Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, visited the EU in Brussels on his first European trip after taking office. The EU pledged hundreds of millions of euros in aid to Egypt's embattled economy.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said Mohammed Morsi's visit was a premier in several respects: Brussels is the Egyptian president's first stop on his inaugural European tour; it is the first time an Egyptian president has ever visited the European institutions and Morsi is Egypt's first democratically elected head of state.
The visit was seen as important because a successful democratization is not only important for Egypt but also for Europe.
The Arab Spring has brought about great change, Van Rompuy told a news conference following his talks: "Egypt is a key country in a region that is so close to and important for Europe. Success in Egypt would have positive repercussions on the region as a whole."
Building a democratic Egypt
Following Morsi's election victory in June 2012, many Europeans were doubtful whether the new president - who rose to power through the Muslim Brotherhood - was really serious about democracy.
Morsi, aware of the fact that skepticism remains, has been making a concerted effort to invalidate concern. In Brussels, he repeatedly stressed Egypt respects all liberties. "The rights of all Egyptians are guaranteed," he said. "Before the law, everyone is equal, Muslims and Christians." He added that the same applied to women.
Europeans are not concerned just about Morsi, however, but about the democratic development in the country in general.
"The transition to democracy and its consolidation are difficult moments in the life of a nation," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso pointed out. The protests on Cairo's Tahrir Square reminded him of the protest movement in his native country Portugal in the 1970s which eventually led to the collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship.
Barroso pledged about half a billion euros to Cairo by 2013 to enable Egypt and its people to "seize the opportunities and build a better future." Barroso said the EU would double its financial assistance if the IMF also pledges a substantial loan.
Upholding freedom of opinion
Morsi's visit was overshadowed by the attacks Tuesday on US diplomatic missions in Cairo and the Libyan city of Bengazhi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US diplomats were killed. A US film that portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a killer, child abuser and womanizer triggered the violent protests. Van Rompuy, Barroso and Morsi all condemned both the film and the assaults.
"Freedom of opinion should not be confused with spreading hatred, intolerance and prejudice," Barroso said. But it goes without saying, he said, that killing innocent people is not justifiable.
Mursi pledged to protect foreigners in Egypt and condemned the attacks as unacceptable. "We will not allow such destructive acts in Egypt," the president said and insisted that Muslim anger over the film could be no justification for violence.