drastic increase of Tunisian illegal migrants making to Lampedusa island, just off Tunisia but belong to Italy, in recent months. 

The EU tried to do away with such obstacles in its 1995 Schengen agreement for visa-free travel, which the bloc hails as one of its proudest achievements. Yet populist concerns about immigration, heightened by an economic crisis and the upheaval in north Africa, have given rise to new demands to strengthen internal and external borders across Europe.

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A few links on the EU and Israel/Palestine

Some interesting recent developments in the Israel/Palestine issue, notably in terms of EU-Israel relations. The letter cited at the end from European heavyweights who were formerly deeply involved in EU policymaking is quite important.

EU stops short of outright recognition of Palestinian state - but final statement is weak and limp, as usual (I guess the usual suspects — UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and some of the newer Eastern states — provided protection for Israel.)

Hamas reiterates 'all of Palestine' claim - Mixed messages from Hamas, as always.

US envoy returns to grasp nettle of Mideast peace - Mitchell resurfaces.

Palestinians express doubts over 2-state future - No kidding.

Letter from European Former Leaders Group (EFLG) [PDF]

Excerpt from the above letter:

It is now one year on and we appear to be no closer to a resolution of this conflict. To the contrary, developments on the ground, primarily Israel’s continuation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including in East Jerusalem, pose an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state also embracing Gaza, and therefore pose a commensurate threat to a two-state solution to the conflict.

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New Blog: Steven Cook at CFR

Veteran Egypt (and Turkey and Algeria) watcher Steven Cook, an expert on things military and much else, has a new blog at the Council of Foreign Relations website. Steven, who wrote a masterful comparison of the military regimes in those three countries in Ruling But Not Governing, is currently working on a book on Egypt-US relations since the 1950s, which should come out next year.

In his latest post, written from Ankara, he writes about whether Turkey needs the carrot of EU membership to carry out democratic change anymore. It's something I've been thinking about a lot right now, having come to see Turkey as a democracy (despite remaining problems about its treatment of minorities and some laws left over from the military dictatorship era). And in fact, the recent constitutional changes were carried out at a time when the EU connection is getting weaker.

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Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai.

FT.com / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas.

FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

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The EU and Jerusalem

For the last few days the EU has been battling over a Swedish proposal (Sweden currently holds the EU presidency) to make it official EU position that Jerusalem should be a shared capital of the two states. Now to most reasonable people this makes sense: after all the international community is backing a two-state solution, the city is divided and that division is recognized by international law, and it's clear that the symbolism of Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine is important to the parties. Except of course the Israelis want it all to themselves, and have plenty of allies to counter this move. Due to various pressures (see below) that laudable proposal has now been reworded:
The European Union backed away yesterday from demanding that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state after a proposal from the Swedish presidency ran into Israeli objections. EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, called instead for negotiations to settle Jerusalem's status and said they envisaged the city as the capital of two countries: Israel and any future Palestinian state. The EU position was a compromise between Sweden and several other countries that wanted the 27nation bloc to make a firm commitment to the Palestinians on East Jerusalem, and other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Ger-many and Italy, that preferred a less overtly antiIsraeli stance. Israel criticised the statement, saying it would "not contribute to the renewal of negotiations" and failed to acknowledge the Palestinian side was the "primary obstacle" to a peace deal.
Al Jazeera's Inside Story has a show on the EU and the Jerusalem question on Sunday: (Ahmad Moor had thoughts on that exchange at Mondoweiss.) How was it that the EU decided to water down a clear commitment to East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital? Alain Gresh writes that Paris is enabling Israeli policies, with Sarkozy lobbying on behalf of Netanyahu to water down the Swedish proposals. Their ground is that there should be recognition of Bibi's "positive" move on partial freeze of settlements, which is ridiculous — anything less than a total freeze is illegal and against the chief diplomatic initiative launched by Obama several months ago). (The Jerusalem Post also covered the French move.) The United States also came out on this issue as typically mendacious:
Shortly after European Union Ministers announced their support for the division of Jerusalem between Israel and a future Palestinian state on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that the fate of Jerusalem should only be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in talks. "Our position on Jerusalem is clear. United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged: As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem, and all other permanent status issues, must be resolved by the parties through negotiations," the statement read.
Of course, the Swedish position was exactly what the PA wants to see, so it's not like the EU would be imposing a standard that both parties reject as implied. For the record here was the divide among some of the major EU states on original Swedish proposal: For: Sweden, Britain, Ireland, Belgium. Against: Italy, France, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland.
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EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News

EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News
This comes as the EU is involved in a protracted battle between member states over whether to suspend the EU-Israel upgrade process. Portugal sides with the states that want, very rightly, to impose conditionalities on Israel for the Gaza war and its continuing blockade. Against are most of the East Europeans, Italy, UK, Denmark ans Germany. Bloody useless EU and its even more useless foreign commissioner...
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Links January 15th and January 19th

Automatically posted links for January 15th through January 19th:

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