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'The EU was too squeamish about Egypt'

European foreign ministers will debate this week whether to freeze financial aid to Egypt. But trust in the European Union has already eroded among all Egyptian players, says political scientist Josef Janning.

Josef Janning, deutscher Politikwissenschaftler, Bertelsmann Stiftung sowie die DGAP Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik

Josef Janning Politikwissenschaftler Deutschland

Deutsche Welle: The EU wants to increase economic pressure on Egypt. Given the country´s economic weakness, is this the right instrument? After all, Egypt is a strategically important country in the region.

Josef Janning: An economic downturn is already taking place because with the current violence, there is no climate for investment and economic cooperation. It is problematic for Egypt, and not easy for the EU to make such a decision. For one thing, it weakens the already weak civil society structures. On the other hand, Europe cannot carry on as if nothing has happened.

In Syria, the EU failed to find common ground on arming the rebels. Has the EU found one voice on Egypt?

Probably the differences are less pronounced than in the case of Syria. At the EU meeting on this week (21.08.2013), the foreign ministers are likely to agree to condemn the fact that the path of dialogue, which the military had put on the table at the start, has been abandoned. The EU will also make it clear that it is not prepared to continue to help without further conditions. But they will probably renew the offer to send representatives to support the process, once there are signals that all sides are willing to talk.

Who would the EU even talk to at this point?

Egypt's newly appointed foreign minister Nabil Fahmy leaves following a meeting with caretaker prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi in Cairo on July 14, 2013. Fahmy, a former ambassador to the United States, accepted the post of foreign minister in Egypt's new cabinet, which replaces ousted president Mohamed Morsi's government, sources said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi would make a good dialogue partner for the EU, says Janning

The dialogue partner would be the interim government. In Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi, they have a diplomat experienced in international and western circles. If the interim government wants to, it can bring dialogue partners who are well-known in Europe and the West and certainly enjoy respect. But at the moment there is too little confidence in the interim government, hence European reluctance.

Does Egypt still trust the European Union?

That depends on who you ask. The Muslim Brotherhood is disappointed because the Europeans have, in their view, failed to denounce strongly enough the fact that the military conducted a coup. The interim government, on the other hand, is disappointed because the Europeans are now criticizing them - when it sees itself in a fight against terrorism and violence. The young protesters in Cairo are also disappointed because they see Europe as turning away as soon as things become difficult.

If Europe is perceived in all these different ways - maybe the EU doesn't really know how to deal with Egypt and the region?

Yes, there is something to that. But then you always see better with hindsight. It is now clear that in the early phase of the revolution, a significantly greater commitment from the Europeans could have had more effect. Also a more intense engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood would have been important, because there were and are moderate forces within their ranks, who, though they have a different idea of ​​reforms, would have been willing to talk. The Europeans' reservations were too great. They should have worked more intensively with these parties.

Exactly how should the EU have responded in the early stages?

The Europeans were quick to declare that they wanted to support the transition process in Egypt. But then they made hard work of implementing it. The EU's support apparatus is very slow. Help should be available more quickly to support civil society players. And of course at the political level there needs to be the will to have a dialogue with those political forces which, though they may not sharing their own ideas - such as the Muslim Brotherhood - represent a broad swathe of society.

Josef Janning studied political science, international relations, and history at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne. He works at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), and has been the Mercator Fellow of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies since 2013.

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